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My Love-Hate Relationship with Dead by Daylight


(This post is about the video game "Dead by Daylight". If you're not familiar with the game, you can learn more about it here.)

Dead by Daylight. I first learned about the game when watching some of my favorite youtubers have a blast playing it. Although it looked fairly fun, I put off actually playing it for years: I was always kind of nervous when it came to horror games, and being a spectator was a much lower bar to reach.

One day, I decided to be brave. I still remember my first game of DBD. I was a survivor and I didn't know what the fuck I was doing. Well, actually I did, because I had watched so much of the game. Nevertheless, playing it was a whole new level of intensity. I lucked out: the killer focused on my teammates for pretty much the entire game, and I ended up being the only escapee. It was still terrifying.

Maybe it was that fear, the intensity, that got me hooked on DBD. The raw emotion of being chased and hunted down was an incredible feeling. I remember one notable moment that solidified this notion. It was the endgame and a Doctor had hooked and camped a poor survivor. My teammates left. I, on the other hand, attempted a rescue, but I was too late. I ended up leaving too, but not before a terrifying game of hide-and-seek, then a short chase to the exit gate. I don't know why it happened, but after I escaped, my body started to tense. I could feel everything tingle. I was having a panic attack. No game ever did that to me before. I was starstruck.

But it wasn't just being chased that was exhilarating: the other side of the coin was surprisingly fun as well. When I first started playing killer, I opted for Ghostface, a silent hunter that stalks his prey before readying for the killing blow. I had a blast playing him. Every little mindgame, every little trick that threw the survivors off - it was all so satisfying. I remember one time where I baited a pallet save by crouching on a downed survivor. Moments like that made DBD worth it.

I had great moments with other killers too. Playing as Bubba, I remember getting a multi-down chainsaw sweep on an overly-altruistic survivor and their freshly-unhooked friend. As Nurse, I pulled off an insane blink-down combo through a large obstacle. As Wraith, I befriended a survivor that gifted me their item - talk about wholesome!

…so where did everything go wrong?

In some ways, my initial excitement with DBD was simply about its novelty. There's not many asymmetrical online games; at least, not many with a decent-sized online community. Even fewer games possess both that and the horror aspect of chasing and being chased. DBD is just a pretty unique game.

But after that initial novelty wore off, and I started to gain experience and move up the MMR system, things changed for the worse.

Starting with the survivor perspective: one of the worst things I've begun to feel when playing as a survivor is how hopeless it can feel. Once I got to the red ranks (or grades, as they're called now), I started to go against killers that were, to put it plainly, insanely good. Don't get me wrong: I'm not complaining about having an actual challenge. All I want is for it to be balanced. I don't want to feel dominated in almost every game, and neither do I want the killers to feel that. But in practice, that's what started to happen.

One of the worst examples of this was a game where I was playing against a Hag. This Hag wasn't messing around. She tunneled her first hook into a second hook in the basement. Then, in typical Hag fashion, she set up a boatload of traps. An altruistic teammate bravely went in for the save, and actually managed to do a trade, thanks to Borrowed Time. The next teammate to go in wasn't so lucky. They ended up getting downed and hooked, so now there were two people stuck in a trap-filled basement. Needless to say, the rest of that game didn't end well.

Another time, I was going against a Pyramid Head who had a pretty strong start, with 4 hooks (including 1 death) at 4 gens. After the next death, I and one other teammate basically spent several minutes trading hooks. All that time, we both knew the game was over, and that only one of us was gonna make it out.

That's what I hate the most about playing as a survivor: hopelessness. The feeling that a game was over at the halfway point. The knowledge that, absent some miraculous comeback, this was gonna be a "hatch match". The fact that, in order to escape through said hatch, I'd have to execute an incredibly boring strategy: sit in a locker, hide in a corner of the map, wait for my teammate to die, then maybe get the hatch.

I hate feeling hopeless. And as I played more and more games in the red ranks, hopelessness is what I continued to feel. More games where the killer just trashed the survivors. More games where things were over before they even started. More camping. More tunneling. More sweat. It just got overwhelming.

So what did I do? I turned my back on survivor, and started playing more killer rounds.

To cut to the chase, playing as a killer felt better, but it wasn't a bulletproof experience by any means. It was more about picking my poison. It's always thrilling to hunt, down, and sacrifice survivors, but there was always an element of stress in the background. Playing killer is a nuanced game of time management, choosing your battles, and min-maxing the hell out of each and every play. In other words, it feels like life. And life is exactly what I'm trying to escape when I play a video game!

DBD is a dilemma. Playing as a survivor means dealing with hopelessness. It means knowing that your team has collapsed, and that there's little that you (a single person on a 4-man team) can do to turn things around. Playing as a killer means dealing with stress. It means shouldering the intense burden of the 4v1, and knowing that everything depends on you and you alone.

But as much as DBD can be hell, it can also be heaven. It's incredibly rewarding to pull off an endgame rescue as a survivor, or pull off an amazing play as a killer. Those stories I mentioned near the beginning of this essay - those amazing experiences - those still happen from time to time!

This is why I have a love-hate relationship with DBD. It's a "high variance" game. You never know what to expect when you load into a match. When amazing things happen, they're beyond amazing. And when heartbreaking things happen, they're beyond heartbreaking.

Since the time I bought DBD almost 2 years ago, I've both installed it and uninstalled it several times. Each time, I tell myself that this is it. I'm either committing to playing more DBD because it's awesome, or committing to never playing it again because it's awful.

I just wish I could make up my damn mind.