Your team is decimated.
You’re surrounded by zombies. And they’re closing in.
Normally, you lean forward, turn off your console, step away and play again once you’ve had the opportunity to regroup.
But you can’t. Because this isn’t a video game. It’s real. What do you do?
This is the feeling that IRL Shooter are trying to create with their live first-person shooter game Patient 0. And it sounds more immersive than any video game experience ever. Welcome to the apocalypse.
“Real” zombies, guns and fear
The last decade demonstrates an unrequited love for zombies. They now permeate every aspect of culture from television, movies and videogames to maths and literature to zombie fun runs and nerf games. The undead truly seem unstoppable.
Each of these experiences, although fun, is limited in its immersion. You read about characters running from zombies, or watch as they die gruesome deaths only to swear that you would have done things differently. Because of course, you’re a survivor.
The problem is, no matter what you’re watching or playing, zombies aren’t real. Which means you’ll never truly know how well you could survive.
But IRL Shooter is doing something different. They’re bringing zombies to life and creating a visceral experience by placing you inside a game.
The game begins when you don an army uniform and are greeted by a surly captain. You are given infrared guns that feel real in weight, recoil when fired, and need to be manually reloaded. These are the first blocks creating the foundation of the reality you will inhabit for the next 60 minutes.
Then you step into a warehouse. Like a zombified Truman Show, everything around you is there to make the experience more real. The warehouse is overhauled in an apocalyptic outfit and is strewn with destruction and the dead.
As you move through solving puzzles, you encounter actors playing the undead that you need to dispatch to make it out alive. Although the gun you were given doesn’t shoot real bullets, it has the same consequences as its infrared beams fell the dead, destroy light fittings and unleash deadly gas from poison canisters.
Technology makes the experience real and the warehouse as interactive as possible. The creators want you to feel like you’re right in the middle of a zombie apocalypse in the most realistic way possible.
To some, this may not sound appealing. But given the first event – held in Melbourne last year – was funded through Pozible more than 24 times its initial request, there is no question many folks are interested.
Patient 0 is now coming to Sydney, and IRLShooter is hoping to make it bigger, better and to break Pozible funding records by being the first million dollar funded project.
Video games versus reality
This live first-person shooter concept that IRL Shooter put together is interesting to me as an experience, but is fascinating from a psychological and biological perspective.
Cognitive studies demonstrate that playing video games has a whole host of positive effects such as improved reaction time and multiple object tracking. Although these skills often translate to real world tests, there’s no understanding how they translate to real-world scenarios.
IRL Shooter is creating an immersive experience where you are not responding to a stimulus in a game, but to one right in front of you. It’s not a character holding a gun, but you physically pulling a trigger on one that feels real. It’s not your character that needs to repel a zombie attack, but you that needs to defend yourself and your teammates from imminent death.
If this isn’t real enough, then you can also wear a pain-belt that provides a shock when you get hit.
In this sense, the experience is more real than a video game because all your senses are enthralled, further intensifying biological responses. Will skills learned in video games translate to such a stressful real-life scenario? Will the thousands of virtual deaths you’ve had prepare you for preventing a more realistic one?
Despite the real feeling, IRL Shooter is very much treating the experience as a game. Players will be able to purchase “upgrades” both before starting and while playing the game. As you progress, you gain experience that can be used to further “level-up”.
And players who “die” can buy extra lives to continue the game. In this sense, it is more video game than reality.
Regardless of how you view the experience, the line between reality and game is truly blurred. The feeling of immersion will likely depend on how individuals deceive themselves about the reality they are experiencing.
Self-deception is a powerful psychological phenomenon which has the potential to change how our own brain perceives the world. In short, a greater belief in something results in a truer reality.
Will individuals with enhanced self-deception, and therefore a more “realistic” experience, perform better? Or will performance depend on how much an individual treats the experience like a video game?
Understanding the traits that predict performance in such stressful experiences and whether they are mediated by individual immersion is an interesting biological and psychological question.
But maybe the video games that are so dear to many cannot prepare us for the upcoming apocalypse. Perhaps it is not the zombies that we have to fear the most: their predictable stagger and mindless behaviour truly pose no threat to us live humans.
Perhaps the greatest thing we have to fear is other survivors and their unpredictable nature driven by their need to survive. If that’s truly the case, then no video game can prepare us. Maybe we need more experiences like Patient 0 to truly help us understand what being human is all about. Will you be prepared?
Michael Kasumovic receives funding from the Australian Research Council for his evolutionary research.
Although not affiliated with the IRL Shooter, Michael purchased a ticket to play when it arrives in Sydney.