We all love a good survival story - and almost all of us can probably relate in some form or another to overcoming a situation that you weren't sure the outcome of. While experienced bushcrafters might seek real survival experiences for fun, the concept of survival is something that continues to intrigue millions of people who have not had to experience true outdoor survival. Self-sustainability is not a new concept, and survival experiences are a visceral reality of the ultimate form of self-sustainability.
It's no surprise that survival video games have been growing in popularity, and with that rise in interest, more games have come out in recent years that are focused on providing as real of an experience as possible, while staying within the confines of a virtual world. While there is a huge amount of fantasy type survival games, such as zombie or alien survival, I want to use this post to talk about the games that go out of their way to provide an authentic experience in the safety of your own home.
It might sound silly, but having virtual experience is better than none at all. The US military has been using interactive video training for decades - and there's no reason that concepts focused on real things can't be translated into a virtual world. There are plenty of games that provide realistic aspects in one degree or another, and below I will rank the top 3 based on their realism and attention to true survival details.
#3 - Green Hell
Green Hell is a survival game that sees you surviving in the Amazon rainforest. A popular destination in the real world, there are a plethora of stories of travelers becoming lost, and having to survive among one of the harshest environments on Earth. Green Hell does a great job of building the landscape, making you survive the harsh elements of the Amazon just as much as avoiding starvation or worse. This game does cross away from reality with the presence of a cannibal tribe - which can be disabled if you're looking for a more standard survival experience. Even without the cannibals to worry about, the environmental hazards posed by poisonous animals or plants, as well as violent predators like the Jaguar, surviving in Green Hell is far from a picnic. You will find yourself navigating the jungle terrain, avoiding hazards while scavenging food and materials necessary to your survival. The main reason this game makes it to the list is the crafting and inventory system. I love the way that your inventory is based on your actual backpack - you choose where to store items based on the confines of your backpack. Items that are too large to fit simply won't, forcing you to carry it in your hands. Crafting is then done by dragging the necessary components for the item you are crafting. This gives you a realistic view in how everything is done - from crafting a crude stone axe to starting a fire. Injuries you may receive in the game are also localized to specific body parts - you'll be constantly checking your body for ticks and other scrapes or injuries, which can cause further issues for you if allowed to go untreated. You can even suffer from hallucinations, either from dehydration or a decreasing sanity level from being in the dark jungle for too long. While this can be considered an annoying mechanic, mental acuity in a survival situation is just as important as physical capabilities, and this is something that is often overlooked, so the inclusion of this mechanic is a welcome addition in my eyes.
Green Hell is available on all platforms, so for those of you looking to test your skills in the Amazon rainforest, this is a great option for a fun survival experience either alone or with friends.
#2 - Stranded Deep
Another common survival story, Stranded Deep begins on a survival raft, having you venture to nearby small islands to harvest materials needed for survival. While there are no human enemies to worry about, the presence of poisonous sea creatures, and of course, sharks, create an environment that is extremely deadly. Dehydration will be your largest enemy, as you'll find that fresh water in the middle of the ocean is difficult to acquire. Overworking yourself or staying in the open sun too long will dehydrate you quickly, as it would in real life, forcing you to perform tasks only by true necessity, so as not to waste the precious water you do have. Another key theme here is that crafting and your inventory are based in realism - not allowing you to magically carry items that you could not reasonably do in real life. On top of crafting, Stranded Deep is unique in that your harvestable materials never respawn - once an island has been fully harvested of materials it is no longer of any use, forcing you to move on. Trees, plants, and other items are gone for good once they have been harvested, meaning you can't stay in one place forever. This is a very real concept - as over harvesting of areas around you will lead to scarcity in the future. Because of this, recycling your materials is a key factor of this game, and that's something you'll find in any real survival situations. Coconuts harvested for coconut water can be recycled as a vessel to hold fresh water, if you're able to find any. Fishing is of course a big factor in getting the food you'll need to survive, and that's where the main difficulties of this game will come in. The ocean, although plentiful for survival, also contains an untold number of dangers that can quickly turn a leisurely fishing trip into a fight for your life. The only difference from real life is that instead of venturing into the open ocean, it would be better to wait for someone to find you on solid ground. But, this is a video game after all, so seeing how long you are able to survive with those conditions is the name of the game here.
Stranded Deep is available on all platforms. This game can be enjoyed alone or with others on local co-op on consoles, or online play on PC.
#1 - The Long Dark
There is, in my opinion, no truer survival game than The Long Dark. The Long Dark does take some liberties with the setting, placing you in a post-apocalyptic Canadian wasteland. For most preppers, this is the type of setting they prepare for, and this is why this fits well as the number 1 spot on this list. Your only goal in this game is to survive the elements, focused specifically on day by day survival. And this is what makes The Long Dark stand out in this saturated survival game category. In any real survival situation you can plan for the long term, but you will primarily be focused on making sure you can make it to the end of the day. There isn't any profound crafting in this game other than simple objects, but that is also something that's very real. In a setting like this, wasting energy building shelters and tools is completely unnecessary, because everything is available if you're able to find it. Instead, ensuring you don't freeze to death is going to be your first priority. To do this you'll need to make sure you have warmth, either a shelter or fire, as well as food and water to make up the calories you burn as you venture through the frozen wasteland. Deadfall traps can be crafted in the game to catch small prey such as rabbits, with all parts of any animal in the game serving a purpose. The continued use of these traps however will draw predators towards you, making your survival situation more difficult as you navigate around wolf packs, bears, and the majestic yet deadly Canadian Moose. Injuries in this game have a realistic cause and effect - carrying too much weight will make it easier to sprain or break an ankle on uneven terrain, which will lower your movement speed and overall carrying capacity as a result of the injury. It's things like this that paint a picture of how every little thing in a survival situation blends together that will effect your likelihood of survival, and the main reason why The Long Dark is my number one choice for a real, visceral survival game experience.
The Long Dark is available on all platforms and is exclusively a single-player experience to further develop the feeling of loneliness and self-reliance.
While we may focus primarily on real outdoor experiences, video games like this still satisfy a wanderlust in different ways, while providing somewhat realistic expectations should you find yourself in an actual survival situation. Regardless of your intentions for the games, they are still a great way to get that bushcraft experience from the safety of your own home, and if you're able to enjoy them with friends online, those experiences will be special in their own right.