DayZ is a survival simulator that just happens to be set in a post-apocalyptic world with zombies. You start off with a gun, medical supplies and food, and the game tasks you with… absolutely nothing.
There are no rules, missions, or objectives. You are to do in this virtual world as you would if you were to find yourself in a similar situation in the real world: survive.
You and the other players that inhabit the server you’re playing on craft your own stories in combination with with the game’s mechanics and through your experiences. Often, such stories that are player-driven are just as powerful, if not more so, than the ones predetermined by a game’s story writers. No matter how connected and empowered a game’s pre-written narrative can make you feel, there’s nothing that leaves an impression more than a story that is unique to you.
Players have flocked to DayZ not only because it’s one of the first games (mods) to truly implement survival mechanics, but also because of its lack of narrative structure. Your character is dropped into a world and left to survive with or against other players, while dealing with the threat of zombies. More often than not, players decide to play the “bandit” or “raider” track, of which the philosophy of survival is to shoot first, ask later and to scavenge off of the unfortunate people whose bodies you’ve left behind.
One of the most extraordinary experiences I’ve seen from DayZ was that of Adam Ruch’s tale. Just a few minutes into a play through of DayZ, Ruch’s character is shot and taken hostage by a band of other players. Due to the survival mechanics of the game, Ruch is left powerless to fight against his captors. However, his captors offer him an interesting choice of letting him help them to eventually join them. In fact, Ruch grows comfortable with the security of this exchange to the point that Stockholm Syndrome kicks in.
It’s amazing what fiction can grow out of the bounds of gameplay mechanics and the lack of rules. While DayZ might not be stand out in terms of graphics or gameplay mechanics, its ability to craft such stories is what makes it amazing to behold.