Written by Andrew Busch // Edited by Drew Beyer // Header Image courtesy of Blue Hole
The wind whistles past my character as I skydive toward a small cluster of houses in the middle of a giant grassy island. Right as I near the ground my character pulls the rip chord and my parachute deploys.
My dive this round is too slow. Other players are already landing in a nearby area and making a break for the buildings. I watch them sprint through doorways, frantically searching for weapons. I finally land softly on the outskirts of the compound and sprint toward the closest building I can find.
The sun glistens off the muscular back of my character, wearing only underpants and a utility belt. I am natural. I am free. Free to frolic through the beautiful nature and humanity of this island. But even though this town may look like a peaceful place with pastel colored houses and inviting back porches, I am more uneasy than ever. Shots ring out in the house nearby and text pops up on the left side of my screen: GucciLord knocked out by CloisterFire with 1911.
I start to get frantic. I can only hear my footsteps on the wood floor of a ruined house as I scan the dirty floors for something I can use to defend myself. Nothing yet. I run up the stairs and open a door. It creaks open and I am face-to-face with a man dressed in a striped t-shirt and some khakis. Something my dad might wear on the weekends. But this man is not friendly. He is a killer. He holds a shotgun in the air as he feeds 12 gauge shells into the bottom of the weapon.
I am a cornered animal, frothing at the mouth. It is kill or be killed as I hurl my naked body through the air and start punching. I get three or four impressive hits on the stranger as he finishes loading the gun. Unfortunately, my character has absolutely nothing in common with a karate legend so the assailant stays standing. Suddenly, the trigger clicks and a 12 gauge round lights me up like a Christmas tree with 40 strands of high power LEDs. Everything fades as my character crumples to the floor: Neature-Boy was knocked out by WoodyShrimp with 12 gauge.
Welcome to Playerunkown’s Battlegrounds.
If you have even a pinky finger dipped into the gaming community chances are that you’ve heard about this game. Its strategic survival gameplay follows in the footsteps of other successful titles in this genre like DayZ and H1Z1. Even though I don’t have a whole lot of experience with these other games I know the 100 player PVP along with the constantly shrinking map (forcing players into more and more conflict as the game progresses) differentiate Battlegrounds from its predecessors. These two elements alone make the game an addicting survival shooter, compounded by the other integral elements of this genre like scavenging and a single life system. All these systems work together to ratchet the intensity to entirely new levels. It’s not too hard to recognize that I honestly love this game. However, if I have learned anything in my 21 years of existence it is that some things just don’t love you back.
How does Battlegrounds reciprocate my love? By continually destroying, burning, punching, running me over, burning, zapping, or shooting me. This game utterly humiliates me every time I sit down to play. I might as well open each match by saying, “Hi I’m Neature-Boy and this is Battlegrounds” before I get clobbered or beaten to a pulp in the first few minutes of a round. The only fortunate thing is that unlike Johnny Knoxville I can just join another match after my sheer annihilation as if nothing ever happened.
But even that does not ever totally soften the abruptness of defeat. It hurts when you spend 20 minutes traversing miles of the map, searching diligently through houses, and finding some of the best items in the game just to have your life ended in less than five shots to your back. Multiple times I have watched my character crumple to the ground losing all the items I had carefully arranged in my inventory moments before. The worst part is when you find a fresh parka and some nice black skinny jeans that fit you just right and your life is ended by some khaki wearing dad with aviators that has no knowledge of survival style. Last stand situations aren’t the ice cream parlor that you walk your dog and your kids to on a Sunday afternoon. You gotta dress for the occasion.
I might be acting a little ridiculous. I mean it’s respectable to not care about what you wear in a videogame, especially a game where the choices in clothing are so limited and drab. However, a small fashion victory is about the only positive outcome I can achieve in Battlegrounds. So I take what I can get. I am being serious. After over fifteen hours of playtime I have won only a single match and that was mostly due to my lovely squad of friends. As a veteran of all things third and first-person shooter this one win out of my hundred-or-so matches does not really sit well with me. It shows that either this game is extremely challenging or that I am just awful.
In order to avoid recognizing my own failure I choose to believe it’s the former. Battlegrounds has a significant learning curve. And when the learning curve is no longer frustrating, technical glitches will haunt your dreams late into the night. I have never been less sure of my ability to score headshots in a game. Sometimes you are aiming right at the center of someone’s melon and the bullet will stray into their shoulder. I didn’t ask my bullets to bend just like how no one ever asked for that shitty movie Wanted to ever be made. On a separate note, I have experienced multiple occasions when I am removed from any immediate danger and I start to take damage. I think that I might just be so bad that the game starts killing me off early because it already knows the outcome of my match. I mean it’s not too hard to use the excuse that the game is still in alpha to push aside these issues. Also the developers are working on some brilliant improvements each week so they are certainly making progress. However, this excuse only lasts for so long until you realize how frustrating the game is at times.
But the jank and the absurd elements of Battlegrounds have become an integral part of my love for this game. It’s like a rescue animal I have taken into my own home and spoon-fed every evening. I have given it a place in my life and my affection despite its flaws. Its defects are what make it lovable. It is an entirely imperfect game, but regardless I will keep returning to this island wasteland. I will also probably continue to die hundreds of painful deaths. But when you have hit rock-bottom, you don’t really remember each of the hundred times you failed. Instead you remember that one time you tasted victory. It keeps me going. Keeps me pushing through 12 gauge rounds to the chest, 2 ton vehicles crushing my body, rifle rounds that find their way to my posterior, and sheer humiliation. And if I keep pushing I think I might just survive long enough to catch another glimpse of the win screen and its celebratory phase, “WINNER WINNER CHICKEN DINNER!”