State of Emotional Decay
I feel like there is a certain kind of obsession that finds its way between the neurons in your brain and lodges itself between the spots that coordinate normal human behavior, the kind of obsession that grabs onto normal things and makes them necessary to the brain to live. Like someone who has a peanut butter and banana sandwich, and then lives their life eating only peanut butter and banana sandwiches. While the feeling of indulging that obsession may be more soothing than a thousand hot rock massages, the dietary issues that result from only eating peanut butter and bananas will eventually kill you.
I was but a green buck in this wild world of collegic study when the popular game "State of Decay" worked its ravenous claws into the tender recesses of my brain. Brought to life by the game creator Undead Labs, "State of Decay" or SoD, as say in the biz, is a role playing game based on the popular zombie mythos that has recently gripped popular culture. The storyline of the game follows two characters out on a camping trip, looking for a way to relax from the ebb and flow of their jobs, who suddenly find themselves up a zombified creek without a semiautomatic paddle. Over the course of the game these two characters meet several others, and as they move from settlement to settlement, they try to acquire new weapons and supplies to maintain their post-apocolyptic lifestyle. The freeform nature of the game means that not only is there no set storyline, but the player is actually forced to alternate between characters as they gradually fatigue over time. As the game progresses and the group of potential avatars expands, the player has to always keep in mind the amount of supplies his/her camp has collected, and the amount of characters stricken by starvation or disease, and of course their defenses.
The character's base itself can be subject to change according to the players' best judgment. The player may decide to use their looted materials to build a workshop and construct land mines, or upgrade their lookout tower and extend its protection radius. Based on the personality traits and experiences of the different characters, different roles are adopted by the surviving group. For example, former convict Bobby Flannigan used to work in an auto parts store, so he'll be the guy working in the workshop; resident jerk and current Park Ranger Ronny Schofield will be the guy in charge of combat training and wilderness survival; avid game show watcher and accountant Debra Reeves will preside over any and all elections and debates.
Here is where the game stops tugging at your heartstrings, and starts pulling them out and crocheting owls out of them. Part of the games' persistant suspense comes not only from the burgeoning undead apocalypse, but also from the fact that if a character dies, they're dead for the whole game. If one character perishes during a zombie assault, that's it. They do not come back. All of the experiences and tender moments the two of you have had together, as player and character, are suddenly wiped away! As if all of those power ups and upgraded abilities were simply for nothing! There is nothing on this earth more heartbreaking than a valiant soldier of this war against the spawn of Satan going down in the line of duty with a rucksack of heavy building materials. That's grounds for a 21-gun salute in my book.
I remember the first character I ever lost. It was during my first run through of the game, and because I was all naïve and new, it didn't occur to me to not send a man on a supply run in the dead of night without backup. A rookie mistake. I'd just got done clearing one of the abandoned homes nearby to my settlement at a nearby church, as I moved through the house, I was beginning to hear the muffled rasps of something moving maybe 20 yards away. As I turned to leave I was met with the swiping arms and glowing eyes of about eight or nine undead ghouls. Though the walloping of said ghouls came particularly quickly and cleanly just a few seconds later, that level of physical exertion is exhausting to the character; they actually will slowly lose their sprinting and fighting abilities as their fatigue progresses. So I'm at about half strength, and it occurs to that I should return home. I head out of the house into the suburban street, carrying a rucksack on my back and only just managing a slow jog. At that moment two massive hordes combine into one massive one, and bear down behind me as I move. I was down to 4 bullets in my police issue Glock, and the table leg weapons I'd packed had proven nearly useless. My only hope would be a vehicle, which I could use to push past the fast moving super horde, and make for home. As I ran, I spied a pizza car just a block and a half away. I was running and scoped, and after my last four bullets found their targets, my newly commandeered Italian hot circle delivery vehicle was plowing towards the zombie blockade. My car hits, and for a second it seems like a victory. As I pull out of the group, and limbs are souring through the air, I realize that the 3 for the four doors have been pulled clear off. I also realize that I've driven off into the forest accidentally, and am now tragically lost. Pizza cars are surprisingly terrible at off road terrain. As I bounce through the hills and valleys, thinking that I'm essentially in the free and clear, my car begins to spout small flames from the space around the hood. Eventually the flames rise, and I pull the car over in a clearing, and hobble to my feet just as a small explosion happens under the hood. I get about 10 feet away before the entire car explodes. In the dead of night. During a zombie apocalypse. That's when the sprinting started. Though my character could only manage small bursts, I was still putting the pedal to the medal to get back. As I run, a crowd of zombies begins to track me as I move. Pretty soon they outnumber me 6 to one. As I reach the wall of the church my group has set up in, I realize the side of the wall I've come to does not have a gate, but is unfortunately out of range of my lookout. I'm out of time, I'm out of energy, and I'm pressing jump at a wall, hoping a miracle will happen. Just as I look like I'm going to be able to pull myself over the wall, I'm pulled off by the mob of 20-some zombies, and screams are all that's heard as the screen fades to black.
I've since lost two other characters to these cruel vassals of hell, and though they've also hit me deeply, mostly because they both came entirely out of nowhere, there's something petrifyingly adult about that first death. It was as though an unwanted bar mitzvah had been thrown in my honor, and ushering me into God's acceptance of me as a man was an army of departed souls. Nine Inch Nails would have a field day with that paragraph.
After leaving behind friends, meals, academics and the desire to not ignore my girlfriend, it was just this game and me. Between two months of the first semester, I logged somewhere between 90-110 game hours, which means that I was clocking in about 14 hours a week glued to the couch and physically feeling my body slide out of shape. I mean, 14 hours, that's a part-time job! Each day I found new weapons, leveled up new characters, saved new people from their certain demise. I was a poet warrior in the classical sense.
Since I was little I was always afraid of confrontation. I have always been one to passive aggressively snipe at someone when they weren't in the room, but when they were, each one of those eloquently crafted insults turned to Jell-O on the hot stove of my brain. I think that's how State of Decay lodged itself so neatly into my psyche. Here's a game where the life of a fictional character may depend on how well the player sneaks past a horde of undead accountants and schoolteachers. That's not to say that the confrontation itself is not also awesome, I mean sniping an unsuspecting zombie from two blocks away with a silenced .45 is literally better than a nap in a hot tub full of baby dogs. But theirs is such a feeling of success in that, in both of those feelings. Even though things are terrible, you made them just a bit less terrible.
Do I think I'll play State of Decay again? Maybe. Now that I know how it ends, and what happens to the different groups the player becomes acquainted with, I'm hesitant about going back to it, because I know it wont be the same to find an commercial airplane crashed in a field the second time. At the same time however, and though it may sound cheesy, the feeling I had while playing that game was really unlike any book I've ever read or film I'd seen. It's a haunting feeling, the kind of feeling that flairs up in you when you sit in a class and try to think about what you'll do for the rest of the day. Its as close as I've ever come to an addiction, like it honestly felt like what I imagine alcoholism is like. So the real question is, would I want to be an alcoholic again? I mean if they put out new DLC, then yeah, sure.