The IP Shack #6: Obsessed With Zombies

For a group of gruesome and non-existent folk they seem to be unusually popular in the current times. It’s one of those things that seems like one of the most two dimensional narrative scapegoats, and yet it persists and continues to permeates our mediums of entertainment. I know I’m not the only one to have stepped back to consider how and possibly why these ‘zombies’ are literally creeping everywhere.

Aside from horror films and disturbing fantasy art, zombies are making the most progress in the videogame world, whether it is the additional zombie themed fancy dress DLC or a legitimate submission into the genre. The fact of the matter is that we love fighting off zombies in our games. We get such a terrifying and potent thrill when we narrowly avoid getting swiped by a particularly aggressive dead person, or when we glance down an eerily quiet corridor only to see an ever patient and bloodthirsty horde shuffling around.

That’s not even mentioning the indescribable satisfaction and bizarre sense of purpose we get when we kill one. Maybe the generic and relatively simple zombie stereotype checklist allows these monsters to ultimately transcend the confines of the one scenario/game we first encounter them in and seep into another, giving them an almost super-status and creating them as more of a mechanical concept.  It is them vs. the gamers, and the game this eternal battle is channelled through is basically irrelevant, perhaps.

Alternatively the visceral and compelling appeal may reflect slightly deeper truths about us as people, and the uniquely strong human fear of being alone in the world. Often in our zombie battles we are one of few standing against many, if not entirely alone trying to survive and stay sane. Our powerful desire to play zombie games could then be argued to be a product of some virtual approximation of an evolutionary instinct, and the mere presence of zombies threatens the civilised and social world we mature in, in our minds at least by indirect implication.

One could make the point that gamers feel obliged to kill any enemy that runs towards them simply because of the core structure of videogames we all recognize and understand, and this is absolutely true. But the key difference between regular foes/bad guys and zombies is the fact that ‘the zombie’ has fundamentally remained unchanged since its creation, and it is becoming one of the most successful and iconic themes in videogames in particular.

Look at Call of Duty: Black Ops, Left 4 Dead, Dead Rising, Resident Evil, and Red Dead to name just a few. They’re all fantastically successful undead butchering motifs and all with virtually identical monsters to give credit to. In entertainment and slightly whacky and zany conspiracy theory they refer to the ‘zombie apocalypse’. Which is basically a term to describe the sudden and unstoppable rise of undead flesh eating dumbasses, with weak or no explanations offered,  and yet we lap it up without batting an eyelid.

Normally things like you know…story…context…character development really influence the whole dynamic and aura of videogames equivalent to a ‘spectrum of reason’ and critics will criticise poor storytelling and pounce upon the trashy use of enemies as convenient punch bags. But recently you can start to notice our zombie games are miraculously exempt from such inspections. Doesn’t that seem a little odd?

Perhaps the ‘why’ is something for another discussion, but it’d be interesting to see if publishers start throwing in zombie survival modes as carelessly and crudely as they have been online multiplayer modes. Some gamers genuinely feel that the next step in ‘catch up innovation’ will be the addition of no-explanation-needed-zombie modes, and they might just be right.