Primitive Ain’t Easy: Banished and Living in the Past

BBC - Living in the Past

One day, while watching my usual string of YouTube videos (covering a wide range of topics), I came upon an interview with someone most people may not have heard of, but had lived through a very interesting period back in the late 1970s that isn’t very well known. It’s a bit unusual, but there have been similar examples since.While I may not really be an expert in this subject, I thought the similarities I saw were enough to write about and share here.

Survival has become a thing again in gaming with all the survival crafting games that have come up since the popularity of Minecraft, DayZ, and so on. We’ve seen some terrible ones since because this genre seems to have become a favorite of first-time game developers for some reason.

The parody below says quite a lot about the survival crafting genre (and the people who tend to make them).

The John Rossetti Interviews by Lindybeige

Nikolas Lloyd is best known for his YouTube channel Lindybeige, where he talks about various historical topics, from weapons and warfare to what ye olde people wore and even how they danced. It’s an eclectic channel with a good bit of Monty Python humor and flair to it.

He recently put up a 7-part interview series with John Rossetti, a mathematician who was a participant in a fairly interesting TV show.

“Living in the Past” is neither actually living in the past (like a depressed middle-aged grump) nor the Jethro Tull song, but a show produced by BBC back in 1977 that featured a group of people living in Iron Age conditions for 13 months. It was essentially reality television decades before the genre went mainstream, without all the artificial drama and producer interference that are now common practice.

He took part in the show with his then-wife. Not much else seems to be documented online about the show except an IMDB stub on an episode of “What Happened Next?” in 2008 that had the show’s cast retell their experiences. I never got to watch either of those, but he does give plenty of details about his time there, from how they coped without modern technology and how everything smelled to how time slowed down and how they struggled to adjust to modern civilization after going through all that.


While watching that interview series, I was reminded of Banished—a city-building simulation game by Shining Rock Software where the player controlled the fate of a group of exiles in the middle of nowhere. It was released in February 18, 2014 to positive critical response due to its premise and quality of gameplay.

Building and Preparing for Winter in Banished

You can play a survival crafting game if you want, like good ol’ Minecraft or the new ARK: Survival Evolved in Steam Early Access, but I prefer the experience that Banished gives as it shows off the role of community in survival. We’ve been locked into the Tom Hanks Castaway paradigm wherein one man uses everything around him to survive, not needing outside help.

That may seem romantic, but real world scenarios favor the tribe with its members working together; it can go beyond just surviving and become about actually thriving even in such conditions. That’s how mankind was able to evolve and grow into civilizations, so it’s certainly the better way to see survival in the absence of civilization.

Perhaps that’s one thing the Survivor show got right, although that dynamic then gets ruined for the sake of drama.

The game itself has a comprehensive tutorial that teaches you what needs to be done, although it will still take time before you get used to the hotkeys and layout. After that, you’ll want to try out stuff like playing in different size maps, different difficulties and scenarios, and watching your people freeze to death in winter multiple times.

Winter in Banished

Perhaps it’s a similar to roguelikes in the sense that Murphy’s Law can apply—what can go wrong will go wrong. However, these random occurrences are different; those in roguelikes are mostly encounters and unfortunate circumstances that you may or may not be prepared for, while the ones in city builders like Banished (as well as Sim City, Tropico, etc.) are natural disasters and accidents that can never be fully avoided.

In roguelikes, you may beat yourself up for not being careful and prepared enough for getting mugged by pirates or not being able to attack the enemy before it got a critical on you. But in Banished, there’s usually a hesitant acceptance as nothing can adequately prepare anyone for Mother Nature’s wrath. You can prepare your village well enough to handle the coming winter, but you may still lose some citizens to a tornado or a fire.

You may learn how it is to be a leader or a god who is watching over people while the less fortunate may look up and curse you for not helping them. The truth is there’s nothing that can be done other than make preparations and hope they’re enough. That’s where build orders come in, especially when preparing for your first winter.

It looks something roughly like this:

Stockpile → Gatherer → Woodcutter → 4 Houses → (winter) → Hunter → House → Forester

It’s not complete, but the logic behind it is that the first thing you need in the game is shelter and warmth for everyone during the first winter. If you can’t build houses and a way to gather and process firewood right away, they all freeze to death. Once you’ve gotten through it, you must then secure your living conditions and be able to gather more food, then you can take it from there.

Farming During the Rainy Season in Banished

I think this is where the game and a real-life survival situation start to differ (aside from the obvious).

Difference Between Playing It and Living It

Pardon me for doing this, even if it seems rather passé to compare real life scenarios to video games. However, that’s the reason why this post was written in the first place, so let’s go through the motions and work with this. There are some interesting points here, which is why I went through with this in the first place.

If you did watch the interview videos and have played Banished before, you may have noticed some similarities between them. The biggest one is the theme of working together in such a community where you have to work towards survival like in the old days. It’s not like some leader bosses the other survivors around like a foreman would with factory workers; there’s no real need for that. In such situations, everyone is compelled by the need to survive.

Due to the absence of modern technology, there is a lot more energy to be expended for necessities and even more for conveniences. There’s also the time and seasonal factor; if you don’t work with the seasons, you get punished by Mother Nature. They then figure out what works best for them in that environment, as well as what’s best to avoid.

Perhaps the main difference I see here is the problem solving process in each. With the game, you can try over and over again until you figure out what is needed first, and then the next. That lets you figure out what the optimal build order is during the start and the middle of the game. The only consequence to failure is having to start a new game and do it all over again.

As for doing it for real, you have your fellow survivors to deal with and figuring out a system and/or compromise in working together. If something bad happens or someone makes a horrible mistake, everyone else gets affected. It’s even more of a roguelike than most roguelikes, if you can put it that way.

Perhaps that can be done in Banished by removing the ability to save and load games, but it can also be enhanced with mods. If you’re actually into the whole community survival dynamic (I don’t know the proper term for it), then playing Banished is kind of like an anarcho-primitivist ant farm of your own.

Other Depictions of Survival without Modern Technology

There are also some other depictions of such living that I’ve seen before, excluding the likes of Survivor and other the reality shows. I’m talking about serious “being out there with little else on hand” type of stuff and not just camping with a Zippo lighter and a multi-tool in your pocket.

Les Stroud is a famous example of someone who went out there and did it with little to no kit for the sake of doing it (as well as being a bit of a crazy person). Survivorman and Snowshoes & Solitude are some of his famous works, and they are compelling to watch. There are other copycats (*coughbeargryllscough*) who did similar things, but may have taken shortcuts and/or didn’t do it for real during production.

He also did them with his ex-wife. Divorcing your wife after living with her for several months in the wilderness must be a common theme here.

If you want to learn more about Les Stroud, here he is in the Joe Rogan Experience podcast, talking about his survival experiences, his music career, and why he chose to do that wacky shit in the bushes instead of continuing to work with music during the 80s (then maybe stick around for more music talk).

Alone in the Wilderness is a documentary about Dick Proenneke, a retired laborer and amateur naturalist who chose to live by himself in Twin Lakes, located in an Alaskan national park. Much of the film showed him building his own log cabin by himself with only makeshift tools and chronicled how he survived and thrived in nature well into his old age.

It’s a fantastic documentary that I would recommend to anyone, especially those interested in the great outdoors.


I hope to write more about survival stuff in the future. I’m quite into things like preparedness, everyday carry, urban survival, and so on. If you like visiting websites like and the like, doing stuff with Altoids tins and paracord, and so on, then stay tuned as I try to sneak that stuff in here as well. I don’t know if I can make them relate to video games and other media (like that movie Into the Wild), but I’ll do my best.

Do you know any other examples depicting outdoor survival and the like? Please post what you know on the comment section below. Please share this post as well, if you liked it. Thank you.