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Daily Reaction: Why Are Zombies Taking Over the Games Industry?

August 21, 2012 Written by Dan Oravasaari

Daily Reaction is a PSLS exclusive feature where Sebastian Moss & Dan Oravasaari discuss today’s most hard-hitting topics every single weekday.

In today’s Daily Reaction we discuss why zombies are popping up in so many recent titles. With Resident Evil 6 going gold today, zombies making appearances in games like Call of Duty: World at War and Black Ops, Red Dead Redemption, and even rumored to be in an undead expansion for Skyrim – it seems we are just beginning to see the zombie virus spread across our favorite franchises.

Dan: I believe that the reason for zombies becoming so prominent in the gaming industry has to do with their popularity in our current culture. As cities are hosting zombie walks, and countless zombie films and TV shows have been popping up over the last few years, we are experiencing a zombie renaissance. So it would only make sense that an industry so geared toward pop-culture, would take full advantage of the popularity. This is especially true for the simple fact that generating a game around the undead, is pretty simple conceptually for most game mechanics. As the AI does not need to be extremely advanced, and you allow for an enemy to become instantly recognized as supernatural; leaving it to be easily acceptable in almost any environment. As you can create any world, and simply develop a zombie variation, and no one would question why enemies will react the way they do.

On top of the design aspects, there are things in our history that allow us as humans to wonder about what will cause our extinction. The unanswered questions surrounding the extinction of the Dinosaurs and the fall of civilizations like Rome all become factors that make us wonder about our own demise. Much like the Mayan prophecies about the end of current times, humans are currently more curious about survival than ever before. So as games like The Last of Us, and Fallout start to question what will become of us, humans will innately become curious about what events will unfold. Are we set to destroy ourselves, even when we are at our most uninhibited? Or will we band together save and save our world and our humanity? These topics are just rampant with possible story arcs, that can inspire hope, despair, and just about any emotion possible. So for most storyteller’s out there, zombies are an easy decision regardless of the medium.

Seb: The apocalypse is an awesome setting: nothing else shows the frailty of mankind so aptly. And post-apocalyptic is all the more awesome – it’s all about how small groups can survive, the strength of the individual. Hope when all is lost. The most popular form of post/mid-apocalyptic is definitely zombies at the moment, and that’s because of a number of factors. Unlike most end-of-the-world events, it’s a long term thing, it’s not just a Boom and then survival. It’s non-stop fighting against a horrifying enemy – the zombies could be your mother, your brother, your daughter. They’re coming, and nothing can stop them.

The cold war made the whole nuclear war end of days topic the big thing. It was everywhere – films and literature were filled with them, it permeated human psyche as it was a very real threat. That’s been done over and over, but it’s still an interesting setting and that’s why we see it in some games like Fallout.

But it certainly isn’t as popular as zombies, because, while a nuclear apocalypse in of itself is believable, the stuff that developers have to put that happens afterwards is silly – giant mutant roaches, mutant worms, mutant games journalists. Zombies, on the other hand, seem more believable – there’s only one cause and one outcome, it makes things simple. And with all the rumors of genetic testing, voodoo zombies, rabies mutating and so on, an actual sizeable part of the population bizarrely believe zombies are an actual realistic threat.

And, of course, now zombies are popular, the fanbase is snowballing with people latching onto popular mainstream shows like The Walking Dead. It’s going to continue to get more popular for a while as more of these shows and products release… right up until Stephenie Meyer releases Twilight of the Dead with glittery zombies and we all get put off.

Dan: The biggest question that we are starting to face, is just how long are we going to be interested in discussing the zombie apocalypse? As gamers have already started to complain about zombies being thrown into every possible game developers can squeeze them into, it seems we are already seeing signs of over saturation. In my opinion the best way to not put off a great deal of your audience, and not become a “me too” feature – is simply by following the steps of Sucker Punch, and branch off into other folk creatures. Vampires have been popular for years, but have completely been taken over by the zombie mob – yet when Sucker Punch created a DLC pack to include vampires in their successful inFamous franchise, they struck gold. So maybe developers should look into other mysterious creatures of the unknown (but keep some zombies), much like what could be found in the works of H.P. Lovecraft. Doing so could grasp our fears beyond the need for survival from apocalypse,  and really could reinvigorate the horror genre .

Seb: Yeah, I don’t think any self respecting nerd out there would turn down an H.P. Lovecraft-inspired game (until it invariably ends up being awful). But I still think there’s still some legs in the zombie games genre. I understand why some people are fed up with them, it’s just like how there are way too many FPS games out there, it can get annoying, but it doesn’t mean some great shooters can’t come out. TWD game proves that new experiences can be found in the setting. And titles like the almost-zombie-game The Last of Us and the definitely-zombie-games ZombiU and DayZ, show that there’s a real chance at there being some proper survival horror games out there, where it’s not all about killing a hundred zombies in 5 mins. In ZombiU and DayZ, if you get bitten once you die, you get a new character. That’s zombies properly done. And in The Last of Us, every single bullet counts. Brutal, unforgiving, exciting.

Most of all, however, I’m looking forward to the inevitable Grand Theft Auto V: Undead Nightmare. You know you want it.

Have zombies become so mainstream that it would only make sense for them to be used in games? Are we so paranoid that the world could end, that we must remind ourselves to be scared? How would you prepare for the end of times? Let us know in the comments below and follow Seb and Dan on zombieharmony.com to see how we plan on lasting longer than you.