“A man chooses, a slave obeys.” What of the man who chooses to obey, and become a slave?
First things first: this is not real slavery – this is inside a videogame. I realise that I could always abort, or respawn. The point is that I chose not to. So come with me on this journey where we forget we are playing a videogame, forget the ESC key exists, and immerse ourselves in the virtual world that is DayZ’s apocalyptic Chernarus.
This is the story of how six heavily-armed survivors took me hostage, and turned me into a slave.
I found myself washed up on the beach near Kamenko. I had barely taken ten steps when I heard voices, and fractions of a second later, I realise they aren’t the usual disembodied gibberish that often clog the global chat channels. These are ‘real’ voices, coming from the half-dozen or so figures jogging out of the woods towards me. They are saying my name.
Six people, I thought for a brief moment, the most people I’d ever seen together in Chernarus! I also realise that they haven’t shot me dead yet – another miracle. I notice their military-grade rifles and begin to parse their jumbled greetings and finally come to focus on one word: slave.
Suddenly the world spins, an hourglass appears, and I’m on the ground. I’ve been shot and I’m dying.
Oh well, I think to myself, no surprise there. Chernarus had been a kill-on-sight deathtrap for quite some time. Fear is a virus here, spread by murder. Having contracted it, you spread the disease on farther, lest it kill you again. We become the most dangerous feature of this hostile environment.
Death is too easy
I do not die. My character stumbles to her feet as my assailants apply bandages to my wounds. I had lost 90% of my blood though, so the world was a flickering, black-and-white haze. They continue talking to me, with more clarity. One voice in particular belongs to a leader of sorts, called Gare, and he explains my situation to me.
“You are now our slave. If you follow instructions, you’ll stay alive. If not, we will shoot you.”
The six high-powered rifles aimed at me, and the haziness of my vision lent the last part a great deal of credibility. But the first part? What would I make of that? I admit, my hand hovered over the Esc key as I replied, “A slave am I? What exactly do I have to gain?” or something to that effect. I became remarkably pithy in the face of my own protracted death.
“We work on a points system. If you do well in your missions, we’ll keep you around and eventually give you a gun and you can join the squad,” replied Gare.
This is what I’ve been waiting for, I thought to myself. I can’t just abort now. This is the most humanity I’ve seen in my many (many) hours hiking alone through the wilderness. I can’t disappear into the aether simply because it is ugly.
I agree, and they transfuse some blood to me. I follow.
Our first target, they tell me, is Balota airfield. I surmise they want the military munitions there. We jog cross-country. During the journey we lose the “wookie” – their Ghillie-suited friend, so my captors are down to five. I still have no weapon, however, and my running speed is no match for their scoped rifles.
They make me pose in front of them, kneeling, for a photo.
We arrive at Balota, and I am given the task of reconnaissance. I am no stranger to creeping into compounds, so it seems a straightforward task. “Run in, scout the tower and both hangars. If you see any people just run, and we’ll cover you.”
I agree, though suggest I might creep in to avoid zombies. This seems to amuse my captors, who claim that they will cover me. I decide to creep in anyway.
The tower was empty: no players, no loot.
As I approach the first hangar, however, two zombies are patrolling past, so I drop back a distance and wait. Creeping forward again, I turn the corner and a zombie looks right at me. I sprint away, back towards my captors. Would they assist, or simply watch me run, helpless?
Suppressed automatic rifle fire answers my question. The zombie drops dead and I rejoin the group, fearing their reactions to my failure to scout the hangars. They surprise me. My tactical approach pleased them, and I was awarded two points, instead of one.
They give me a can of food and drink.
Just as we are about to leave, one of them sights a player in the distance, near the airfield. “See what happens to those who don’t comply?” asks Gare. Rifle fire. Joshua is killed. Gare is remarkably polite, having not once used anything like vulgar language. Apart from “slave,” I guess.
We head to Chernogorsk next. I surmise correctly that they will want to hit the hospital for medical supplies. This is a longer run, as we loop north to come in at the best angle. I run, flanked on all sides by these heavily-armoured soldiers who threatened to kill me if I “tried anything stupid,” and feeling the safest I have ever felt in Chernarus.
We arrived north of the hospital and apartment complexes on the edge of Cherno. I was familiar with this area, having raided both locations several times myself–but these commandos didn’t need to know that. They send me in, crossing the terrible open ground between the trees and hospital, once again assuring me of their protection. I was to retrieve morphine, epi-pens, “the works” one said. Fine, I thought, just fine. I can do that.
I got close and realised with some dismay that the glass that shielded the hospital was still intact. Breaking it would bring countless zombies down on me, and I’m not even sure I can break it without a weapon. I circle behind the hospital and find a box of mediocre medical supplies. Better than nothing, I think.
As I come around the far side of the hospital, crawling prone, I hear shots, very close. Rifle shots, a Lee Enfield or CZ550 maybe. Not the automatic assault rifles carried by my captors. I scurry across the concrete between hospital and apartment, and hole up inside. More shots. I think it’s coming from the next apartment block.
Rambler was killed.
Nobody is safe
Rambler–was that one of my captors? I think so, but can’t be sure. I stay hidden in the apartment, searching desperately for a means to defend myself to no avail. If only I could hurl ammunition or Pepsi cans…
Finally all is quiet. I wait some time more, but genuinely want to get back to the protective thrall of my five captor commandos. I sprint across the open field, hoping to find them waiting for me. I get back to the little copse of trees, wondering if it was the right one.
Bang, bang. Rifle shot. Loud. The first one doesn’t get me, but the second does. I hit the ground and don’t get up.
In the end, the same thing killed me that so often kills DayZ players. Even my commando captors couldn’t protect me from a single hidden sniper with a bolt-action rifle. They couldn’t even protect themselves.
When I respawned, three of the captors had logged off, and by the time I had run back to Cherno, they were all gone. Why did I run back that way? What possessed me to, unarmed, return the site of my slavery? Stockholm Syndrome? Maybe, but I think its more subtle than that.
What I’d found in that hour or so was a sense of community, if not equality. I had been part of the most social event I’d seen in DayZ, even if it was a morbid sort of fraternity. That’s why I didn’t hit Esc. That’s why I didn’t run – if I had, I would have just died with a bullet in the back like every other time.
(Thanks to Gare, Bran, Rambler, Uruz117, and ThomasTheSheep for this bizarre adventure.)