Call to Arms entry 09: Survival

Coleman McCormick, an old friend and maintainer of Chucklefest.net and his Tumblelog, Shodan Lives, submits a Call to Arms entry about the challenges and rewards of leaving modern society behind.


You’re a simple, essentially talentless man, waking up in the middle of the wilderness. In complete desolation. There may be no people within tens or hundreds or thousands of miles, you have no idea. Your objective is to reach something resembling civilization, be it a full-blown city, campsite, cave-dwelling natives… something.

You begin your trek armed with only some pocket items. You have your wristwatch, cell phone, wallet containing a few items, and maybe a candy bar. Because the wilderness is completely foreign to you (maybe you were previously a Wall Street investor), you have some serious things to learn if you wish to survive even the first few days. Feeding yourself will entail scrounging for berries or fruit initially, and as you collect some basic elements, you may even be able to fashion some primitive weapons. You’ll have to acquire clothing and create some form of shelter in order to stay healthy, otherwise exposure will weaken and possibly kill you. Clothing yourself might include killing an animal, cleaning it, and tanning hides or tailoring the fur into warmer garb.

Setting up camp will allow you to become more familiar with those immediate surroundings. This may pay off in the short term, allowing you to avoid danger and injury, but only in the short term. You must move along if you expect to truly survive. You absolutely will succumb to some uncontrollable force of nature eventually. A bear might rip you up in your sleep. So you camp for a few days and move on.

As you journey along in search of someone, your experiences will pay off. Hunting more often makes hunting easier and in turn keeps you well fed. Learning about plant life will allow you to gather more varied fruits. With blade-wielding talent you’ll more efficiently clean your kills providing better yield of hide, fur, or meat. Collecting firewood, climbing mountains… it all becomes easier with practice. Life in the wilderness can be exhilarating, frightening, fun, deadly. Climbing a sheer cliff face may get you a hundreds of feet above, providing a better vantage point to view your surroundings, a stunningly picturesque landscape, and access to whatever’s on the other side of the mountain. You’ll encounter rivers to cross, predators to evade, and if you’re lucky: signs of human life.

As you begin to run across signs of other travelers or settlers — old campfires, animal carcasses, beaten paths through the forest — you must use tracking and pathfinding skills to seek out the nearby civilization. But there’s another catch: they won’t necessarily be friendly. You’ll have to figure that out.

If you find friendlies, and they accept you into the fold, The End.


This game would be best if it played out over the course of dozens of hours, giving you time to learn the ropes of survival, as well as making new experiences in the wilderness all the more affecting. Of course since the world is completely open, you play at your pace. However, there is one absolute certainty: you will not last forever in the wild. You’ll do what’s necessary to survive, and sometimes that means it isn’t what you “want” to do. The player would experience hardship, cheat death, overcome adversity, and avoid disaster through becoming one with a foreign environment (without having to risk one’s real life in the bush.)

-Coleman McCormick


Steve gaynor said...

This concept points in a lot of interesting directions.

First and foremost, it seems to speak to the conflict of nature vs. technology. The fiction casts the player as a member of modern society suddenly stranded in the middle of the wilderness. This outcast from the world of technology and commerce must learn to fend for himself in the most natural of settings. Clearly the protagonist is a literal surrogate for the player, who sits at home, indoors, playing a video game on expensive electronic equipment.

While at once a "camping simulator" or "virtual wilderness vacation," it also seems to beg the question: what if someone like yourself were to let all their societal attachments go, and return to nature? What's to be gained from simplicity, purity, self-reliance, lack of societal and material bonds?

In that sense, the thing that bothers me in your initial concept is the inevitability of death if the player stays in the wild. The game seems to give the player ample time to become a full-on citizen of the natural world, only to finally come back into contact with an organized human settlement. What if, after all that time out in nature, learning to make a simple and satisfying life for himself, the player encounters a highway, then a rest stop, then a Wal Mart? Does he decide to enter back into the modern world? Or does he turn and start hiking in the opposite direction?

Nature vs. Technology, Individualism vs. Society, Man vs. the Elements... could make for good stuff.

Sparky said...

I'm also a little bit turned off by the mandate to keep moving and find civilization, especially if the forcing is as arbitary as encountering a bear if you stay in the same place too long. I'm not oppposed to making the choice to stay in the wild harder; it would be, after all. But I feel that rejecting civilization should be an option for the player.

Robbie said...

I third the staying-in-the-wilderness option, its metaphors, et c. That said, I think this has been the most commercially viable game presented thus far. While profit is not the aim of this experiment, it is an important consideration for anyone who might browse through here and steal an idea; if there is to be a revolution in the perception of games (insofar as high-cultural significance), it will happen slowly. Look at how lauded the latest Grand Theft Auto has been simply (this is what I gather; I've yet to play the game, may never) due to the tweaking of a few factors to make the game slightly more realistic.

Were a game like this (Coleman's) executed deftly, with plenty of freedom and action (a realistic crafting/tracking/hunting experience [there may be waiting involved, but waiting for prey (or for a predator to pass) could be thrilling]), and with the considerations presented in the previous comments factored in, I think there would be a collective critical pants-creaming, followed by financial success, followed by emulation, followed by a shift, however slight, in how games are approached.

The climbing-to-get-a-spectacular-view thing for some reason reminded me of Shadow of the Colossus, which I never played, but which looked rather impressive and revolutionary itself.