DBD Survivor-Killer dynamics are “hostile” by design

For those who are reading this article and haven’t heard of Dead by Daylight, here’s a description of the game straight from their Steam page:

Dead by Daylight is a multiplayer (4vs1) horror game where one player takes on the role of the Killer, and the other four players play as Survivors, trying to escape the Killer and avoid being caught, tortured and killed.
Survivors play in third-person and have the advantage of better situational awareness. The Killer plays in first-person and is more focused on their prey.
The Survivors’ goal in each encounter is to escape the Killing Ground without getting caught by the Killer – something that sounds easier than it is, especially when the environment changes every time you play.

Source: Dead by Daylight Description Page from Steam

I’ve been playing Dead By Daylight for the last couple of years as a casual survivor main thanks to the many people on Twitch who play it and the friends who encouraged me to try the game. Over that time, I’ve seen the good the bad and the (very) ugly and, as with most competitive games like this, you get into a certain pattern of feedback, memes, and other things.

The most common thread is people feeling that the game is unfair and the frustration from that feeling being projected to the other players whether survivors or killers. Pallet stuns, flashlights, camping, tunneling, using the Insidious perk and hiding in the basement.

My point of view is informed by tabletop game design, which means that when something bothers me in a game these days, instead of being purely salty, I ask questions about how I felt and why and if that is what the game intended. In this case, is the game designed to make me salty?

Well… from what I can tell? No. Not salty, but decidedly hostile. Let me show you what I mean starting with Tomes.

The Archives screen from Dead by Daylight is shown. Pictured is a popup for an objective with a progress meter and notes on rewards for completing the mission.
Fig. 1.1 – Tome, Survivor Objective
The Archives screen from Dead by Daylight is shown. Pictured is a popup for an objective with a progress meter and notes on rewards for completing the mission.
Fig. 1.2 – Tome, Killer Objective

The first image is one that rewards you for stunning or blinding the Killer. That means dropping pallets, using flashbangs and firecrackers, baiting the Killer into picking you up so you can use Decisive Strike, and so on.

The second image is one that rewards you for hooking whoever is the obsession that game. At the minimum, that suggests that you’re going to have someone you’re following to the exclusion of everyone else for a minimum of three games since you die after three hooks in a row.

The Daily Rituals screen from Dead by Daylight is shown. Pictured is a set of three missions for the day for users to complete and the rewards for completed each objective.
Fig. 1.3 – Daily Rituals

These are Daily Rituals. It’s stuff they ask you to login and do per day (or however often you login) and that’s stuff like setting traps, escaping before or after different teammates, and so on. These Rituals are randomized.

All of this in a competitive 4v1 game.

Let’s dig into this.

You have to learn to see the game as it is before you can say it is unfair.

I’ve seen and heard it said that it is best to play both Killer and Survivor in order to be your best at this game. While I don’t necessarily think that is true, it is definitely true that you should watch other people experiencing the game from both sides and understand that they – like you – are working toward a goal of some kind.

“But I don’t care about that, I just want this Huntress to stop tunneling me.”

Survivor Mains, 20XX

This sentence is exactly why you need that perspective; the killer who seems to be tunneling and following you everywhere has a game-driven goal to do that because you were the obsession this match. That Huntress got a Daily that says they have to take four people down with hatchets. That’s not fun, but it’s also what the game asks for. 

Just like the game asks you and your fellow survivors to stun this killer 6 times apiece.

Understand that, no matter how many patches we have or what cycles this game goes through in terms of buffs or nerfs across the board, this game will never make them in such a way that they are not frustrating. The hostility is the point. How do I know?

The Sadako Patch.

That patch introduced a character who had a mechanic that, among other things, gives survivors a meter to manage. When it’s full, survivors can get auto-killed. Another power spams skillchecks at a certain percent of gen repair completion. All of this to force survivors to engage something other than generator repair. Was Sadako the first attempt at this? Absolutely not. Killers like the Pig, the Plague, and the Cenobite all speak to a similar throughline of design.

That’s not even to speak of perks like Dead Man’s Switch, Jolt, or Corrupt Intervention.

How is that relevant here? Well…

Right around this time, the concept of manners generally goes out of the window although we still somehow expect them.

Reminder that this is a competitive 4v1 game, so that means all of this exists in the context of two groups of people who want to win the game. So then you have to think about what to do when you have Healing Circles and Shadow Step boons and three gens have already popped. Or you have to think about how you’re going to survive when you’re trying to keep this killer from hooking you for the third time on the last gen.

A certain level of determination, grit, or just plain desperation to take some kind of victory sets in and people start doing terrible things. Seems like a straight line here, but with humans nothing ever is.

Enter “manners”.

When I say manners, I mean that there is an element of this game where you as a player start to focus on completing your objectives and are ideally aiming on completing them without being interrupted. 

Enter the Killer.

Why can’t you leave me alone?

Why can’t you let me finish this generator?

I already did the gens, why can’t you just let me leave?

There are other people doing things, why can’t you bother them?

The game doesn’t reward that. That’s why.

It sets a stage to be hostile af toward the opposition and sometimes your own teammates. Is that frustrating? Yes, it is. However, while your ire is understandable, it’s aimed at the wrong people.

You tell ‘em, Syn. These survivors are super entitled, amirite?

No. No they are not. They are experiencing friction with what the game rewards and the idea that if they don’t bother you as a Killer, you won’t bother them as a Survivor. They are experiencing a friction with what they believe is fair relative to their experience of this game which is, by and large, “unfair” by its very nature.

Additionally, did you absolutely need to take Insidious and hide in the basement? Did you need to tunnel every single player out of the game? Did you really need to camp with 5 gens to be done and every other player injured? Did you have to slug? Do you feel that getting a 4K out of every game is necessary? Do you find yourself frustrated at the amount of Dead Hard, Decisive Strike, Borrowed Time, and Boons you’re encountering in games? Every silently or loudly cursed about the speed of gen completions in a particular game? Have you ever specifically tunneled someone out of a game because of their particular item choice?

Yeah. It’s the same thing.

Again, understandable, but misdirected frustration.

So who should I be frustrated at then?!

No one except Blackface Bubbas and people who are needlessly being a dick. Instead, we have to deal with the fact that this thing is intentionally hostile and extend a bit more grace to our players no matter what side of the fog they’re on.


You keep mentioning that the game is unfair, but it doesn’t seem to be by your definition.

Indeed. It takes experience to see when someone is actually being grimy versus just playing in a way you don’t like. The problem, however, is that the game rewards people for playing in ways you don’t like and that is core to the game. To put it another way: if this ever changes, DBD wouldn’t be DBD anymore.

Therein the big question: is this the experience you want? If not, you don’t want to play the game and that is good to know. There are lots of games out there. There are lots of competitive games out there, for that matter. There’s so much that games have to offer and you should dive into them! But if you do, you’re going to have to adjust your idea of fairness on DBD’s terms.

To say that there are a large number of games this logic could be applied to would be a severe understatement, but I’ll make it. The point here is that often we are frustrated at our gaming experiences and it’s easier to place every loss, every frustration, and such onto other players and not look at what the actual problem is.

Moreover, the misplaced rage also prevents us from addressing things like truly toxic gameplay and bad actors in the community because people are unwilling to separate “This match didn’t go well for me” from “You’re being a terrible person and that should be addressed” which in turn lets some of the worst of people thrive because people who think all Killer mains are toxic and think that all Survivor mains are entitled provide easy cover for actually bad people who are among the worst of the community.

We can do better and it starts with thinking about things like this.