Hunter S. Thompson’s children were in the house when he committed suicide, and they described the sound of the gunshot as a book falling flat onto a hard surface.
Thompson's son even picked up a book and dropped it to give you the sense of the flat, cold sound. It took him a minute or two to figure out that his father had turned a gun on himself.
I’m traveling across the countryside with two friends in the Early Access PC game Rust, and every so often we hear the sound of a book falling to the ground. We don’t explore these sounds; it’s much safer to avoid other people. We have hatchets, and two of us have bows, but that’s no match for a firearm.
We encounter two kinds of zombies as we walk the roads. The zombies in red shirts are fast but weak. You have to pick your shot, but as long as you hit them once they’ll go down. The darker zombies are slow, but they take a few hits before they go down. It’s not easy aiming the bow and arrow, so we practice on the wild pigs and deer. Every so often a bear or wolf will attack us, and we have less time to line up the shots.
Every animal, in a surreal twist, provides us with chicken breasts. If you don’t cook them on a fire before you eat them, you’ll get sick. If you don’t keep food in your stomach, you’ll die. You can find supplies in the towns, but you’ll also find radiation.
If you’re exposed to too much radiation, you’ll die. If you stay cold, you’ll burn more calories, leading you to a quicker death by starvation. If you light a fire you could attract other people, and they will kill you. If a zombie sees you, it will attack you, and you could die if you don’t have sufficient weapons or healing items.
So we walk, we avoid other people and we look for things. The only goal is to stay alive.
There is a body laying on the street in front of a town, next to a pile of belongings. It would take nothing to kill him, and we discuss it for a while, but we decide against it. Why did the player pick this place, out in the open, to leave his character when he logged out? I go through his things, and my friend tells me not to be an asshole. I only take some of it. I leave his weapon, but mostly because it’s no better than mine.
Every so often we encounter small wooden shacks, and it takes us a few minutes to break through the doors with our pickaxes. We loot every one we find, although we have yet to come across a locked door with a body behind it. I decide to to kill every sleeping person we find, and we destroy every sleeping bag we come across as we pillage the countryside. This way we reduce the chance of players spawning near us.
It’s already a low population server; we’re just trying to clear out our own area. I wonder if this is how vampire slayers feel, breaking into lairs and shoving stakes into the chest of monsters as they sleep. Sometimes we hear the sound of dropping books as we clear a house, and we move onto the next area.
Eventually we break into a house near a town, and find a furnace inside. We set up a quick base and raid the town every few minutes when the items repopulate, and get to work refining metal for shotguns. Soon we’re all armed, rich with materials from the town, and ready to set off again. I begin to hope that we hear the sound of far-off gunfire again. This time I’m not planning avoiding its source.
But it’s late, and that means we have to log out and return to our normal lives. So we forage for wood and supplies, and build a house, making sure it has three doors so we can all sleep inside. We place our sleeping bags next to each other, and we make sure to craft our doors out of metal instead of wood.
Metal doors can still be broken down, but it will take an explosive instead of a basic tool and persistence. This precaution won’t guarantee the safety of our sleeping bodies, but it helps.
I haven’t checked back today, but I hope I’m still there. In the middle of the floor, sleeping next to my things. Alive.
Boredom with a side of terror
It's hard to know why these experiences are so interesting, or why the act of walking down an abandoned street with friends is this enjoyable. It shouldn't be; taken one by one the game is filled with barely functional mechanics and repetitive tasks. Imagine a version of Minecraft where everything you have can be taken away at a moment's notice, and there's very little you can do about it.
The only thing worse than being alive in Rust is being dead, which is why players spend so much time trying to avoid being dead. You could perhaps avoid this problem altogether by playing a different game, but the possibility of interactions with other players that transcends what you see in other multiplayer games fills every moment with a sense of urgency, even when nothing happens during your session.
Violence is interesting, sure, but the lack of violence can create a tension that's just as exciting. Tonight I plan on visiting my body again to make sure I'm still alive. And if I hear that ominous sound of a dropped book in the distance?
I'm going to walk towards it.