T-shirt, pants and a pair of shoes: we don't have more than we wake up on the beach. We look around, disoriented and unsuspecting. No one there! But we know that we need water, food and, above all, weapons in order to survive in this world. We use the street in front of us as a point of orientation. Because where there is a street, the next town is not far …

From a distance we can see staggering figures that we quickly identify as zombies. We evade them with a short intermediate sprint, but already notice that the action is taking a lot of breath. We quickly break into one of the houses and rummage through the drawers for something usable: tins, a sweater and matches go into the inventory.

Suddenly a noise! Someone is wandering around the building. We look carefully outside. A bullet hits the door frame next to us. Before we can react, the second and third stay beans hit us. Our character goes to the ground. That's it, Game Over. Yes, the survival game DayZ can be so relentless!

Understanding a new world

It should of course not work as described here. In contrast to many other genres, survival games usually take a comparatively slow approach. Compared to action games like Doom Eternal or Call of Duty, this is rarely about quick reactions. Rather, we have to learn and master the relationships within the game world.

Most survival titles forego extensive tutorials or other help functions for this purpose. Instead, they confront us with everyday problems: first with hunger and thirst, then maybe with injuries and illnesses, cold or heat. Because we know such problems from our everyday lives, we usually know immediately how to react to them. Subconsciously, the transfer from learned reality to the virtual struggle for survival succeeds here.





<img src = "https://www.gamesaktuell.de/screenshots/960x/2020/08/survivalgames01-pc-games.jpg" alt = "Stranded Deep may not be the best survival game of all time, but it was found within target group has its following, not least because of the atmospheric South Sea setting.
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Stranded Deep may not be the best survival game of all time, but it has found a following within its target audience. This was not least due to the atmospheric South Sea setting.

Source: Beam Team Games




In DayZ, for example, it is clear to us from the start that we can find food and other aids in huts. We also know that we need a can opener to open a can – and that it could be a mess if we use an ax instead. When the new island adventure Windbound washed up on a distant beach, we hope that we will enjoy the berries growing there and that they will not poison us. Because that is also part of survival games: learning from actions and their consequences.

Failure is part of the craft
Exploring the possibilities is the salt in survival soup. It is not for nothing that the hunter-gatherer awakens in us time and again when we simply pick up every piece of wood and every object we can find in DayZ, Stranded Deep, Rust or ARK: Survival Evolved.

At its core, most current survival games work very similarly, but tighten the survival screw sometimes harder and sometimes more gently. DayZ, for example, is heavily dependent on player interaction and your own strategy. The zombies appearing there are more of a nuisance, while the "physical factors" such as diseases are a real problem. Anyone who catches a wound here not only has to bandage it, but also worry about an infection. No antibiotics in your inventory? Then it gets really tough.





<img src = "https://www.gamesaktuell.de/screenshots/960x/2020/08/survivalgames03-pc-games.jpg" alt = "Don't Starve looks cute, but it certainly has its survival pitfalls. The game expands the dangers by the factor "madness": If you experience bad things, this has a negative effect on the mind of your game character.
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Don't Starve looks cute, but it certainly has its survival pitfalls. The game expands the dangers by the factor "madness": If you experience bad things, it has a negative effect on the mind of your character.

Source: Moby Games




In ARK: Survival Evolved, on the other hand, there are more than enough resources, but also quite nasty dinosaurs, who don't care whether they end up being an experienced adventurer or a complete beginner. And in the space game No Man's Sky we have to worry about the changing weather conditions from planet to planet and adapt to them.

Incidentally, the same thing has driven us to heat death more than once in Don't Starve. Even if the rogue-like game released in 2013 looks like it was designed by US filmmaker Tim Burton (Nightmare Before Christmas) himself, it has the indie adventure behind its ears. After all, our character drifts more and more into madness with increasing time – as long as we don't pick flowers or counteract certain items of clothing.

We find out for ourselves how much the world "hates" us into which we have entered. We all too often pay for this curiosity with our virtual life. But similar to titles like Dark Souls or Bloodborne, we learn from our mistakes, draw our conclusions – and try to do better next time. If you like survival games, you don't want to walk on ready-made paths and experience the smoothest possible gaming experience. Instead, it's all about slowly digging into a game and holding out a little longer after each screen death.





<img src = "https://www.gamesaktuell.de/screenshots/960x/2020/08/survivalgames04-pc-games.jpg" alt = "Rust is certainly one of the toughest survival offshoots. Here you actually start with nothing in a strange, hostile world.Elements such as hunting or crafting play an important role here.
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Rust is certainly one of the toughest survival offshoots. Here you actually start with nothing in a strange, hostile world. Elements such as hunting or crafting play an important role here.

Source: Facepunch Studios





History writes itself
Dying, restarting, learning – at first glance, survival games seem brittle and frustrating. And yet there is a certain simplicity inherent in them. As a rule, these titles get by without a complicated background story, cerebral character systems and other artificial progression approaches. Instead, the connections and the possibilities are comparatively simple and often do not require any explanation.

Even the rudimentary stories often only serve to depict the setting: in Stranded Deep, for example, we crash the plane in the South Pacific, in DayZ, on the other hand, we go into the Russian zombie apocalypse. So we don't have to make friends with characters or follow a plot. And that is exactly the right thing sometimes! We love titles like The Last of Us Part 2 or The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt for their narrative depth. But sometimes we don't need a story and just want to play. Survival games are made for this.

Often they even write their own stories – of dramatic battles, exciting near-deaths and historical expeditions. Here we really are the heroes and don't have to deal with pre-made protagonists and their artificial problems.

Interacting with other players
In addition, special moments arise in the interaction with other players – sometimes in a positive, sometimes in a negative way. DayZ, for example, made headlines with dubious bullying rituals in which groups of players forced soloists to sing national anthems to prevent the attack. We ourselves experienced early skirmishes with other players in Cryofall, which not only cost us our virtual lives, but also all of our possessions.

At the same time, friendships or short-term alliances are created through the multiplayer dynamic. Countless times we explored the world of DayZ with strangers or even helped out newbies with equipment. Ultimately, it is precisely these encounters with other, real people that often make survival games so special and so exciting. They bring imponderables into the program that zombies, dinosaurs or other computer opponents simply cannot possess. It is this mixture of cooperation and danger that keeps creating memorable moments.





<img src = "https://www.gamesaktuell.de/screenshots/960x/2020/08/survivalgames05-pc-games.jpg" alt = "State of Decay (2013) and its successor, published in 2018, play the zombie again Card, but with a strong focus on co-op functionality and interaction with other players.
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State of Decay (2013) and its successor, published in 2018, play the zombie card once again, but focus heavily on co-op functionality and interaction with other players.

Source: Moby Games




At this point we have to mention that survival games in particular often go through different development phases and not infrequently start in Early Access. But if the idea and the basic gameplay are right, the community is often willing to support the projects. Games like DayZ, ARK: Survival Evolved or The Forest were veritable bug festivals in the beginning and only developed into full-fledged programs over time.

The rising popularity of survival games
The game principle of survival games explained here is not really new, however, the genre has existed since the early days of computer and video games. Wilderness: A Survival Adventure is considered one of the pioneers of this variety. In the PC and Mac survival trip published in 1985 and developed by Titan Computer Products, you use text commands to make your way through the wilderness after a plane crash. Factors such as hunger, thirst and cold already played an important role here.

In the years that followed, games like Heart of Africa (1985) were finally released for the C64, which was also about bare survival – this time in Africa. UnReal World, which appeared in 1992 and expanded the genre to include crafting, before Stranded implemented basic construction eleven years later, is also considered a pioneer in the genre.





<img src = "https://www.gamesaktuell.de/screenshots/960x/2020/08/survivalgames06-pc-games.jpg" alt = "Frostpunk comes from 11 bit Studios, the makers of This War of Mine. That Building strategy game combines survival elements such as hunger or cold with moral decisions.
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Frostpunk comes from 11 bit Studios, the makers of This War of Mine. The building strategy game combines survival elements such as hunger or cold with moral decisions.

Source: plassma media agency




Survival games, however, have grown in popularity over the past decade. And two titles are certainly responsible for this: the DayZ, which has already been mentioned several times, and the mega-hit Minecraft. The latter is famous worldwide for its creative functions, but it also has a survival mode that takes up all the virtues of the genre and also relies heavily on the popular assembly mechanics.

Survival has become one of the favorite genres in recent years, and certain gameplay elements have also appeared in other game types. Titles like Banished or Frostpunk form a contrast to Die Siedler or Anno, in that their developers suddenly processed factors like hunger or cold in development strategy games. So while in DayZ only our character blesses the temporal after mistakes, here the entire settlement goes on. That hurts twice!

In short, survival games had a huge impact on game development. The extremely popular battle royale genre grew out of them, and the makers of large triple A productions à la The Last of Us also pick up certain elements from it and recycle them for their own purposes. Without survival, computer and video games would be significantly more boring than they are today.

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