I've been spending a fair bit of time fighting on the massive, free-for-all battlefield of PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds. The Steam early access game has taken the indie world by storm since its release, garnering a playerbase of over 4 million in the handful of months since its March 2017 release onto early access.
For those who haven't yet set foot into the battlegrounds, the concept is deceptively simple: Roughly 100 players are dropped from a cargo plane onto a sprawling island with cities, towns, and various types of terrain and then battle to be the last one standing. The game can be tackled solo, co-op, or in a three to four person squad. Players drop onto the island without any items or equipment aside from the clothing (or in some cases underwear) on their backs and must frantically scavenge for supplies while keeping an eye out for fellow scavengers.
The island is, as mentioned before, massive. Even with 100 players, players find themselves facing long periods of silence, the occasional gunshot ringing out in the distance. In order to bring players together, the map will periodically flood everything outside of a white ring with blue energy, slowly killing everyone who doesn't make it to the safe zone. This white ring continues to collapse as the game progresses, forcing everyone into smaller and smaller spaces until the last player, or the last team, is standing. And winners? They get to feast upon delicious, delicious chicken. The message "WINNER WINNER CHICKEN DINNER!" appears on screen to congratulate players on their victory - before booting everyone out of the match.
I won my first chicken dinner alongside some trusty teammates just a few days ago. As the feeling of accomplishment swelled within me, I became curious about the lore of Battlegrounds. Why were all these people parachuting onto an island to battle to the death, day after day? How are the same player-created characters able to die, rise, and then die again? What is really going on? The various materials available online about PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds seem to have precisely nothing to do with the surrounding context of the events happening within the game. This lack of clarification could be explained with the old "it's just a game, don't think about it, too much" answer, but where's the fun in that?
While pondering over the dreamlike quality of Battlegrounds' setting and internal game logic, I think I hit upon an explanation for the entire game: Valhalla.
In Norse mythology, Valhalla was the golden hall where Odin and his Valkyries brought chosen warriors for their afterlife. Once there, those warriors would fight all day and then retire at night to drink, eat, and heal their wounds. They fought each day to hone their abilities and combat prowess to prepare for the coming end of the world when they would march forth from their otherworldly training ground to fight in the final battle alongside Odin.
Why do I think that PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds is Valhalla? Let's look at the facts.
Fact: There are no 100% night conditions in PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds.
Fighting in the moonlight is not something that happens in Battlegrounds. Sure, there are maps with varied lighting conditions and even a rare version of the map that is played at sunset, but no outright nighttime versions of the island are playable. Why is this important? Because the night is when those who have gone to Valhalla feast and heal from the day's fighting! And who gets the finest portion of the feast? The day's winner in combat, of course! They eat to the tune of, "WINNER WINNER CHICKEN DINNER!"
Fact: The vast majority of player-characters rise from their mortal wounds to fight again.
Now, true, this happens in a lot of multiplayer games. However, it is an important data point that each player character is the same character. This seems to fit with the first fact - we're not faceless killers, but people with names, styles, and personalities.
Fact: The last authoritative text describing Valhalla was written in the 1200s.
The authoritative sources on exactly what Valhalla is like come from ancient Norse poems and histories. The most useful of those sources comes in the form of Icelandic historian Snorri Sturluson who lived from 1179-1241. Valhalla was described as a golden hall thatched with the shields of heroes, spear shafts holding them aloft, and benches adorned with chainmail. You might notice that this bears no resemblance to anything seen in Battlegrounds. However, Valhalla being a heavenly realm - who is to say that over 800 years of advancement might not make the Valhalla of 1200 much different than the Valhalla of 2017? It seems to me warriors of today would keep pace with modern technology, so it stands to reason that they'd be magically transported to a cargo plane to drop onto a Soviet-esque island to do battle for the day before being whisked away for feasting and healing in the golden hall.
Fact: Friendships and rivalries extended into the Valhallan afterlife.
There are stories in the Norse Eddas of great heroes making their way to Valhalla only to encounter old allies and possibly forgotten enemies. In PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds, I've gone into battle alongside numerous friends, but also encountered rivals who had killed me in the past. These smaller stories, the stories of minute to minute gameplay would constitute the conversation, laughter, and jokes told at night within Odin's hall. Many outlets have written about how Battlegrounds is a veritable factory of emergent stories friends share together.
Fact: No one knows exactly why they are fighting on the island, they just know that they must fight or die.
if you ask several people why people are fighting in PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds and you'll likely get several different answers. The only thing everything can agree on is that they are magically transported onto a small island, then into a cargo plane, and then trapped on a larger island until a magical blue energy field starts closing in - and if they don't survive to be the last person/group alive, they'll succumb to either the deadly blue energy or to the bullets of enemies.
From all the hard, irrefutable evidence present in the game and the lack of information from the developers, PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds is definitely the mythological Norse hall of the slain, Valhalla. I rest my case.
Do you have a theory that explains what's going on in PUBG? Share it in the comments and maybe we can all come up with an even better theory!