The Red Zone — Adventures in DayZ Twitch Livestreams

btgb-rtpChase Monroe was dead. There was only one thing left to do — bury him, and put the whole dark night behind them all.

How did we get here? Well, I knew how I got there. I was tuning in to a Twitch livestream of DayZ, watching one of my favorite streamers, TehJamJar. With just over 67,000 followers, he’s a popular name in those circles. If you’re new to the concept of livestreaming games or Twitch, it’s basically what you’d assume — people watching other people play videogames. Twitch rose out of the Let’s Play tradition of Youtube and the like, where many a regular gamer have risen to millionaire status from their content, simply playing games while others watch, but in a way that makes it a new genre of entertainment on its own.

There’s something simply fun about the interactivity of it all. I got into them out of necessity. Too many good games were coming out, and I was a) too poor to buy them and b) too useless at beating any of them myself. As a fan of stories in all their forms, there are many games out there that provide amazing plots and characters that I wanted to experience. From Amnesia: The Dark Descent, to The Last of Us, to Bioshock — there’s something delightful in experiencing a story, and also watching the person playing the game peeling back the layers of the narrative as they explore the game’s world.

If you think it’s just sitting around getting paid to play video games, well, them’s fightin’ words in the Twitchverse. I am not here to convince anyone of the merits of livestreaming games — try it, you might like it. In fact, if you find the right stream, you may love it. I’ve moved from Let’s Plays into Twitch, where people broadcast their gameplay live, and their audiences can chat along with them. For many, it’s a full time gig.

Through the usual meandering from streamer to streamer, I landed on TehJamJar’s channel, as I enjoyed watching others play DayZ — a survival horror game based in the post apocalypse. It allows gamers to play in a world that’s completely open to them, with only one goal in mind — survive in whatever means you choose. Collect food and equipment from towns, abandoned hospitals, and military bases. Or, steal from other players you encounter, if the life of a bandit is what you want. If you die, that’s okay, you can always try again. It’s always been fun to watch on some level — there can be some truly hilarious or suspenseful moments when two strangers around the globe come into contact for the first time, imaginary guns drawn.

But, DayZ has been accused more than once of becoming stale, or not worth it, as over time players became more focused on simply getting into the game to kill each other on sight than actually indulge or explore the world in a substantial way. There’s enjoying the thrill of gaming, and then there’s just… Well, getting killed so fast you become bitter to the experience altogether, and that’s not to mention hacking and stream sniping — a term for when people watch a livestreamer, figure out where they are in the map, and stalk them to kill them.

Enter The Red Zone — a special server created and run by TehJamJar and his administrative team, a place where players can only enter if they’ve been whitelisted — passed a short quiz proving they know their stuff in order to be accepted. The Red Zone has rules, the number one thing being that it is a roleplay server. If you want to play DayZ in The Red Zone, you have to build a character, and play as that character within certain parameters. The game map is divided into safe “green” zones where no killing is permitted, “grey” areas where no one is allowed to kill unless contact is first established, and for the daring, Red Zones, where killing on sight is allowed.

Screenshottrz

A little bit of rules, a dash of dedication, and what has followed has been some of the funniest, strangest, suspenseful, and sometimes downright heartfelt gameplay I’ve ever watched. By forcing gamers into a structure, stories have blossomed. It would be wrong to compare it to movies or television — there isn’t a massive blockbuster machine behind it, with producers and professional writers all set about making a plot flow. These are real people, sitting behind microphones and mouses, simply walking their characters around a map, and encountering each other. Some are bandits. More than a few play as deranged psychopaths. Some play as paramedics, while others as killers.

And, most importantly, the streamers stream. TehJamJar perhaps the most notable of the bunch, but a steady growth in other Twitch streams has brought forward more talent as people become more comfortable being in an invented role on screen.

A community has grown (or grown stronger) around it. If you tune into TehJamJar, for instance, his character may be interacting with another streamer, say Crom1957’s “Liam Ryan.” While both are online together, their stories coincide — but if TehJamJar logs off for the night, Liam could soldier forward on his own, having interactions that drastically further his story. By the time TehJamJar is back and ready to play, who knows what plot twists have happened. It’s impossible to keep up with all the stories on The Red Zone — but that seems to be the most amazing part of it. This roleplay has created it’s own Truman Show, a 24 hour world that’s constantly evolving, where gamers are innovating the very mechanics of the world to evolve it. To watch or play for an hour simply means you’re catching a mere glimpse of what’s going on inside.

I find myself fascinated by the way language develops between the gamers as well. One of the rules of The Red Zone is that players must be in character at all times. There’s no taking a person to the side and saying, “hey, I’m logging off for the night, see you later.” So, what developed instead? Characters tell each other they’re “going to sleep.” Or, what about when streamers are interacting with their audiences? That can sometimes lead to strange pauses in conversation in the game. A simple explanation? “I’m talking to the voices in my head.” A little funny, but a great character moment — what person in a post-apocalyptic world wouldn’t have a few inner demons? Or, how about when a player’s internet connection isn’t working so great, and their conversations start clipping in and out? Stuttering. It’s amazing, these small nuances of real life that are brought in to make the whole thing flow better.

Which brings me back to the beginning — Chase Monroe. He was one of TehJamJar’s characters, of which there have been a few. After several streams taking the character through ups and downs, Chase finally met his end in a firefight. And, though the rules wouldn’t require TehJamJar to keep him dead, he decided that was a proper wrap for that character. That could have been it — a simple respawn, and the world of The Red Zone would move on without Chase.

But the thing is, The Red Zone is about characters. And other players knew and interacted with Chase. They can’t just forget and move on. They’re here to build stories, improvised and unexpected. That’s when the other DayZ streamers and gamers stepped up to the plate, and played. Liam Ryan ordered a gun salute. PMSProxy’s character Julia lamented she should have done more to save him. People reacted, behind the voices of their characters, some mix between actor and gamer, putting their all into the scene.

I saw a character die in a video game, and there was a funeral held for him. Chase’s friends and family gathered on the server to say goodbye, because in some small, strange way that is hard to understand, Chase lived.

I’m reminded of a quote from Harry Potter, when he asks a definitely dead Dumbledore if their conversation was really happening, or just in his head.

“Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”

I saw more emotion and thought put into the funeral for a livestream video game character than The Walking Dead attempted for their season finale. I’ve seen people become downright giddy and excited in Twitch chats wondering what was going to happen next, or “yelling at the screen” like they would in a horror film, GIRL DON’T DO THAT! I’ve seen streamers rise to fan favorites on their sheer abilities of being funny and interesting to watch, like “Frank with an F,” ( a lovable if spooky survivor who makes the most sense when he’s making no sense at all).

What The Red Zone is, is hard to categorize. Game streaming, yes. Fictional storytelling, sure. Television? Close to it. Something new, or something old? Both, probably. It’s professional, yet attainable. It’s the viewer, and the viewed. It’s not for everyone, but it is for me, and I can’t wait to see what more is in store.

@Lindsay_007 on Twitter. LD2751 on Twitch.

 

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