The more I play Dying Light, the more I’m impressed by the humanity of it. The characters in the game are just that; characters. Real, flawed, occasionally deeply weird people who’ve carved out a life for themselves in a city where life is very much at a premium. Interacting with them is much more fun than dodging the zombies and that’s a problem we’ll talk about another time. But for now I want to talk about three of the perople I’ve met and what they say about the game.
You meet Gazi when Lena, the Tower doctor sends you to him to get seizure medicine. Brecken, the leader of the Tower, was badly injured on a previous run and Lena is the only person on staff he trusts enough to let see how ill he is. So, off you go, running across cars and rooftops, clutching your wrench like it was Excalibur itself.
Then you meet Gazi and you find out why you were warned he was a little…odd.
Gazi lives with his mother. Or, the shape his mother left in his life. He’s clearly mentally unwell, and the game deals with that illness in a manner that’s refreshingly straightforward and at first just a little too close to offensive. Gazi’s mannerisms all scream ‘Local nutter’ and you’re encouraged to think of him that way, especially when you get ‘mom’ chocolates and a film from two nearby stores in return for the meds you need. When you go back and he refuses to let you in through the door that reluctant tolerance becomes irritation. Having to negotiate the underside of a motorway overpass to get to an objective you’ve already been to two other places for feels like overkill and when you finally drop into his house, you, and your character, are pretty angry.
Then you see ‘Mom’. Made from plastic containers with a smiley face drawn on her head.
Then you see how happy Gazi is and, for now, how safe.
You take the meds and you leave him to the piece of ground he’s chosen to hold. The annoyance has become something closer to respect and, weirdly, the last joke at Gazi’s expense confirms that feeling. Lena, when you give her the meds, asks how it went. You tell her what happened and she smiles and says ‘Momma ain’t happy, nobody happy.’, one of Gazi’s catchphrases. It’s mocking but it’s mocking with affection and a surprising amount of respect. Gazi is Gazi. And Gazi is still alive. A piece of ground held, a shard of the old world maintained.
Jeff’s held some ground too, but the mission you do for him is very different. Firstly, Jeff’s not just insane, he’s played for comedy. Where Gazi is hanging onto the old world, Jeff has decided that the new world is fine, but just needs a spitshine. Sent to get him to help turn the city’s gas back on you instead find he’s responsible for it being shut off. Jeff has a dream. Jeff has a vision. Jeff has an Apocalypse Wall. Clad in cut off army fatigues and looking like an Apocalypse Now stock clearance sale, Jeff sends you around the city turning the gas back on. He’s brash, loud, clearly enjoying the apocalypse and the chance it’s given him to ‘step up.’. Nonetheless, you get it done, show up and he thanks you, offering you a seat as the Apocalypse Wall fires up.
You notice the game’s showing you a blast radius.
And then Jeff blows himself and a good chunk of city block up.
The difference between the Jeff and Gazi plots is massive. Gazi’s treated like, if not an equal, then certainly a compatriot. He needs you to do things he can’t, you need things he has that you don’t. It may be annoying but it’s a fair exchange and one that, crucially, is a zero sum. Gazi is looking after his mother and his memory, and not damaging anyone else doing it. In contrast, Jeff has stolen the entire city’s gas supply in order to turn his compound into a gigantic Bunsen Burner. Both look out for themselves but only one hurts other people doing it.
That brings us to Ryan. You’re tipped off to Ryan’s existence when a gate guard tells you about a house pumping out red smoke. It’s a sitting duck for Rais’ men and so off you go to warn the owner. You get there, open the door and Ryan hands you a pharmaceutical shopping list before slamming it again.
It turns out he’s been cooking the bathtub-level amphetamines that are keeping Rais’ men jacked up. He assumes you’re with Rais, gives you the list and expects you to go and get them. Instead, after consulting with the Tower’s medical staff, you go and find the ingredients for patient care rather than thug enhancement. Where Gazi and Jeff are both at the heart of reactive plots, this is the first time you’re out in front of it and it feels really good. Even more so when you retrieve the chemicals, fight off the men sent to Ryan and tell him to get out of town. The exchange finishes with:
RYAN: Way ahead of you, mate.
YOU: Yeah, no, I don’t think you are.
Ryan isn’t just damaging other people, he’s actively hurting them. Worse, unlike Jeff in particular he’s absolutely aware of what he’s doing. That final line is both a joke at his expense about your failed plan to outwit him and a pretty damning indictment. Ryan’s still trying to make a living in Harran. The smart people are simply trying to live.