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The Mod of the Year 2012: DayZ

If XCOM reminded us of the value of loss in 2012, DayZ was a valuable lesson in hardship. The Arma 2 mod was one of the least-forgiving and most intimidating games of the year. It was a shooter that you entered without a gun. Arma's control scheme made actions such as inventory management a hassle; its 225km2 landscape asked you to run mini-marathons to get around, often without a map. Permadeath and persistency lent consequence to every action. And in its alpha state, DayZ was buggy and vulnerable to hackers.

1.3 million people played it.

DayZ is heartening; it reinforces what players are willing to put up with in exchange for novel, self-authored experiences. It's a rare shooter that gives banal tasks such as searching for water or riding a bicycle as much meaning as firing a gun.

Among bandit pursuits, lucky loot runs, mourning the death of friends, and castle raids, one of my unforgettable moments is when my friends and I accidentally orchestrated our own sniping mission. We'd arrived outside Chernarus' Northwest Airfield: treacherously naked terrain with the potential for military loot.

With empty backpacks, two teammates moved in. If they fired a shot, they'd ring a dinner bell for the undead. But 500 meters away, atop a hill, my sniper rifle was out of earshot. This was an escort mission: their lives were my responsibility, and Arma 2's ballistics meant I had to lead targets on two axes, manually dial-in my scope, and read my map to estimate ranges. It was a pure and exhilarating shooting experience, but more importantly, an expression of our teamwork. Moments like this in DayZ arise simply as a result of the mechanics, vulnerability, and players' natural storytelling ability. By being so hands-off with us, DayZ gives us ownership over every moment.

Read More: DayZ Photo Diary .

Runners Up: Black Mesa Source, Sith Lords Remastered.

Evan Lahti

Evan's a hardcore FPS enthusiast who joined PC Gamer in 2008. After an era spent publishing reviews, news, and cover features, he now oversees editorial operations for PC Gamer worldwide, including setting policy, training, and editing stories written by the wider team. His most-played FPSes are CS:GO, Team Fortress 2, Team Fortress Classic, Rainbow Six Siege, and Arma 2. His first multiplayer FPS was Quake 2, played on serial LAN in his uncle's basement, the ideal conditions for instilling a lifelong fondness for fragging. Evan also leads production of the PC Gaming Show, the annual E3 showcase event dedicated to PC gaming.