Psychology of the Apocalypse

It is night. The sky is black; the moon is little more than an idyllic memory and even the faint light of the starscape is shrouded by clouds.  After hours of slowly creeping along the coast, careful to avoid Zeds and other Survivor’s alike; I arrive at Chernogorsk, the capital of Chernarus. I’ve finally made it to the honeypot – guns, ammunition, bandages, maps and enough beans to see a man well fed throughout the apocalypse.

First on my hit list is the supermarket. I slowly feel my way towards a slightly lighter shade of pitch black that I know to be the white walls of the supermarket.  I enter through the rear entrance using my memory to guide me; I’ve been here before, in another life. Peering into the empty darkness I stop, and I wait. Silence, beautiful silence. Satisfied no Zed’s are stumbling around, I pop a Chemlight and throw it down the hall, lighting the world with a pale blue glow. A frigid room of empty metal shelves stares me back.  I move through the back of the supermarket scavenging what I can – Some bandages, a can of sardines, a Pepsi. With the storeroom thoroughly looted, I move on to the front portion of the supermarket and find myself face to face – gun to gun – with another survivor.

What happens next?

It’s the classic Prisoners Dilemma.  He could shoot me, or I could shoot him, and we would be free to take each other’s hard earned beans and weapons.  What’s more, if I shoot him he can’t shoot me. I’ll be safe, alive, and free to carry on without fear. Or, we could leave each other alone and go our separate ways; there is enough in the supermarket for both of us, and the sound of a gunshot will only attract more trouble: Zed’s, or worse, bandits.  We could even trade information, work together and watch each other’s back as allies in an unforgiving world.

I like to think of myself as a good person, and I am an idealist at heart – somewhat grudgingly so. I’d rather leave this guy to his own story then end it here out of fear or personal gain. After all, I’m in the same position and I know I’d rather come out alive. I open the chat window to let him know I’m friendly – but I think too much. He doesn’t.

The sound of gunfire fills my ears and my vision blurs red as I see myself fall to the ground. The familiar hourglass of unconsciousness fills my computer monitor as my character bleeds out on the floor of a supermarket before the other survivors sees fit to put another one in my head. The ‘you are dead’ screen appears, and I let out a deep breath; I had been holding it since first spotting the survivor.

The last issue of my university magazine on dit featured an article about the game Prisonbreak in Counter-strike.  The writer made an apt comparison between Prisonbreak and Philip Zimbardo’s infamous 1971 Stanford prison experiment. He questioned how easy it was for the same thing to happen in a virtual world, and why he would subject himself to the same abuse every night for ‘fun.’ Since reading that article, I have been analyzing the way I interact with people in online games, but none more so than the ARMA 2 mod ‘Day Z.’

Day Z is a Zombie apocalypse survival simulator. The only goal in this cruel world is to Survive – and it’s harder than it sounds. The average player life is 33 minutes, according to the official website, and I’m inclined to believe it. Day Z is not your standard video game – A player spawns somewhere on the coast of a fictional eastern European country ‘Chernarus’ with two cans of beans, a box of painkillers, a water bottle and a pistol with a few clips. To survive, you need to eat and drink regularly; you need to stay warm or you’ll get sick, but not too warm or you’ll suffer a heatstroke. If you lose too much blood, you’ll fall unconscious. In theory, the major danger of the 224 square kilometer game world is the zombies that shamble around hungry for flesh and brains. In theory.

I’ve fallen to other survivors far more frequently than zombies or heatstroke. Meeting someone in Chernarus is dangerous business, as they are just as likely to shoot you in the head for whatever happens to be stuffed in your backpack. The only way to efficiently recover blood is to get a transfusion – but another player has to perform it on you. Unless you have a friend who can come and help, whoever you arrange to meet is more likely to shoot you in the face than heal a potential backstabber.  The other day I saw a player pleading for help on the chat, offering a Lee Enfield rifle for whoever helped him with a transfusion.  He gave his location publicly, and rather naively responded to questions about what else he had on him. When the help showed up, it greeted him with a bullet to the head and took his rifle anyway. All’s fair in love and war, and the apocalypse.

When I first started playing, someone offered to show me the ropes if I met them at a nearby lighthouse. I had five minutes under my belt, and nothing more than the standard starting gear, but it was enough. When I got there, he shot me from hiding and said ‘Thanks for the beans.’ It was a good lesson; trust no one.  Among the veterans of the game the coast is referred to as the ‘Bean Coast,’ because there’s always a new guy running around with a can full of beans.

I introduced the game to my brother – he went through the usual ups and downs of a starting player. Mauled by zombies, died of starvation, broke his legs on a ladder. When he finally made it to the big city, he found a scoped rifle hidden in an apartment block.  What did he do?

He climbed the highest building with a wide grin, and started shooting survivors. Not zombies, not even bandits – everyday survivors. The first guy had no idea what hit him; he was scurrying from building to building in an attempt to go unnoticed. He forgot to look up.  The second guy was prone on an opposite roof, but his pea-shooter was no match for a scoped rifle.

My brother thought it was hilarious; I legitimately felt sick.

Perhaps I was overreacting – After all, it’s just a game, right? He wouldn’t do this in real life, right? Well, no, he wouldn’t.

But it still shows, to me at least, some very interesting aspects of human behavior. There will always be sociopaths – those who kill and maim for fun out of a pathological disturbance, or some other psychological issue. Any post-apocalyptic survivors will have to deal with this, and deal with the fact these people will probably be on the top. But surely, couldn’t the rest of us work together to rebuild and band together for protection?  There has never been a real apocalypse for us, so the closest model we have is the world of virtual simulations; video games, and things are looking grim.

I thought it was fear at first. It probably is fear, for most of us. Permanent death makes dying in the game a serious issue; you can’t instantly respawn with everything back, and you’ve worked hard to stay alive for this long; you’ve worked hard to scavenge everything you’ve found. You don’t want to let some trigger happy moron ruin that, do you?

No.

Shoot them first; shoot them before they can shoot you. Become the trigger happy moron.

Oh no, no. It’s okay when you do it – you are preemptively defending yourself. It’s only other people that are trigger happy morons.  If you need more proof, this is often the argument I hear defending American firearms laws, or calling for a relaxation of regulation in Australia. I can not help but ask, ‘What if neither of you had a gun?’

When I first started playing Day Z, I was friendly and idealistic and naïve – I was willing to work with anyone, I was willing to help anyone. After all, us survivors should be uniting against the common enemy, right? Uniting against the Zombies and the Bandits, right comrade? But I have been backstabbed too many times; It’s not the rooftop sniper that I fear, it’s not the bandit hunting me that I far – it’s the guy who act’s friendly until my back is turned.  It’s the guy who tells me he’s out of ammo, and shoots me when I give him some.  It’s the guy that works with me to survive for two hours, and shoots me in the back when I find something he wants’.

Everyone is a threat until proven otherwise.

It is impossible to prove otherwise.

I haven’t started shooting on sight yet, and if I am forced into a conformation I’ll still offer the benefit of the doubt – but I don’t respond to calls for help anymore.  I’ll avoid other players I see, hiding in the forest with my sights locked on their head until they have passed. I’ll see a potential comrade being chased by Zed’s and let him run past instead of opening fire to save him, just because he might shoot me back when I’m done.  I can feel myself becoming part of the problem, and every time I leave a fellow survivor to the horde, or ignore a potential compatriot’s call for help, I feel a little guilty. But I move on, because I’ve been shot in the back too many times.

And while I’m sitting safely hidden in the forest watching a survivor move along the road, I wonder – Is this how we treat each other in the apocalypse?

Why I Write

Today, a friend asked me where I get the will to sit down and write. Here is a (refined) Copy of the answer I gave:

I write because it’s what I love. Well, there is more to it than that, but that’s certainly the first step.

And if that is the first step, then next are inspiration and confidence.  I love my characters, I love my stories, I love my settings – and I really think that, once I have it all written down, other people will love it too. When I’m planning something, I make sure that every character, every scene, every theme – everything that goes into it – is awesome, even on its own. I make sure every sentence I put down is something I would enjoy reading.  Then, when everything has been combined into a novel, I know I’ve come out with something awesome.  And that Inspires me. It is important for me to be inspired by what I’m writing about, and by the characters. It’s important I feel for my characters – because if I don’t, how can I expect readers to?

But the actual task of sitting down and writing? The act of pushing keys until words form, and doing that over and over until I have a string of letters that make some sense? That can be hard, sometimes. I’m Lazy. It’s easier for me to browse the internet, or watch a movie. Heck, it’s easier for me to sit around and stare blankly at my plot outline imagining everything as a movie (or rather, Imagining everything as an anime). Sometimes I’ll sit and write a few sentences or a paragraph and then get distracted and float away. Sometimes I’ll stare at the blinking cursor then decide to check my e-mail, then Facebook, then whatever else I can do to avoid writing.

Out of everything I do as a writer, starting is the hardest part. So I give myself a goal and promise myself a reward, just to start. I force myself into it. Just grit your teeth and do it, I think. And then, a few minutes later, I’m fully immersed in writing and nothing can pull me away until I hit the next bump. Then, usually, it’s off to see what shiny things are on the internet (it’s amazing how much more productive I am when I unplug the Ethernet cable). Sometimes I delete the last paragraph and re-write it from memory, as close as I can, just to get my fingers moving on the keys and my brain ‘into gear.’ Sometimes I do some reading before I write, Sometimes I log onto LegendFire and give a short critique. Sometimes I just listen to music.

But what drives me? Where do I find the will to do any of it, at all? There is no real easy answer to that question.  I could say that I write because it’s what I love, because it’s ‘my thing,’ but that ignores the fact I fantasize about giving people I know a copy of my book.  That ignores the fact I fantasize about seeing myself in the bookstore.  It’s true, though. I do write because it’s what I love, and even if no one could ever read it, I’d still spend hours tapping away.  Writing, Just the simple act of writing, gives me an amazing feeling I can’t get from anything else. I can look back after hours of work and think ‘I wrote that, I created that. Without me, that would not exist.’ Maybe writing is my way of proving I exist. I write, therefore I am. Maybe. But even if every word I put down was to be erased at my death, I’d still write. Showing my work gives me an amazing feeling, too – being read, having another sentient Life-form read and enjoy something I wrote. The feeling is pure euphoria.

I guess it all comes down to this. I write because that’s me. Its who i am, it defines me. I know that sounds cliché and useless, and maybe it is.

But that’s really the only answer a writer can give.

 

I’ll leave you with a quote from one of my greatest inspirations:

“Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.”

– George Orwell, ‘Why I Write.‘ 

Joyeux anniversaire monsieur Verne!

Oh marvelous day!

For those not in the know, Today, the 8th of February, is the 184th birthday of Monsieur Jules Verne – French Author and Pioneer of Science fiction.

This fan plans to celebrate the birthday of his favorite author by reading two short stories, ‘ A Drama in the Air’ and ‘The Blockade Runners’ – both available (with many of Verne’s works) freely and legally though project Gutenberg – even in English.

So – Happy Birthday Jules Verne!

 

On a semi-related note, I hope Google translate is worth its salt.

Legends Contest Debriefing

The worst part about word limits is cutting back.

Earlier I made a post about a Writing contest based on the theme ‘redemption,’ hosted by Legendfire.com, a community-based writing website. After some initial worry, I was able to come up with an idea I thought would be of the right size. As someone who writes primarily novel-length stories, the word limit of 3500 was a real (but welcome) challenge. Fortunately, I made it at 3494 words, just in time. Though I can’t give out any specific detail until after the winners are revealed (January 14th) , I can say I’m pleased with how the piece turned out – given time and word constraints, especially with the stress of the holiday season. It’s not the best I’ve ever written, but it’s not the worst.

But it took some effort to get it to the place it is. I should have seen the trouble coming when my plot outline was 1700 words.  By the time I had finished my first draft, the whole thing was 5200 words. That’s more than a little over, and especially troubling considering my habit of forgetting or skipping parts in the first draft. I had to cut a lot from the story, including some semi-important scenes in the middle. In my previous post, I spoke of the importance of character when dealing with a theme like redemption, so it’s unfortunate that characterizing scenes had to be cut. The Main character is far from as fleshed out as I wish they were, but I think it’s enough to carry the story. The bigger problem comes from the lack of development of the side character’s who seem to pop into the story at the end, out of the blue.  I initially had some introduction scenes where they appeared before they became really important, turning them into Chekov’s gunmen, but that had to be cut entirely. That’s what I get for using a three act structure in a one-act play. The plot made it though alive, even if there is a noticeable scar across the middle. (Perhaps I can only see it because I know it is there?)

Another sacrifice I had to make was the description and detail. You see, I like detail. Now, I’m not talking about purple prose or describing everything in such excruciating detail it becomes tedious, but I like sprinkling detail around to add flavor. Occasionally, I’ll even stop to describe something important to the plot in a few hundred words, especially if it’s awesome. I had to cut a lot of that flavor out, something that really bothered me. It leads to a very snappy writing style I’m not sure I like, especially near the end. It’s almost possible to see the point where I realize I’m running out of words and start to cut down heavily. That’s probably not a good thing, but maybe – like above – it’s something I can only see because I know it’s there.  Overall, it’s very quick and skeletal. Don’t get me wrong, I like a fast pace, especially in combat, but I like description too. I’ve struck an odd balance in my writing style, but I had to cut it away for this.

I might play around with this new style in the future, as I think I could learn a little from it. (And isn’t that the best prize I could possibly get from a contest?)

One healthy lesson is about transition sentences between actions. Sometimes, I know where my character is and what I want them to do, but don’t know what to put in between. It always felt weird to have ‘nothing’ in between, but writing with the limit forced me too and, after re-reading the results, I can honestly say it works a little better at many points. I know I’m being vague. I’ll post the story here once the contest has been decided, with some short pieces of analysis so you can see what I was trying to do at certain parts, and how I was doing it. I may even put some of the deleted scenes back, but I want to keep the work true to its purpose – and that was to be short.

Where ever you are in the world, happy New Year and good luck with those resolutions. My biggest resolution is to stay on track and see Treasonists published, so there’s still more on that to come!

Versatile Blogger Award

When I woke up today, I was surprised to see I had been nominated the ‘Versatile Blogger Award!’  First of all, I want to give a Big thank you to jmmcdowell who nominated me. It’s a good feeling to know people are reading and enjoying my posts.

Now, apparently there are some rules. I stole this via copy & paste, so I’m sorry if I missed anything.

1. Thank the award-giver and link back to them in your post.
2. Share 7 things about yourself.
3. Pass this award along to 15 recently discovered blogs you enjoy reading.
4. Contact your chosen bloggers to let them know about the award.

1. Well, The first one was done above but for the sake of Formality and completeness, Thank you jmmcdowell!

2. Lets see.

       1 – I hope to study Psychology at university, but I am currently stuck in the world-between-words (I have graduated high school, but not yet started Uni)

       2- I have two younger brothers, who are twins.

       3- My favorite color is Blue, particularly electric blue.

       4-my favorite ‘real’ food is Chicken Kiev, but I can’t go past a serve of hot chips.

       5 – I recently started learning German Sword fighting (but I am terrible) and hope to complement it with Japanese kendo.

       6 – I am a Brony.

       7- At the time of writing, I was listening to ‘Europa’ by Globus.

3. Now, I’m relatively new here and I don’t think I actively follow fifteen blogs, but here’s what I can give so far (in no real order)

       1 – Tales from the Mad Monk 

       2 – Elizabeth Barrow

       3 –  Cigarettehugs

       4 – Kristin’s fantasies

       5 – Emmie Mears

       6 –  Lets get digital (this is particularly interesting for those looking to self publish)

       7 – Reshaping Reality

       8 – Sarah Painter

Well, Okay. That’s eight.

I don’t know what else to say besides Thank you again, jmmcdowell!

Redemption

Legendfire.com is hosting its annual ‘Legends contest,’ and this year the topic is ‘Redemption.’ At first, I was a little worried about this topic and didn’t know how I could handle it in such a small word limit (only 3500.) Redemption by definition is a very character driven thing; meaning for it to be a truly effective and meaningful device, the character must be well-developed and have some sort of emotional connection with the reader.  That’s hard, but not impossible to do in so few words. (But I suppose that puts the challenge into it!) No, the biggest worry I had was setting up a redemption arc. For a character to be seeking, or find, redemption, it follows that they must have committed some atrocity in the past. This can either be in their back story or, as I prefer it, earlier in the story itself. In Treasonists, Zyrina grows more and more jealous and spiteful of Nerolie as the book progresses, until she finally crosses the moral event horizon.  The build up to that point takes a long time, but it helps foreshadow the transition into villianhood and makes redemption all the more meaningful. However, in a short story I can’t do that effectively.

Whilst thinking about how I was going to approach this challenge, it seemed inevitable I was going to be stuck in a generic redemption quest story. A character feels depressed, angered and guilty, haunted by a bad choice in the past that isn’t fully revealed until nearing the end. He seeks redemption, and just after revealing his dark and troubled past to the reader he sacrifices something for someone else, redeeming himself.  How many times have you seen that before?  (And how many of those are romantic comedies?)

First, I had to get that image out of my head. Because, frankly, looking at a black & white still of a man sitting on the floor, head bent and sobbing with a cigarette and flask of whiskey is depressing!  Now, I’m all for having sad themes in my writing – I even like a good teary ending sometimes – but the generic image wasn’t helping me at all.

So first, I changed the character. I changed every little thing about them, from their gender and age to their preferred drink. Then, I addressed the next problem.  How was I going to set up a redemption arc in 3500 words? I didn’t want to rely on flashbacks because in general I find them a poor method of storytelling (lets ignore the fact I use the device in Treasonists for now) and that’s especially true in this case.  That meant my only option was to have the Atrocity happen in the beginning of the story, or throughout.  Putting it throughout would mean the first part of the story lacked focus, especially dangerous with so few words.

Another important aspect of a redemption story is scale. Anyone who has read anything of mine before knows I think and write on a large scale anyway, which is why I stick to novels. But scale is especially important with this kind of theme. For example, I am not going to feel particularly moved if someone wants to redeem themselves for stealing a candy bar. However, a Cop may want redemption for shooting when he didn’t need too, or a military commander may seek redemption for sending men into a suicidal mission. Similarly, the redeeming act needs to be at a larger scale for effect. Using the same example, I’m not going to be moved when someone returns the candy bar, But will be much more impacted when the cop saves a criminal from death, or when the officer holds off an attack to let his men escape themselves. Put generally, the more a character had to gain from the first ‘bad’ act, the more they need to lose in their redeeming act, and both need to be at a large scale for the story to be effective.  Writing about someone stealing from a supermarket, and then returning the candy, will fit in the word count, but it won’t be fun for reader or writer (…unless there is some twist?). Writing about a general sending his men into the Somme, and then holding a German counter attack while the rest escape is exciting, but too long. The challenge here, for me, is to figure out something that is exciting, short, and still allows room for character development and plot maturity. Some people may be perfectly adept at writing well on a smaller scale, but I am not.

Eventually I came up with not one, but two redemption arcs that run concurrently. Weird, I know. I went from searching my brains to find one, to creating two that play against each other in the story. And it will fit. I think, I hope. Whats more, it allows me to explore a nice twist and an outside-the-box perversion of ‘Redemption.’ .

If anyone is interested, you can still sign up for the contest, the final ‘due date’ is December 28th.  You can sign up for fiction, non-fiction or Poetry. Legendfire is a good bunch and I’m excited to read the other entries – They never disappoint with their creativity and unique thinking. Somewhat ironically, I will be surprised if one of the entries follows the generic redemption quest I outlined above.

Also, you get this nice little badge.

The Contest announcement is here.