Free for All: Host your own Stanford Prison Experiment thanks to Die2Nite

Die2Nite screenshot
Whenever I wander into a new town in Die2Nite, I try to be as quiet about it as I can. I walk in, nod my head at a few people, and settle down. I also try to figure out the pecking order of the town as quickly as I can. There is almost always a pecking order. If not, it's a town of chaos and likely won't last longer than a few days of zombie invasions. I've played long enough to recognize players who are trying to lead, those who are willing to follow any instruction (even if wrong), and the fact that most players are content with popping in, making a few moves, and logging out.

The town I am in at the time of this writing is called Plagued Sanitorium. The names seem randomly generated for each town, but they always fit. I am a paid member, so I can choose the town I want to start in. Once a town has 40 members, the invasions begin. At 5:00 p.m. EST every day, the site literally goes down while the zombies come. After 10 minutes of attack, players log in to see what happened and who survived. check out any one of my livestreams on the game to see it all in action.

Sanitorium is a pretty unique experience so far, but in most ways it's as common as basic human psychology.

Die2Nite screenshot
I happened upon the town after a few days had passed. There were already two players who had attempted to take command. These type of players will usually start clashing early on about what is best for the town. One player in particular took to calling other players "n00bs" and "idiots." Certain key words will act as flags for particular behaviors, at least in my experience. The fact that he also took to screaming or calling people "stupid" meant that he thought that he was not stupid or a n00b. Players like this are dangerous because they can spread misinformation yet act so strongly about it that others will take it as gospel. The misinformation spreads and bad things happen.


Of course, players like that one can be correct as well. The key is to investigate the information they give out. If it seems important enough to call people "stupid" over, then it must have some impact on the game, one way or another. These loudmouths are often pretty clued-in to the game, so I listen to them while keeping them at arm's length. At one point this particular player suggested that the other players register complaints against anyone who spent AP (action points) on defenses that he did not agree with. The other players obeyed and issued several complaints against me and a few others. If I were to receive eight complaints in total, I could be shunned and possibly even hanged! I was thrilled... this was getting good.

Die2Nite screenshot
Let this be a lesson to wanna-be leaders in online games: When you call enough people "n00bs," you will eventually become one yourself. The current loudmouth #1, after issuing many orders and playing the alpha male for long enough, made one of the most common mistakes in the game and found himself outside without water or any other way to become hydrated. He died that night, but not after I noted how "n00b" his mistake was. To be fair, he was obviously a knowledgeable, passionate player. While his manners could have been better, I enjoy players who get worked up over a game. He was also a paying member, meaning that he was willing to put his money where his gaming hours were. And at least he died without much of a whimper.

Die2Nite screenshot
Once the resident loudmouth space became vacant, someone else needed to fill the void. This is where loudmouth #2 comes in. There are wonderful new updates rolled out to Die2Nite, cleverly called "seasons," and the latest one added the ghoul mechanic. Players can turn into ghouls pretty much by accident -- by eating the wrong thing or through infection. Once they are ghouls, they must continue to eat some sort of flesh (often in the form of a citizen!) or they will eventually die. This means that loudmouth #2, once he became a ghoul, began to grow a much larger, fever-wracked ego. He started threatening people and even made a thread that listed player infractions. If the potential victim wanted to explain himself in the hopes of avoiding being eaten, #2 would consider the case.


"Times like that are when I become glued to the screen. Simple text in the game becomes a source of drama and excitement for much of the town."

Times like that are when a player like yours truly becomes glued to the screen. Simple text in the game becomes a source of drama and excitement for much of the town. I hit refresh on the browser in the hopes that some new development comes up. It's also important to keep an eye on players like loudmouth #2 when they seem to gain some sort of upper hand. Like the guards in the Stanford prison experiment, players can fill in roles without noticing that they are doing it. Humans fall into line; we're built to. We depend on other humans to inspire, frighten, and inform us. Without other humans, most of us would eventually fail to be human and begin to act like animals.

Now, I'm no digital hero, and I am definitely not out to embarrass anyone or humiliate a player in front of others, but the only way to deal with someone who is attempting to rudely take charge is to understand that he is simply filling the role. I won't curse at someone or insult him, but I will do whatever I can to convince him that all of the players are there to have a good time... so chill out.

The weak spot of the powerful ghouls is the fact that any other player can kill them with an attack. Sure, the attack costs five APs, an expensive move. By the time loudmouth #2 was busily making moves all over the forums, I was exhausted. I had no AP left to do anything against him, but I knew he was planning on taking out citizens as he saw fit. It's quite possible that his ghoulish self was starving and needed the food, and he was just looking for an excuse to eat. What he hadn't counted on is the fact that someone had placed a very valuable drug in the bank that, once taken, refilled AP points with no negative effects. I took the pill out of the bank, swallowed it, and regained all of my AP. I found loudmouth #2 in his room and brought him to his death.

Die2Nite screenshot
As I thought, there was hardly any fallout on the forums. The town knew he was planning way above his head, and none of them seemed to appreciate being threatened. I didn't make the move without planning. I used my leftover AP to build extra defenses that more than made up the loss of the ghoul, and at this moment, I wait for midnight to hit. The town has more than enough defenses to stand up against the invading horde, and we're less one alpha male.
Did I make the move because I was falling into some subconscious role, one much like the guards or prisoners in the prison experiment? Did I take it too far? No. I did it because I recognized someone else falling into one of those roles. And, if there's one thing I cannot stomach, it's dangerous, predictable behavior.

Each week, Free for All brings you ideas, news, and reviews from the world of free-to-play, indie, and import games -- a world that is often overlooked by gamers. Leave it to Beau Hindman to talk about the games you didn't know you wanted! Have an idea for a subject or a killer new game that no one has heard of? Send it to beau@massively.com!
This article was originally published on Massively.