We often publish uplifting articles on here about the positive impact of games. Whether that be a Skyrim-playing grandma immortalised in the next Elder Scrolls game, or a memorial to a modder's dog - games have an incredible power to heal and soothe.
This story's about vengeance.
Specifically, it's about my adventures in Rust, the survival sim which had a big moment a few years ago and has quietly but consistently bubbled away on Steam ever since.
Rust is one of the few multiplayer games where everyone is an arsehole, and the unwritten aim is to be as big an arsehole as possible. You're stuck on an island with limited resources, a bunch of strangers, and total anarchy. It's Machiavellian power struggle combined with trolling, as I discovered during my first week when I logged in to find myself naked, my shack blown open and "nice base, noob" written on the wall.
It sounds like hell (and sometimes was), but clubbing together to survive that absurd environment was a lot of fun. By the time we wrapped up our Rust sessions, my friends and I had constructed impenetrable towers, taken down enemy bases, and produced wall art slightly above caveman level.
To get to that point, however, we had to learn the hard way. But as the saying goes, it's about the journey, and in the process we became the protagonists of a highly satisfying revenge story.
In the beginning, our first base was a small mountain chalet located slightly above a stream. It was picturesque and completely impractical: with few clear lines of sight, enemies could sneak up over the mountain ridge, while the base itself was only one wall thick and could quite easily be blown apart. Still, it was our home, and my friend and I had great fun decorating the place and exploring the area. We even adopted another noob and built them a small shack next to ours. We didn't trust them enough to let them in the house.
A few weeks passed without incident, allowing us to get to grips with the basic mechanics and venture out to nearby monuments to grab the occasional item of rare loot. Yet we grew restless and, tired of our peaceful abode, we started to push the boundaries in search of other settlements.
Then it all came crashing down.
One day, our adventures took us to the top of our neighbouring mountain. Having reached the snowline, we had an uninterrupted view of the island - which, in theory, would allow us to plan our next moves. What we didn't realise was the snowy backdrop also meant the snipers below had an uninterrupted view of us.
Before we knew what was happening, bullets were exploding all around, and we scrambled back down the mountain to our house. One of us didn't make it: me, and I woke up inside our woefully-designed base. My friend made it back with his loot, but in doing so unwittingly led the marauders straight to our door.
This is when our base's location really hurt us: with the mountain ridges forming a near circle around the house, for the attackers it was like shooting fish in a barrel. Having lost all my weapons on the far side of the mountain, I was left only with spare bows, and the situation soon became farcical when my friend and I repeatedly ventured outside - completely naked - only to be mowed down by assault rifles. We were stuck in this death cycle for a good 30 minutes, and our pleas for the aggressors to stop - made over both mic and in-game chat - went completely unheard.
Eventually, the attackers became tired of toying with us, and finally decided to leave us alone. We were left broken and defenceless, having lost nearly all of our loot in one fell swoop. We logged off for the evening.
Normally, that would be the end of the story - how would two beginners ever be able to recover from a beating like that? But a chance encounter would change our fate and the island's balance of power forever. At least until the server wipe at the end of the month.
Despite being heavily punished for our curiosity, over the next few days we continued exploring with our basic supplies. After all, we had nothing to lose. We were trekking back towards the centre of the island - around the mountain this time - when we heard the most terrifying noise you can hear in Rust: an incoming helicopter.
To explain, Rust's NPC attack helicopters appear every few hours to gun down any players wearing three or more items of clothing (their way of detecting experienced players). The only way to avoid them is to either hide in a building before they spot you, or - if you're stuck out in the open - strip totally naked. Otherwise, you have a serious fight on your hands.
(Nowadays you can build your own helicopters and perform ridiculous stunts. Modern technology!)
Stuck in the middle of nowhere with no cover, we'd begun jettisoning clothes when we heard several deafening explosions. Intrigued, we went towards the source of the noise, and found a fortress with walls so vast it could have been a city in Attack on Titan. It was surrounded by a field stuffed with auto turrets, and on top of the wall stood a tiny dot. A tiny dot with a rocket launcher.
We watched the figure take down the chopper with relative ease, and nervously approached the edge of the base. Would this person be friendly? If they weren't, we'd know about it.
Having looted the chopper, the dot made his way over to us. We must have been a sorry sight - two noobs in various states of undress - and totally awed by the display of power before us.
For the purposes of this article, I'm going to call him Barry.
Barry was a solo player who never stopped playing Rust. By the time we met him, he had claimed the centre of the island for his own, and accumulated a mass of resources so vast that nobody would dare challenge him. He'd later tell us, half jokingly, that his extensive play sessions were actually starting to damage his relationship with his wife. We told him to take a break once in a while.
We started chatting with Barry, and the conversation eventually turned to our recent run-in with the local thugs, who Barry seemed to recognise. According to Barry, these players were worse than even the usual Rust rabble - hunting players for sport rather than resources - and they all lived together on a small island just off the coast. A troll nest, if you will.
I have a few theories as to why Barry chose to help us: he was lonely, he was bored - but I also think he saw himself as some sort of purveyor of justice on the island. With almost unlimited power, he could bring down the hammer on anyone he wanted.
Eventually, Barry presented us with an offer we couldn't refuse. "I'll help you take down the group... if I can come along too". Naturally, we accepted.
The next evening, we all joined a Skype call and geared up. Barry showered us with the finest armour and weapons available in the game, then gave us some C4. This explosive typically takes a serious amount of time to create just one stack - and you need a bunch if you hope to break into a honeycombed base. Barry filled our inventories with it.
We then made our way towards the island (stopping off to show Barry our base along the way, which he described as "dismal"), and waded through the moonlit waters in the dark. We needn't have been so cautious, it turns out, as the players were not at home - but that wasn't going to stop us wrecking their stuff.
We destroyed it all: doors, walls, people. We didn't even need to be tactical about our approach, or ration out our explosives - thanks to Barry's generosity, we simply steamrolled the entire island for a good hour, and took everything of value.
Was it overkill? Possibly, but boy did it feel good. And, in terms of the island's power struggle, allying with the most powerful player meant we earned ourselves a place with the top dogs (comparable to bandwagoning in International Relations, I suppose). It took several trips between our base and the island to sneak back all our stolen loot, and it essentially left us oil-rich in low grade fuel. We finally had the materials to experiment with base design, and convert our hand-drawn blueprints into a tower neither our pesky neighbours or Barry could break into. It even had a room at the top we used for both sniping and fight club - don't ask.
When Fallout 76 was announced, I was hoping for a similar environment of aggression and a true struggle for survival (something we unfortunately didn't get in the end). Rust's world is largely hostile, but that's the appeal: it makes the process of finding friendly players more tense, the threat provides a reason to team up - all of which made the partnerships formed feel more special. And it sets the stage for some truly memorable revenge tales. Watch out for the noobs - you never know when they're going to strike back.