Survival Games: Why We Keep on Coming Back for More

Published: May 11, 2018 1:00 PM /



For quite some time now, the survival genre has broadened tremendously within the video game community. During the course of many years attempting (and through trial-and-error, eventually succeeding) to persevere in these virtual harsh environments, I began to ask myself: why do we put ourselves through such turmoil? More importantly, why do we love it so much? Let’s take a quick gander at why the survival genre as whole attracts players of all shapes and sizes and the reasoning behind its perpetual growth.

Diverse titles such as Minecraft, Resident Evil 7, and Conan Exiles showcase the comprehensive subcategories embraced by the survival genre. Though a plethora of these experiences are affiliated with the traditional horror theme, a handful of survival games have also tested the waters by experimenting with different settings. Subnautica, for example, introduces players to an exquisite alien ocean world that they have crash-landed upon. Not only do players have to regulate their oxygen supply, but they must also burrow into the depths of the ocean floor to rummage for useful resources valuable to their survival. Dangers and mysterious sea creatures confront the player as well, producing obstacles and problematic living conditions. Regardless of their general setting, all survival games heavily rely on one component: exploration.

subnautica survival
Delving into the beautiful ocean world of Subnautica has its perks, but when night time rolls around, dangerous critters from the deep reveal themselves. Watch your back.

From my experience, a slew of survival games briefly acquaint you with your current predicament, pat you on your head, and send you on your way to either succeed or to fail. Instinctively, we fashion our thinking caps and begin to formulate a game plan determined by the means of survival. How do I build myself a shelter? What kind of materials do I need to construct a source of heat during below-freezing weather conditions? Most importantly, where can I get myself some yummy snacks? If we were actually stranded in a post-apocalyptic world, we’d need to acquire vital resources by migrating out into the unknown. Survival games portray similar circumstances, forcing players to ditch their comfort zone whether they like it or not.

Survival games grant players a generous amount of freedom through exploration. Possessing all of this elbowroom fabricates diversified methods for players to experiment with when managing their survival. Though many survival games offer hints for players as complications arise, a good chunk of the gameplay’s puzzle pieces are to be assembled by the player. Klei Entertainment’s Oxygen Not Included is a prime example of learning on the go. Your adorable, quirky crew resides within an alien space rock with little to no resources. Therefore, excavating through the varied elements encompassing you exposes assets used to craft nifty doohickeys imperative to a Duplicant’s survival. Of course, becoming savvy with a survival game’s mechanics doesn’t guilelessly fall into the palm of your hand. You learn by making errors. That’s what makes the genre so addictive.

oxygen not included survival
Duplicants are constantly busy bees in Oxygen Not Included, working to make sure enough oxygen is being generated within their colony and discovering ways to produce power, food, and a clean environment.

As human beings, we crave excitement. Life would be so humdrum if we sauntered through it following a step-by-step strategy guide. Now don’t get me wrong, activating cheat codes to bypass life’s struggles would be a dream come true. Eventually though, we’d get bored. Many of us are wired to derive pleasure from thought-provoking situations. Through trial and error and an embarrassing amount of mistakes, we discover what works and what doesn’t. Survival games follow that same kind of pattern.

For example, you may discover that quenching your thirst with dirty lake water in 7 Days to Die results in diarrhea (yikes), thus damaging your immune system. During your next expedition surviving among the undead, you now decide to prioritize scavenging for filtered water in abandoned houses. Or, maybe get creative and find a way to produce your own. A lot of the time, players aren’t meant to spontaneously thrive in the unforgiving environments. You live and you learn, and sometimes (okay, a lot of the time) you die.

Cruising around ruthless habitats accompanied by a couple of pals typically molds a less stressful experience. A variety of survival games implement multiplayer features, whether it be cooperatively or PvP. PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds impeccably illustrates both examples, administering the leisure to tackle foes as a group or to face the cruel world alone. PUBG is popular for a reason, folks. Rummaging in a hush-hush manner for materials, weapons, and energy drinks creates quite the intense atmosphere. However, being quick on your feet comes in handy too. Gotta learn the tricks of the trade if you plan on being the last man standing.

7 days to die survival
In 7 Days to Die, you can accumulate random resources that may not make any sense, but could come in handy in future predicaments. Oh, and if you don't have a weapon of any sort, you can just punch at things until the end of time, so that's pretty cool.

In many instances, survival games provide a game mode to give players a break from their relentless worlds. Sandbox Mode tosses players into an environment with minimal limitations and the opportunity to experiment with their creativity. Players can sculpt their own experience without the hassle of regulating hunger or thirst. Most of the time, the player has total access to every unique little feature the game has to offer rather than experiencing or unlocking them as progression is made. Minecraft easily fits the description, captivating players through the essence of building imaginative fortresses in an elementary fashion. It’s almost like lumping radical models together with LEGO as a kid but having an infinite amount of LEGO to work with. The possibilities are endless.

Let’s face it: survival games are on the rise. Submerging yourself into visionary, yet demanding worlds is invigorating. Putting yourself in the shoes of your protagonist(s) adds a personal touch to the survival genre, for acquiring the freedom of exploration and craftsmanship truly makes you feel like a badass—especially when you prosper. Various materials are constantly just waiting for you to dig them up and build something awesome out of them. Foes never cease to tear down that ego you’ve spent so long reinforcing. There’s always a task to tackle. With the abundance of gratifying and unique survival games we’ve had the honor to experience that past couple of years, it’s really no wonder why the genre continues to flourish.


Have a tip, or want to point out something we missed? e-mail us at [email protected] or join us on Discord!