How being murdered by zombies made me eat healthier.

By Isaac Smith

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A while ago I wrote a post about Cataclysm: Dark Days Ahead. It’s a zombie survival game that, although it’s text-based, gives a pretty realistic scenario for what it’d be like to make your way after the apocalypse in New England.

Except the zombies don't say "wicked pissah!" and complain about the Red Sox. But close enough.

Except the zombies don’t say “wicked pissah!” and complain about the Red Sox. But close enough.

In a more recent update, they’ve added a “health” system which tracks what you eat, how much you sleep, how long you spend in the rain or being cold, and a number of other things. This, in turn affects how often you get sick, and what kind of sickness you get.

Now, since the game starts at the beginning of spring, and all you’ve got is a winter coat, it’s tough to make your way through zombie-infested towns, gather supplies, and build a safe house without spending some time in the cold, getting rained (or snowed) on, and suffering through some sleepless nights.

So eating healthy is kind of a big thing, learn more about it. But there’s another problem: fresh food goes bad quickly (and you don’t start with the skills to rig reinforced solar panels to a mini fridge). What’s left is red meat (from the cute woodland creatures you maim to survive), and canned/dried goods that you can scrounge from houses around the edge of town. SPAM, ramen and Italian seasoning does not a stable diet make. My first couple characters ended up being so focused on staying full that my health tanked. I developed a cold with a bad hacking cough. (incidentally, one of the reasons I haven’t authored an article in about a month is because I developed one of those in real life as well. Hooray, bronchitis!)

Now, as food supplies were already at an all-time low and I had no way to collect water, I needed to head into town to get at least enough to ride this cold out. I had just finished the last of my non-drowsy cough syrup, so another bottle of that was also on the shopping list. The outer stores were empty, so I had to go towards the center of town, where the zombies are denser and meaner. It was night time, so stealth was an absolute necessity. I managed to pick up some clean water from a military surplus store, and even nabbed a decent combat knife and a kevlar helmet. No zombies were made aware of my presence.

And then the cough syrup wore off.

And then the sniffles and hacking began.

And then a swarm of undead converged on my position and proceeded to completely mess me up in the fatal, permanent way.

How this scenario hasn't been used in "Walking Dead" yet is a mystery.

How this scenario hasn’t been used in “Walking Dead” yet is a mystery.

In the style of Dwarf Fortress “fun,” death is supposed to be a learning experience in Cataclysm, and learn I did. Staying healthy and avoiding sickness is key. But the problem remained of the wealth of fatty, processed food versus the relatively low availability of healthy food. After some experimentation, I figured out I could rig the system by eating an unhealthy piece of food and then balancing it with a couple healthy pieces of food. Vitamins also helped. The best option, however, was cooking your own food, where you could use healthy and unhealthy ingredients to make something that was more filling and less unhealthy than the sum of its parts.

And then it kind of hit me that in trying to maintain one of my stats, governed by a pretty simple system, in a primitive ASCII art game… I had gone and given to myself a method for eating more healthfully in real life.

A lot of people have talked about making connections and analogies between RPG systems and real life, and I’m not going to try and beat that dead horse here. I’m sure in some cases (like the healthy eating vs. death by zombies scenario above), you can gain some insight and personal meaning about the real world from observing games… and I’m sure in other cases (*cough Dating sims cough*) there is absolutely no connection between what you’re doing in-game and how it works in reality.

But the moral of the story is this: eat a balanced diet. Apparently, it could save your life.


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Isaac Smith is a lifelong gamer and musician. He is deep into the indie game scene, and is a dabbling programmer who enjoys making games and writing music for them. As a writer, he began at Another Gamer's Blog, a blog dedicated to the discussion of video games, their history, construction, social impact and artistic merit. He does much of the same at his new home, here at Last Token Gaming!

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