Learning to Love the Masochism of 'Playerunknown's Battlegrounds'

Learning to Love the Masochism of 'Playerunknown's Battlegrounds'

Playerunknown's Battlegrounds

What makes the Twitch hit tick – and how you should approach it

What makes the Twitch hit tick – and how you should approach it

Having sold over a million copies in its first month of early access, Playerunknown's Battlegrounds has ensnared the attention of the PC gaming community. It's easy to see why – with almost 100,000 concurrent viewers tuning in on Twitch, this Battle Royale inspired bloodsport rarely fails to manufacture moments of tense, emergent drama in a match as up to 100 players compete to be the last one standing.

While dedicated followers of games like DayZ and H1Z1 will have already jumped in, Battlegrounds' overnight success means that a swathe of uninitiated onlookers will no doubt be tempted to join the fray. Some will take to it like ducks to water, but for the rest, the harsh and unforgiving formula that makes this genre so addictive will feel like an insurmountable obstacle, where brief moments of success are often punctuated by failure.

In Battlegrounds this defining moment happens within the first few minutes of the match, when you decide where to bail out of the plane carrying you over the island that you will almost certainly die on in the minutes to come. It's here that the game reveals one of the most important aspects of its design – that the you're free to pick and choose your path – but your decisions (and everyone else's) will have an immediate effect on your chances of survival. Leap too close to a popular military base or central town, and you could be surrounded by 360 degrees of potential gunfire. Leap too close to the coastline, and you run the risk of getting caught out when the play area slowly constricts towards the center of the map, killing anyone who lingers outside of its protection.

It doesn't take long to know whether or not you've made the right decision either, as players that frequent these types of games rarely offer much in the way of mercy. It's kill or be killed after all – but the underlying mentality shared by fans of the genre as a whole goes a bit deeper. Beyond the need to defend yourself, or the desire to rob other players of their valuable goods, the rules of the game often create the perfect petri dish to demonstrate a kind of Lucifer Effect – the idea that a person's behavior in the moment is determined by their situation and not their disposition. OK, so comparing the virtual backdrop of Battlegrounds to a Stanford prison social experiment from 1971 is a bit of a stretch, but the willingness of players to leap towards such a caustic and unflinching mindset is something I've seen on more than one occasion among new recruits. The drive to not only survive, but to also outlast your enemies is what gives these games the uncanny ability to transform even the most docile player into a stone cold killer.

There's an almost euphoric high that comes from meeting another player. The approaching crunch of boots on dried mud, or the creaking of wooden floorboards is enough to kickstart a surge of adrenaline. A once calm and collected mind turns into a maelstrom of panic as you wage a mental and physical war of attrition against your foe. The tentative crawl along derelict interiors and crumbling walls is brief, but every second stretches on forever as you try to outflank an unknown threat with nothing more than the telltale acoustics of activity telegraphing the fight to come. Corners are turned, a volley of ballistics gets exchanged, and eventually someone's name appears onscreen for the rest of the server to see whilst the victor progresses onwards towards their next encounter.

Accepting death is an integral part of the experience, and it's something you'll no doubt struggle with at first, and surrendering your hard-earned equipment to the hands of your killer stings – you found that valuable assault rifle, why shouldn't you get to keep it? But this fear of losing your gear is what motivates you to not just survive, but to do so with guile. Death, in Battlegrounds, matters and if it didn't carry so much weight, everyone would simply run at each other all guns blazing. Instead what you get is a graceful dance of intricate tactics that keeps both players and spectators on the edge of their seats. From tracking other player movements by studying the angle of an open door, to using gunfire as a way to misdirect and panic your enemies, the fear of failure not only encourages thoughtful play, it demands it.

As the boundaries of the map shrink as the match progresses – forcing everyone in the game closer together – it's not only expected for people to run into each other, it's inevitable. It's where Battlegrounds' true appeal shines brightest – not just as fleeting moments of action, but as video clips of chance encounters like life-saving frying pans deflecting shotgun blasts (see video above). After the dust has settled and the blood pressure has subsided, it's these anecdotes of past exploits that keep the players and their spectators coming back. It's about being able to spin the tale of how you died as the second to last survivor because you flipped your car down a hill, or how you dispatched four attackers using only a pistol, John Wick-style. These campfire stories are the lifeblood of the game, and remain with you long after you log off.