The world continues to get smaller and the undead have become the mainstay for those swarms of enemies, but why and for how long?
Perhaps as videogames have surged in popularity over the last decade or so, publishers have increasingly felt a moral and ethical responsibility towards society. [cue tumbleweed] Videogames (mostly) span borders, cultures, governments and religions and as videogames evolve there is a greater call for quality storylines as much as quality gameplay in what is a fiercely competitive market.
Of course, a story requires drama and drama in itself is conflict, so when we’re not shooting at Nazi soldiers in Europe, what options are there? The cynic in me, however, knows that publishers seek commercial success across as much of the global market as possible, so in the process of hitting the lowest common denominator, choices that offend a large demographic are not going to pay the big bucks. First-person-shooters from the Second World War are, thankfully, no longer being done to death since they have been replaced in recent years with first-person-shooters in the Middle East, but shooting at terrorists and other opposing forces in a modern day setting is as clear cut as real world guerrilla warfare. Fallout 3’s alternate history/future interestingly referred to a fictional Chinese invasion of Alaska, a risky proposition at first glance, but considering that China often vets incoming entertainment and in some cases can influence localised changes (Iron Man 3 is a good example), Fallout 3’s DLC didn’t seem to cause many waves. However, it needs to be noted as an exception, rather than the rule, for the choice of the ‘bad guy’ in the recent history of videogames.
It is so much easier for videogames to represent the opposing force in their story as a demographic with no real world representation. Aliens don’t buy games. Zombies don’t sit on the UN General Assembly. Goblins don’t have feelings. It’s an easy way out, for game studio and publisher alike, since your lawyer doesn’t have to worry about defamation cases, unless you want an alien horde that looks like David Hasselhoff, but that’s probably going to be a lawsuit for copyright and intellectual property. Besides, if an alien horde turns up (which by sheer and utter coincidence does, in fact look like David Hasselhoff) then there are probably larger issues at hand.
Zombies, unlike their undead cousins such as vampires and werewolves, also don’t require a complex backstory or culture; it is in fact the trolley boy/checkout chick role in the bad guy repertoire: anyone can do it and the pay sucks. In fact, a job ad for zombies would probably list the following pre-requisites: 1. Primal intelligence. 2. Disproportionate strength that would make an ant sit up and wolf-whistle. 3. Obsessive compulsive disorder for brains. Of course, for those that don’t meet those standards, on the job training is available and it won’t hurt a bit. They don’t care what hours they work, there are no egos to be preened and no Bad Hair Week once a month.
So there are plenty of tangible reasons that these non-existent entities to be the cannon fodder for our entertainment. But I am fed up with zombies. There has been zombie saturation. I am zombie out. Don’t believe me? Here’s a small list of zombie games:
- Age of Zombies
- Call of Duty: Black Ops: Zombies
- Dead Island
- Dead Nation
- Dead Rising (I’m seeing some sort of theme here)
- Dead Space
- Half Life
- The Last of Us
- Left 4 Dead
- Lollipop Chainsaw
- Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge
- Plants vs. Zombies
- Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare
- Resident Evil (1 – 5 billion, somehow none of which I have played, no, not even 4 on GameCube)
- Rise of Nightmares
- State of Decay
- The Walking Dead
- Warcraft III
- Zombie Apocalypse
- Zombie Tycoon (wow, really?)
- and ZombiU (phew).
As far as the undead go, the zombies really do get the short end of the stick. As mentioned earlier, their intelligence is non-existent or limited at best, and their motivation seems to be mostly around digesting your grey matter. Their fashion sense is limited to whatever they were wearing when they turned undead, which is still a damn sight better than some aliens, who seem to lose all focus beyond space travel and a disturbing unity in their socio-political mandate to pick on humanity. Despite their strength, zombies will never get a crack at World’s Strongest Man (the event) but would happily have a crack at the world’s strongest man (all those proteins must improve the flavour). Zombie Pirate LeChuck has probably been the most (and only) interesting representation of a flesh-eating, reanimated corpse I’ve seen in any videogame to date, but then LucasArts always had a way with the undead – Murray the talking skull is one of those can-do megalomaniacs you can’t help but admire and Manny Calavera is the pessimist I hope one day to be.
Part of my problem with zombies is the science and lore behind their existence. Modern day zombies are like a weird evolution of George A. Romero’s vision for Night of the Living Dead back in the sixties, more than African and Haitian voodoo and witchcraft. Resident Evil utilised the notion of a biological agent, rather than witchcraft, as the cause for the zombie outbreak. Half Life had alien head crabs. The Last of Us, and this one I found quite interesting, embellished on a real world disease for the basis of its mindless humans. These are credible attempts to make the implausible less so and it is no less relevant than facing an alien species or a dragon, many videogames consider zombies and a zombie apocalypse to be so widely accepted that an origin backstory is glossed over or not even bothered with.
But who can we turn to? It really is a perversely truthful reflection of society in the 21st century; you can’t just look at another human being and identify them as Friend or Foe. No longer is it as easy as what race an individual is, what accent they have when they speak, what clothes they wear; you can’t immediately identify what their faith is, what politics they believe in, what they would actually die for. Zombies are dead easy. Flesh hanging off their bones? Check. Trying to eat me? Check. Fire at will.
Overall, however, zombies are an overused prop in videogames and I wonder when we will find another horde, preferably not so mindless, to overcome. Oh, and if zombies start to unionise, we are in deep, deep trouble.