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The Strange Comfort of Not Knowing Why You Died in 'Battlegrounds'

By the time the bullet takes your life, there's nothing left but darkness.
Image courtesy of Bluehole

I'm crawling on the grass, slowly moving up a mountain. Over the ridge is a set of houses, which may prove to be a useful place to hole up and bide my time. As I check my inventory for health items, there's a loud pop nearby. Instantly, I'm dead. It's unclear where (or from whom) the shot came from. All I know is that one second I was alive, and that's no longer the case. More than 20 minutes of preparation, scheming, and theorizing have vanished in an instant.

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This is life in PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds, a brutal existence that punishes more than it rewards, and is content with leaving players without any answers about why it all went wrong. Your only choice is to try again.

Another time, I decide to be more aggressive and drop into a clustered military base, knowing full well others would be around. Everyone starts in the same situation when a match begins—no weapons, no armor. Knowing this, as soon as I touch down, I notice another player sprinting around the corner. I immediately ran, determined to take someone out early. I don't have a gun, but that's okay; I have my fists. I catch them by surprise, and in a panic, they start fighting back a moment too late, just long enough for me to get the extra few punches in needed to put them down. A primal scream emerges from my mouth, one that's immediately silenced by the piercing noise of a bullet offscreen. I'm dead again.

Where'd the bullet come from? I don't know. Was the player behind me? Maybe.

I'm used to playing multiplayer games built around the idea of player humiliation. When another player takes you out in Halo, the game quickly cuts to a replay. It might include a few lessons for the person on the receiving end of the bullet—"Oh, I didn't know I could hide there!"—but it's mostly there to make you feel bad. Battlegrounds includes no such feature, only darkness.

It's possible the player who killed you comes over to loot your corpse, but often, they don't. They move on. You were an obstacle, nothing more.

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The lack of information is comforting, in a way. It's easier to blame the ensuing shit show entirely on external factors. When I'm in a gunfight with another player, they might be better at headshots than me. But if I'm slowly making my across a wheat field and they were lucky enough to find a 8x scope, well, I never had a chance to begin with. I can make peace with that and move on.

And while Battlegrounds isn't explicit in telling players what happened, there are plenty of lessons to pick up on. You need to spend more time teasing them out.

Once, as a match was nearing an end, it seemed like I might have a chance at finishing near the top. I'd settled on a place to hang out in—I like to call them murder houses—and trained my rifle at the door. In a fit of impatience, I started looking around, and found a house across the street with a nice vantage point on the second floor. While heading towards the door, a familiar noise echoed into my headphones. By the time you hear it, though, it's too late. Yep, I'm dead again.

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