This is a post from the seventh edition of my (mostly irregular) Week of Lists where I bring you seven list-type posts, one per day starting on Saturday, October 25th and ending on Halloween, leaping from the darkest corners of your internetz and scaring you into mild confusion. Stay tuned!
As if you didn’t already know it, but the undead are everywhere… at least in video games, they are.
There are many reasons we (as a society of pop culture enthusiasts) have fallen into our love-hate relationship with zombies, reasons ranging from our dark and idle fascinations as a society with apocalypse, disease and dying … to more political urgencies linked to that feeling of mindless, follower-sheep-like chaos that emerges when we feel powerless and controlled by a faceless, heartless, corporate govern– ahem… well, I don’t know much about that.
But I think my fall-back understanding of this fascination is simply this: that bashing zombies, in a multicultural world where video games are sold to an international and diverse audience, has become the most politically correct enemy we can conceive. Simultaneously, they are all of us and none of us… the weakest become the strongest… the hunted become the hunters. If you happen to be a zombie it’s all at once everyone’s fault and yet only-your-very-own albatross to carry.
Thus, zombies are cropping up in video games everywhere, and in games that span genres and platforms too many to name. But here are…
4 of My Favourite Games Featuring Zombies
1. The Zombie as Target Practice Trope
For example… Everything that moves in Left 4 Dead Series
When you read the title of this article I can almost guarantee that most of you were thinking this version of the zombie. And so, of course, I didn’t want to leave it out of my list.
Our “super awesome game” nights –where we gamer-dads convene our increasingly inconsistent meetings in a round of zombie-bashing mayhem– these events just wouldn’t be the same if not for the target-practice style zombie rootin-tootin-shootin of the kind of franchise that leans on this trope. Armed with nothing more than a humble arsenal of impractical assault-class weapons and seemingly unlimited ammunition, players of target practice zombie games mow down wave after wave of the undead, usually attacking with ferocity of a wild, rabid animal. These are the pitiless and un-pitiable hoards for which there is no escape but pure existential-threatening warfare.
You just don’t let the kids watch.
2. The Zombie as Bad Guy Trope
For example… Captain LeChuck from Monkey Island Series
And yet, there was a simpler time when the zombie-brain relationship wasn’t one that involved one eating the other. There have, in fact, been times when the undead both possessed and used the (rotting) meat computers in their skulls as something more than alternate food sources and homing devices to detect the living.
The angry zombie, returned from the dead with a seething heart set on vengeance concept always makes for a fun adventure. It is the cold, calculating logic of an enemy who cannot be killed (at least not in conventional ways) pitted against the protagonist player who neither wants to join the baddies on the wrong side of the River Styx nor fail in their video game mission.
3. The Zombie as Cameo Trope
For example… Zombie Time in Pixel People
Okay, so the light-hearted, cartoon-esque app game I’ve been playing this week on my iPhone may or may not fit into the big leagues of the other games on this list, but it represents a trope I’ve noticed popping up in games all over the place… Pixel People being the latest example: zombie cameos.
Cameos. As in… oh look, suddenly there are zombies in this game. Oh… but… why?
And as kitsch as it first appears, I take it as a good sign that the game developers don’t take themselves or their game oh-too-seriously when all the pixelated residents of your fake little cartoon world randomly become the undead for fifteen minutes.
(And I mean that in a good way.)
4. The Zombie as Noise in the Dark Trope
For example… Zombies in Minecraft
Of course, the zombie that need not even show his face is that groaning noise beyond the cobblestone wall.
Does it matter that zombies in Minecraft are actually zombies? Does it fit otherwise into the zombie paradigm built up in modern popular culture? Do Minecraft zombies even make sense?
No… not entirely, but they scare us because of the other three games I just mentioned above. And the first time you heard that groan in the darkness it wasn’t you thinking of the two-punch-and-your-down wimp of a zombie you later became very familiar with whilst stacking grey cubes in the vastness of your procedural landscape, it was those other three kinds… and not exactly knowing if they were smart, angry, or just silly-cute. Until you knew for sure, they were just a noise in the dark.
And maybe you peed a little. But you paused your pick-ax and then you dug a little more carefully.