Why are survival games so popular?

What is it about survival crafting games that has made them so popular? Why is it that we are are seeing such an enormous influx of them of late, or the integration of some of their features into other genres?

First, a definition. Because the “survival crafting” genre is so diverse, we have to make sure we’re all on the same page. So, for the purposes of this discussion, a “survival crafting” game is any game that has some form of basic needs (hunger, thirst, sleep, etc), allows you to craft or construct things (items or buildings).

Whether there are zombies, other survivors or just Mother Nature to contend with, survival crafting games are all about granting us that creative satisfaction. Feeling like you built this, this is down to your effort. It’s particularly effective when games make you work for it. Cataclysm Dark Days Ahead, a perhaps slightly less known indie game, is a good example of this. You have to work very hard to build anything in this game, spending a huge amount of time and crafting resources to construct your own cabin. And yet many players still prefer to play “innawoods” rather than occupy one of the already-existing buildings.

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What is it about this scene that speaks to so many of us?

Is it the challenge that makes them popular? Hard work makes the pay off in all things in life more satisfying, but I’m not sure that is all that it is with survival crafting. Is it the freedom? Again, it’s certainly a factor, but I don’t think so – even games that limit you to a  specific area and are relatively narrow in choice (such as State of Decay) but still offer the chance to build can grant you that tangible feeling of having completed something.

That is the key: tangibility. It’s an example of how video games are reflecting a feeling of disconnection among the younger populace. I am in love with the technological age that we are in, where so many things are possible whether in real life or just in pixels, but there is something missing. Even outside of gaming, such as in paperless offices, you still see people taking notes on pen and paper – there is something far more meaningful about it. Ironic that I am saying this on an online platform, but physical media and physical rewards offer something that we often don’t find on computers – tangibility. Realness.

However, crafting survival games offer a shard of that. We are disconnected, so we seek that connection through the easiest form that we have available to us – video games and entertainment. Learning to survive or build something in real life would take time, money and a huge amount of effort. Survival crafting games offer us that without any of the prerequisites – it is instant gratification.

Take from that what you will.

For more of me spouting off about the gaming industry, check out some of our other Talking Shite articles.

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4 thoughts on “Why are survival games so popular?

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  1. Definitely agree and think it has a lot to do with being able to create something personal. The ability to say, “I built that” is a powerful form of gratification even if the creation resides in a game.

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  2. I agree that these games are incredibly satisfying. I wonder the public appetite for back-to-basics, raw-nature survivalism in gaming is also what drives take-up of paleo diets and people trying to go back to the land and go off-grid. Not long after I spent a month with Ark: Survival Evolved, I saw a couple of episodes of TV series ‘Homestead Rescue’ and ‘Naked & Afraid’ and was very struck by the similarities. People with no skills, no gear and no sense of where would be a good place to build a base struggle to stay alive in snow, scorching heat, predator attacks, etc. It seems like the same fantasy.

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    1. I remember reading a quote that going back to nature is “living deliberately”. Considering so much of modern life is detached from the struggles we actually evolved to deal with, that kind of deliberate, down to earth living must be very appealing.

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