A Week in the Life of ARK: Survival Evolved – Part Two: Destroy and Rebuild
Last week, I chronicled the first four days since the prehistoric survival sim ARK: Survival Evolved premiered on the PlayStation 4. It was the beginning of something wonderful. Witnessing the birth of an online community from a bunch of noobs in their underwear fistfighting on the beach and eating each other was fun, but the true reward was witnessing the game’s evolution towards player cooperation. But as an early release game, there were some issues to go along with the wonderful procedural storybuilding that accompanies every foray into this brutal game.
Day Five: A Plan Comes Together/Apart
Today it occurs to me that this game is unhealthy for me. It’s occupying way too much of my headspace. I honestly don’t think I’ve ever been this addicted to a video game. This thing will ruin lives, and this isn’t even its final form. And I’ve only really played on one of the three available maps so far. One of them has dragons! Anyways, day five was when I realized that I could happily live in this video game. No work. No family. Just ARK.
I started yet another character on another server from scratch, determined not to waste another day fruitlessly searching for my lost home. I set up shop in a bay close to my spawn point this time, with a small herd of triceratops nearby to act as a buffer against large predators. Desperate for a tribe, I spam every player I meet with invites and set up torches and signs around my home to act as beacons and make my desire for a tribal commune known.
Soon, I have a few tribemates and a pet dodo named Captain Stupid. I then proceed to train a carbonemys (a large, tough, and fierce turtle) and some kind samaritan was actually helping me by gathering berries to drug and feed it and throwing them at my feet. He was also kind enough to toss me some clothing, as I’d prioritized learning other skills first. Now this. THIS is what I’ve wanted.
After my tribemates log off, I do as well. A few hours later I’m back on (do NOT forget to write down your server number, new players) and am greeted by a fool who attacks the trikes and then runs towards my house to hide. The trikes start tearing my house down, which aggros Myrtle (my turtle), who was with me acting as a packing mule while I gathered wood. She goes to our home’s defense, causing me to throw in to defend her and soon everybody’s dead except for Captain Stupid and Phlegmy II, who I had left safely locked indoors. My first order of business upon respawning is to erect a sign reading “Do NOT aggro the trikes!” on my property.
Later that night, I attempted to take down a parasaur and it quickly fled into the water. I didn’t follow because it was getting dark and there are pirahna, but a few minutes later I see Captain Stupid’s name out there. Apparently I left the house door open and when he saw me hit that giant herbivore, he wanted a piece of that action and swam out after it, cornering it against a rock face and flapping all over it, pecking it to death. That’s right. My pet dodo soloed a fucking two ton dinosaur. I carried him back home with a newfound respect for the lowliest of the ARK’s creatures.
At this point, I build a raft and then am greeted by a small group of players who accept my tribal invites and begin setting up shop on my beach. It’s a great feeling. They build their own homes while I open my cabin to them and begin preparing a farm for narcoberries (used for taming and making tranquilizers). Soon the trikes will be mine.
Disaster strikes when I attempt to invite another player into our tribe. He was quicker on the draw and replaced my command with an acceptance of his invite instead. When I went back home, I found that my stuff wasn’t mine anymore. It belonged to the tribe. The one I just inadvertently left. I party chat with my tribemates, and none of them can invite me. Apparently only the boss can do that (I guess I qualified before) and that must have been the guy from earlier in the day, who I haven’t seen since. So that’s another entire day’s work down the drain. But now it’s IRL bedtime. Horrible way to end what had been one of my most satisfying days of gaming this year.
Day Six: Multitasking
After once again losing everything I’d worked so hard for and failing to receive a response to my friend request from the tribe founder who could presumably invite me back into the tribe and get access to my pets and buildings back, I decided to change focus for a bit. While waiting for a coworker to download the game and having trouble with overcrowding on my server of choice, I started up my own server (basically my single player game, but supposedly joinable by other players) and after being thrown into dilophosaur hell in the dark I decided to get on my raft and leave this plagued land filled with bad memories. I sailed past the swamp, enjoyed the ocean view complete with massive seabirds above and terrifying giant sharks below and beyond that was….another beach filled to the fucking brim with dilophosaurs. Well, shit.
I kept cruising and eventually found a nice open beach inhabited mostly by Pterosaurs and Carbonemys’. Beyond the treeline of the forest beyond the beach I spied a raptor. “I’ll be back to ride you, later” I thought. “Fuck that, I’ll eat you right now” responded the raptor, who had spied me as well. Damn those things have good eyesight. It was a nasty fight, but I was loaded down with wood and taken by surprise so I was an easy target in the end. I respawned at the edge of the swamp, sprinted past the army of dilos, and arrived back near my new proposed home just in time to see the raptor who killed me lose a fight to a giant turtle, who looked seriously worse for wear. That shall be my next pet, then.
But before I train Myrtle’s successor, I had to train my coworker, and since the game for some reason will not allow me to invite friends into my game in spite of the option being there (I have to assume this is a product of the game still being in alpha and will be fixed soon), I started over from scratch once again in yet another server where we coordinated to find each other.
My friend having never played anything at all like ARK, it was actually pretty challenging to explain the mechanics to him. It really puts into perspective how complex gaming has become when you need ten minutes to walk a curious shooter player through crafting a simple campfire to cook dinner. We did, however build ourselves a makeshift camp up on a hill before getting too big for our britches and picking a fight with a raptor. Turns out I should have explained combat to him too. Or made sure he at least crafted a damn spear. The good news is, we successfully found our camp again after we respawned. The key is to pay attention by orienting yourself using the placement of the ARK’s mysterious colored glowing towers.
After my compatriot logged off, I went back to my server from yesterday to find that I was locked inside of my own house (you’ll recall it was tribe property and I’d accidentally left the tribe) with nobody around to let me out. I had a ton of gear so I didn’t want to die, so once I began starving I logged off and went back to the server where I lost my previous home to start anew, albeit with a well-leveled character.
I closed the night out after evading a massive spinosaurus, encountering my first player riding a pterosaur (he looked SO COOL!), instigating a deathmatch between a stegosaurus and a terrifying crocodilian sarco (loser gets to become my bed!), and surviving a carno attack (they can outrun me, but I can outswim them) with a nice cabin surrounded by a lot of really tough herbivores (no predator could approach it from behind, as those ankylosaurs and sauropods are fond of dog-piling predators), a piranha-free river down the path on the hill, plenty of resources, a new pet dilo, and my first rideable dinosaur in the form of a parasaur named Selfie (a clumsy duckface joke). Now I need just a saddle. Not a bad night’s work if I do say so myself.
Day Seven: Devastation and Reflection
Believe it or not, yesterday represented a turning point. In its first week ARK has consumed my thoughts more than any other game ever has. Even with its myriad infuriating and occasionally baffling rough edges in its pre-release stage, this thing Wildcard has created is absolutely amazing. So much so that I’ve begun restraining myself from playing it. Yesterday I spent half of the day trying to keep myself busy. I was off work and I did not want to spend every second of it playing video games, and if I’d logged into ARK, I would have. So I refused to play it until after dinner, and sure enough, I kept at it into the morning hours after that. By myself or with somebody else, it doesn’t matter. This game is all I think about, even when I’m not playing it.
When I got back in-game, I found that I’d been killed by a high level allosaurus while my avatar slumbered in my home (in multiplayer servers, your character goes to sleep while you’re logged off). Selfie and his dilo sidekick didn’t make it. I found my way back to my demolished cabin (it even smashed my bed and storage crate!) to discover that the fucker responsible was still around, as it swiftly made a second meal out of me. On my hike back, I took the rear route through the forest. No sign of my protectors. Either they wandered off, or that allosaurus is insanely overpowered. However, the forest is swarming with poisonous dragonflies. God, I hate those things!
After taking the long way home, there’s no sign of the bastard who has caused all of this pain, so I begin rebuilding. This time, I fortify my cabin in the woods with spike walls, which claimed their first victim when I picked a fight with a chalicotherium and scrambled out of its reach to rain arrows. It futily attacked my walls and ended up impaled. Come at me now, giant prehistoric creatures. Come at me now. It’s time to build a farm and put down some roots. Someday, I will soar over this place on the back of pteranodon and some noob will look up and think about how cool I look.
The Wrap Up
My first week with ARK: Survival Evolved has been a mix of insane highs and lows. Thinking back on it, I realize that this fairly storyless game has given me a lot to think about when it comes to gaming and life. ARK’s absolutely BRUTAL indifference to the well-being of its players and the hostility of its world mirror real life in ways that I don’t believe I’ve ever encountered in a video game. Some video games may be designed to be incredibly difficult, but every single situation is made to be surmountable. You are meant to beat that level. It’s just a matter of skill and dedication. But ARK is simply an open persistent world that follows its own rules and whims, and it is not designed to always be survivable. There are plenty of situations where the only possible end is your death.
From the pitch black empty-handed nighttime spawns surrounded by killers who are faster, stronger, and more numerous than you to the random monsters who will destroy your home and murder you while you aren’t even playing the game to the lack of waypoints or even locators on your map, this game is not designed to help you out at all. It’s all about doing whatever you can before you perish, accepting inevitable defeat, and then going at it again. And again. But every time you die, you come back knowing how you died and perhaps how to better prevent it. As your death count grows, so does your knowledge, and as your knowledge grows, so does your ability to bend this strange new world to your will.
Its casual indifference to the player’s odds and refusal to coddle them is what Survival Evolved is all about. Anybody can survive something designed so that you can always get exactly what you need so long as you do what you’re supposed to. This game is about what you do and how you cope with being left entirely to your own devices with no directions at all and no guarantee of getting what you need. Death is the only certainty. But the satisfaction that comes with success is massive. Even as the game continues to find ways to crush you underfoot, coming back again and again and rebuilding over and over, each time a little better than before, has a special kind of satisfaction. And that, more than anything else, makes ARK something really special for hardcore gamers.