Immersion and Adrenaline


I remember well my first honest-to-goodness brush with death. My platoon had been tasked with holding the last of 5 bridges in Mosul, Iraq in the fall of 2004. Insurgents were fleeing the Anbar province and attempting to move north through our city. Our mission was to stop this push at all costs. I was 20, and had been in the sandbox for the better part of a year by then. In that time we had taken a few IED hits, one of which blew the front wheel off our five ton dump truck circa 1967. Fortunately, none of those hits had been catastrophic; we responded to one that had been for another unit in our AO and no amount of words here could do that day justice. Our platoon had also been a party to a handful of skirmishes of small arms fire, but I hadn’t yet had that, “this is it,” thought. Even the countless rounds of mortar fire that pock marked our FOB all seemed somehow occurring to someone else. This bridge mission changed that all for me.

We had occupied our position for a day until that fateful morning. I was reminded of my first experience with California burn off, an East Coaster my whole life, as the cool morning began with that same Pacific Ocean haze hanging low on the horizon. With little cover on the high banked road leading to the bridge, that was our charge, we did our best to hunker down in and around our trucks. We also sought defilade in hasty fighting positions dug the day prior. The situation was obviously far from ideal, but we made do. That’s when it happened. Minutes before dawn broke, mortars began raining down on our position. Utilizing the suppression created by the artillery, two machine gun teams quickly moved through the brush along the river, in to position on our east and west. All at once our situation had turned dire. In that moment, all the adrenaline in the world was somehow still 50cc’s less than what I needed.

Five deep in a Jeep really makes me feel “immersed…” In dudes, that is.

I’ve been a video gamer for almost three decades. I can say with certainty that I’ve experienced just about all that the medium has to offer in ways of sensory input. Throughout those years there have been games, depending on the genre, that unequivocally captured my attention. Not just in the, “I have to get home from school and get to the next level,” but also in their ability to transfer my very being to some place and time elsewhere. Like an engrossing novel, or a gripping, dramatic film, a well-constructed video game can hold my attention at its mercy for as long as I choose to be plugged in. How many hours of my life have been spent attempting to jump from one platform to another, precariously perched above so much lava and certain death? How many days have ticked away where the only highlight centered on guiding my avatar from one perilous situation to the next? In all those instances, the quality of the game experience could be gauged by the amount of immersion I experienced. How completely had the game controlled my minds ability to process sensation? Did minutes or hours fly by unaccounted for while on the hero’s quest to slay the dragon? Time, after all, is very relative.

In what seemed like an instant I had expended a 200 round drum from my SAW. I was attempting to provide covering fire for a push to recover our personnel stuck on the bridge itself. They had been operating the hasty traffic control point we had set up there. What happened next is just a serious of images in my mind’s eye. Instinctively, I turned my head down and away while opening my feed tray cover to clear the few remaining rounds from the spent drum. I needed to feed the next belt in to my machine gun and I guarded my face out of some largely irrational fear of rounds cooking off from the weapon’s smoking barrel. In doing so, however, I managed to catch sight of my squad leader crouching behind the wheel of our truck with our RTO. He had the hand mic from the radio in one hand, his rifle in the other and he was yelling something in my direction. Unfortunately, all I could hear was the drone of the Ma Deuce vomiting rounds in its train like chug a chug rhythm. I did manage to make out two words.“GET SMALL.” That’s when I saw them.

Typical union work. One guy working, three “supervising.” Join the team they said…

Creation or replication of honest-to-goodness adrenaline inducing situations is not easy. It requires a long list of factors that ultimately boil down to how completely the game immersed the player in the given situation. Attachment plays a big role as well, and can be a great driver of content. As in real life, how often has an epic drama unfolded between warring clans over an essentially meaningless spit of land? Someone becomes attached to it simply because it is, or was at some point, theirs. The survival side of H1Z1 does an excellent job of generating attachment. Very similar to EVE Online, loss in H1Z1 is complete and with serious game altering ramifications. One evening, a few weeks back, I was helping a clan mate move out to a remote location to set up a farm. On his person he had what was essentially three days of effort for him in building materials gathered and constructed. In the move, my jeep got blown up from hostile fire and he lost all his stuff. He was understandably decimated.

I don’t want to alarm you, but…

I’ve been honestly impressed with H1Z1’s ability to create that, pulse pounding in your ear, adrenaline rush. Going through the effort, especially as part of a group, to lay claim to an area by building a base and defending it from invaders is plain and simple fun. Hackers and base coding bugs aside, when two groups duke it out for dominance of an area the game is at its finest. What’s more, you are rewarded with a very tangible result of your hard work in the proverbial flag on top of a hill that is the base you construct in an area. At any given moment the game can turn in to a pitched battle struggle to stay alive. One minute you’re chopping trees to put more walls on your base, the next a jeep is rolling up with five heavily armed hostiles spreading hate and discontent upon you and yours. Now you are running for your life to take cover and return fire all while yelling on comms to coordinate a counter attack. Immersion is now complete. You are heavily invested in that area from all the time you’ve spent scavenging and building. Your body is responding no differently than mine was on that bridge. My level of immersion that day was so complete I actually missed the cavalry coming in to save the day.

Amidst all the chaos, my lieutenant, an outstanding example of what a commissioned officer should be, had the presence of mind and cool head under fire to call for close air support. To my three o’clock now, hovering in the air seemingly a handful of feet from my position, was a pair of Kiowa gunships. Looking back on it now, I have no idea how I missed them. Perhaps the memory of them would not have been so poignant to me if I knew they were coming, or at least saw them approach. Seemingly all at once, they were performing a sharp bank and dispensing their 2.75 inch rockets into the wood line east of me at the base of the road’s embankment. As long as I live I shall never forget the sight of that helicopter turned high in the air preparing to rain down hate and discontent. In my head I was screaming, “FRIENDLY, I’M FRIENDLY!” Mercifully, my IR tabs did a much better job of that for me. No person prior, and probably not since, has managed to get as low or as close to a Jersey barrier than I did in that moment. Just as quickly as the complex ambush began, it was over, and I could have probably slept for three days straight just from the amount of energy I burned in that short period. I was exhausted, but supremely grateful for what is perhaps the two most beautiful words in the English language; air superiority.

I always like to show my appreciation for someone’s effort with a Molotov Cocktail

If you’re still on the fence about H1Z1 and interested in the Survival mode which I write about, wait for this next patch, which is currently up on the test server, then try it. You can still have a great time in Battle Royale while you wait. You don’t have to be a fan of the first person shooter genre, or even the zombie genre to enjoy this game. At its core, and again similar to Eve, is the value in the community and the content created by people working together to kill other people. No zombie survival shooter, or any game for that matter, could completely replicate armed combat in a conflict. However, if you allow yourself to be immersed and invested, the capacity exists in H1Z1 to reproduce, with surprising similarity, the tension, terror, and toe curling joy (after the fact) of that experience.

This article originally appeared on, written by .

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