Practice for the apocalypse

Thu Feb 27, 2014

Post-apocalyptic books such as The Road, or TV shows such as The Walking Dead give us a glimpse into the aftermath of an extinction event where only tenacious bands of humans are left to cling to survival. But what if there were simulations of such scenarios - how would a mad scramble for remaining resources actually play out?

With online multiplayer games such as Day Z and Rust, we can now find out. Rust, in particular, has dispensed with the zombie conceit and stripped the game down to bare-knuckle survival of the chop-firewood and mine-for-metal variety. Hordes of players are now thrown into a vast arena where they can either co-operate or fight for resources. It’s basically Hunger Games without the rules and controlling bureaucracy. And we all know what happened in that particular dystopia: Teen sociopaths opted to knock each other off with blunt weapons rather than band together to fight the The Man.

Rust pretty much confirms that these fantasies were spot on. To survive, resource-hoarding and senseless torture of the weak is the order of the day.

Here is a quote from the game’s Steam page:

I love this game, I built a house around a guys house and made him my prisoner, I fed him cans of tuna and cooked chicken when it was available, and some times I would drop in spare logs of wood(when they were available). The best part. he talks to me, keeps telling me his clans going to raid my structure and save him.. I simply respond with . “It puts the lotion on its skin, or it gets the hose again” and by hose I mean I dump charcoal on him.¬†Great game hope the servers come up soon, I think my pet may need to eat.

And here’s another quote from an article on The Verge:

Me and a bunch of my friends go around hand-cuffing others and then beating them to death with our fists or feeding them alcohol tincture or rotten food, d-do I pass as non-psycho?

The above quote being a response to the observation that Rust appears to harbour more psychopaths that other online games. He was being facetious, but you get the idea. Players who are otherwise ordinary law-abiding citizens turn into monsters when loosed in a world that supports - even encourages - amoralistic behaviour in order to stay alive.

We’ve all seen the looting and mayhem that occurs after a natural disaster, or even during riots. Would the next step be a reprehensible form of desperation that slowly morphs into a sickening sadism? With the test results leaning toward a positive in the virtual lab of Rust, I hope we never have to live that reality.

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