Things can get pretty intense in online-multiplayer games. With no regulation comes unmitigated bitterness and salt, rage and shattered glass—it’s just too easy to throw stones from behind a screen. And so it’s no wonder why, when home over summer break, I was hesitant to start down this toxic path. But this one game had seemed different, it had hooked me.
“Dead by Daylight” is an asymmetrical four vs. one horror-action game, in which a team of four survivors flees from a single vicious killer, all trying to escape before being sacrificed. The survivors are trapped in an eerie environment; several broken generators are strewn across the map. By repairing these generators, the survivors can power an exit, but to do so takes considerable time.
The killer attempts to find every survivor and to hang them from sacrificial hooks. Each player can be saved by one of their teammates, but only a few times. And so games are decided by chases—when a survivor is discovered, they must do all they can to delay their capture in order to buy their teammates more time. Both the killer and the survivors have ways to trick, stun and counter their opponents. Things can get intense—that’s “Dead by Daylight.”
And so I’m sitting, waiting for a match of happy massacre-filled fun times to load, hoping that things might be different. Surprise! They’re not. Immediately, I’m face-to-face with the killer, dangling from a hook and already dripping blood, having been literally left hanging by my team. A few moments later, I’m out of the match, and user gogosqueeze69 calls me some choice names in the chat as a reward for my efforts. This, I thought, was just more of the same: a rabbit hole of online toxicity.
As it turns out, I just had to keep going. I just had to get good.
A few days of summer boredom later, and I’d encountered all the torturous strategies of the satanists at work. As I improved, however, I discovered something fascinating. At the top of this online world founded on death, violence and gore, there was etiquette and a love for sport. Players worked together to maximize the common good: fun.
Eventually, I noticed killers wouldn’t play selfishly by taking out their rage on a random survivor. At the end of a dramatic chase, they’d even nod at their opponent (by dragging their mouse up and down), and then move on. They’d confidently go after their next potential victim, aware that they had left their current prey undefended. They would allow saves, but in doing so, play a better game. And so once there was ample skill, there was much less salt. Perhaps everyone was desensitized after all the blood, sweat and tears it took to get there.
Even beyond this mutual effort was a code of ethics under which players could prove their valor through ritualistic action. I once happened upon a trade, the beautiful aftermath of a game in which one survivor performed exceptionally well to save their friends. The killer, having finally found the hero, performed a gesture of great respect: Another survivor was allowed to trade places, to choose to sacrifice themselves in the place of their knight. And this sacred, restrained ritual, mediated by a monster, had developed naturally. In a game like “Dead by Daylight,” people were inspired to act in an almost Christlike way.
It was only after I had turned off the TV that I realized the true extent of “Dead by Daylight’s” culture. Online, players lamented the very state of in-game man and dissected the actions of the developers, the Gods of what had become a gamified religion. New updates countered old customs, altered key rituals, even rewrote the in-game texts—so any retooling of the game’s dogma would have reverberating effects. After my immersion, I now understand these online worlds have an appeal beyond a game. I had encountered an initial chaos, found civilization and became a citizen. I’d found the ethics of execution, the result of just this one game’s chosen church and state.