As my eyes open and I regain control of my body, my thoughts rush to one thing and one thing alone: mail. For the next week, I’ve set myself the challenge of becoming a postman in Studio Wildcard’s open world survival game Ark: Survival Evolved. It’s my goal to collect messages from survivors and to deliver them to other players on the server, all while braving the game’s prehistoric dangers in order to complete my task.
The state of the postal service in Ark is even worse than in real life. That is to say, there isn’t one to speak of. But by dropping notes to random players and leaving unlocked chests full of letter-writing materials, I’ll collect whatever mail I can gather up and set out across the game’s world to spread some much-needed connection during these difficult times. No matter what I encounter, whether it be the frightening abyss of a torchless night or the jagged smiles of the island’s hungry inhabitants, I’ll do my best to fulfil my role. Could I just use the game’s global chat to communicate instead? Sure, but where’s the fun in that?
First Night Jitters
The island loads ungraciously in front of me like a document being spat out of a printer and I begin the laborious process of punching whatever I can find to collect resources. My first mission is to establish a post office — somewhere where I can throw down a bed and put down an unlocked postbox for people to drop their mail. However, I quickly run into my first set of problems.
Night falls on the server and I’ve yet to craft a torch or even a pair of pants. Nude and struggling to see, I take shelter outside of an alpha tribe’s base and try to find a way into its elaborate inner workings. I search around the imposing structure in the hopes of finding someone to talk to, but I can’t locate an opening so settle on leaving a hastily scrawled note on a piece of paper and loiter about some more.
A beacon eventually activates on the horizon and I make my way towards it in hopes of looting materials from the supply drop. However, there’s a catch. it’s located on the other side of a river. Swimming across the vast inky inlet, I believe I’m making some good headway, when out of nowhere some threatening music alerts me to a nearby presence. I feel something attack me from behind and my avatar soon lets out a violent scream. The name of my aquatic assailant is painted in red on the screen and the image of a map appears marking where I died. Not the best of starts, it has to be said.
A New Approach
My next attempt at establishing myself goes a lot more smoothly. With the benefit of daylight, I manage to set up a camp on the northeastern beach, pinned between two humongous bases. It’s here that I’m able to plop down a rudimentary post office and some signs advertising my services. I put down a chest outside, unlock it, and fill it with paper for players to write messages on. Then over the next few days, I nervously check in to see whether I get any responses.
Unfortunately, the replies are scant. The biggest problem is the low foot traffic in the area and the fact the server is never more than half full. But I’ve got a contingency plan. Gathering some more materials, I craft a wooden raft and take my experiment out on the water. Soon my luck begins to change.
I comb the coastline and find new survivors wandering to and fro. Throwing down an empty page, the initial reaction is confusion — some even flee in terror — however, I finally rack up some replies.
The responses are usually brief. Put on the spot and without much guidance, all most people can manage is to scrawl a greeting in their own language or a simple “How are you?”. But it’s enough for what I have planned. I stash the letters away and hop back on my boat and I’m at sea once again.
I make some of my deliveries by boat, others on foot. The enjoyment here stems mostly from the interactions I have with other players and trying to goad them into playing along. Loading onto a new server in Ark: Survival Evolved can be an intimidating experience. Low level players are often greeted with walls upon walls of megabases filled to the brim with all kinds of exotic dinosaurs.
For someone new, it’s somewhat offputting, with these overzealous land grabs making the simplest of trips a chore to make, while segregating low-skilled players from the more productive and industrious members of the server. Becoming a postman was a fun way of trying to break down those barriers between the different players — though it wasn’t without its fair share of issues.
More Like This:
- The Photographers Capturing Red Dead Redemption’s Virtual Vistas
- Fallout 76 Players Are Turning the Game Into a Pet Sim
- The Wild World of Animal Crossing Speedrunning
Journey in the Dark
Perhaps the biggest impediment was the inhabitants of the Ark itself — namely Troodons. For those unfamiliar, Troodons are a small poisonous dinosaur that can temporarily incapacitate players, allowing them to attack and kill their prey unchallenged. Even high-level players can fall victim to them if they’re caught unaware, which makes them one of the most annoying dinosaurs in the game.
On one of my mail trips, I accidentally stray into a group of them and immediately regret my mistake. I fall into a heap on the jungle floor and the horde descends on my body, making a swift meal of me. Respawning in my base, with my equipment and more importantly my hard-earned mail miles away, I have to make my way across the map on an urgent rescue mission to outpace the despawn timer or risk losing everything I’d worked for. It’s a mad dash, one that makes me thankful that I poured so many levels into my stamina.
On my way, I manage to outrun a Therizinosaurus, a creature that is probably most accurately described as a large turkey with long tendril-like claws, as well as some raptors, before finally getting to the spot where I died. The Troodons are still in the area, though by sheer luck they’ve moved maybe ten yards away from the light that is emanating from my corpse.
I know that I have to be careful. Though the Troodons have a short aggro range, one wrong move could send me back to my base and force me to start the whole journey all over again. I go prone and crawl towards the body, surveying my surroundings. Then, when I’m close enough, I run over and loot its contents. The battle music starts to stir up again and I book it out of there before the dinosaurs have a chance to strike. I see a player drop their coordinates in the chat and decide that’s where I’ll go to finish this delivery. When I arrive at their location, they have no idea about the journey I’ve just been on, but they accept the note. We exchange a few words, and then part ways into the night.
Ask anyone who has spent a considerable amount of time in Ark: Survival Evolved for their thoughts on the game, and you’ll likely find conflicted opinions. It has a large and very vocal audience who haven’t been afraid to voice their disapproval over the years about its myriad of problems: from poor optimization to its history of meshing issues. Nevertheless, it remains a surprisingly unique social experience due to its sheer wealth of mechanics and healthy modding scene.
Though it took some effort to get people onboard with my mission in the beginning, the responses I did receive were even more rewarding as a result. Which is why I might not quit just yet. Instead, I’m going to keep it open for a couple more weeks to see what other experiences I can squeeze out of this more elegant form of communication. If you see me out there, well, don’t forget to write.