Last Wednesday, I found myself naked, bald, and standing on a beach. The only thing I had with me was a stick which had been fashioned into a flaming torch (although not by me) and large spherical rock, which looked more like it belonged in the background of The Flintstones than anything I would normally find in real life. I only knew that I’d have to get through this and I’d be okay. I’d survive.
Things did not start off well. In short succession, I found myself getting bitten by a wolf, beating a boar to death with the rock (to collect its meat and pelt), and then beating aforementioned rock against a tree in order to get bits of wood for building. As you might guess, the next step was to build myself a wooden home, but I had to beat my rock against countless trees in order to get enough wood to do that. It was important to build my own home and that it was hidden well, as I knew there were other naked people out there with me, maybe 55 or more. I was really faced with the slightly frustrating understanding that if they discovered me sleeping in my little home, they would likely deface my home, (using explosives to put down my door) murder me, and steal my meagre possessions.
Then I would have to respawn and start the game all over again.
I knew about this game before I started playing it. As a journalist, I was obliged to. I watched day-by-day play-throughs of the game with frustration, seeing polite and nice people building a house, explain why this was the best place for a house, before coming back the next day and finding the house destroyed, barricaded with tank traps and a sign that read “Ours now, N00b.” I watched with equal fascination as groups of players began a raid (involving breaking into a well-fortified base belonging to another group), noting each strategy and diversion, and found myself feeling something close to what sports fans might feel. As an avowed nerd, this was an unfamiliar sensation.
Rust was envisioned by Facepuncher Studios as a survival game, where you find yourself in a post-apocalyptic environment and have to hunt and build to survive, similar to other popular survival games, DayZ, which involved survival in a zombie-filled environment, and Minecraft.
Rust is an Early Access game. That means that, in spite of the fact that more than 3 million people have bought and played the game since its release in 2013, it still has not revived an official release and remains in ongoing development. Developers remove, update, and add features weekly as they receive feedback from players, and hopefully make the best game possible before its speculated release sometime in maybe 2017.
I was bald, by the way, because the game has, for some reason, chosen not to give players hair. I’m not sure if that’s going to change in future, and already some Rust players on Reddit have suggested that hair should not only be present, but it should grow over time, giving players just one more thing to take care of in their uncaring world.
Players must keep an eye on their level of hunger, warmth, and health, etc. lest they die of exposure. They can hunt, build fires, create bandages or collect antibiotics to heal themselves, and drink water from lakes, which, from time to time, may be unsanitary and can cause infection. They encounter other players, and have the option of fighting, killing, and stealing other players’ possessions.
The philosophy behind the multiplayer survival game is also interesting, perhaps summed up in creator Garry Newman (who was never a member of the Tubeway Army), “We give them the tools, they make the world.” It is perhaps a lawless area and the lack of rules may actually encourage people to kill simply by killing and robbing you get more stuff, which is an incentive to continue killing and looting. This perhaps explains my initial sense of unease when playing the game and perhaps how enjoyable it is to see groups of players killing each other to gain control of the most valuable commodities: a secure shelter, weapons, food, clothing, and whatever else catches your interest.
On his blog, Newman stated that he had been approached by people to implement an in-game trustworthy rating to show the players who robbed and killed others and the players who did not. Newman rejected the idea and stated what he thought was the game’s ominous mission statement: “You should be fearful of others. That is the whole point.”
But Newman’s perspective, explained in more detail in an article by PC Gamer, goes beyond encouraging raw brutality in order to get as much stuff as possible—it’s being a good person in spite of all incentives to do the contrary. “When any player can kill you easily – and they don’t, it’s like the biggest compliment ever,” Newman said. “They become good friends. You go to bed, and lie there and think to yourself ‘That was a nice guy, I hope I run into him again.’ […] I guess it’s because the world is so harsh you kind of feel closer to people that are kind.”
So while Rust is a game that may see you getting relentlessly attacked and robbed, it isn’t just that. It’s a social experiment. It’s a way of seeing what humans would do with the freedom to do whatever they desire in a consequence free world. In some ways it is a somewhat Biblical fight of good vs evil, but rather than facing the promise of redemption or damnation after your death, the game just goes on. The only reward you get is what you take from it: the friends you make, and the good feeling inside yourself after helping people out. Perhaps that’s what makes the game so popular for over 3 million players and perhaps that, too, is what attracted me to the game in the first place.
But for now, I’m going to build the best shelter I can in the game and see what I can make for myself within this virtual world.
*All photos belong to and are copyrighted by Facepuncher Studios LTDand are used with permission.*
Author Bio: Marley Hannan is a writer of entertainment journalism and speculative fiction. It’s a strange combination, but it allows him to learn as much as he can about anything he finds fascinating. He lives in Townsville with a cat named Teddy, a dog named Bear, and a mackintosh computer with no name at all.