Just why do we love the walking dead so much?
From Mary Shellyâs Frankenstein in 1818 through to the modern George A. Romero films, theyâve captured the hearts and brains (quite literally) for centuries. Voodoo beliefs - stemming from Haiti and Western Africa - have influenced works of horror fiction the world over. Weâre talking, of course, about zombies. The walking dead. The animated cadaverous. The living deceased. Homo Coprophagus Somnambulus if you want to get technical. From novels and movies, zombies have also penetrated the realm of video games. Letâs take a quick look at some of the games that have managed to incorporate the undead masses over the years:
Zombie Zombie released back in 1984 on the ZX Spectrum appears to be the first video game with zombies in it. Although itâs hard to make out any zombie-like characteristics in all of itâs 8-bit, pixel block isometric glory. In this game the poor zombies were so stupid you defeated them by luring them to a high point where they all simply fall to their doom. Kind of like Lemmings. Except in that game we had to save them. How is it we care more about critters with green hair and blue boiler suits than we do about re-animated humans? Released a short while later, Capcom had us blasting our way through the undead in just our knickers with GhostsânâGoblins (1985). The shoot âem-up Beast Busters (1989) featured zombiesâŠ armed with uzis just for good measure. Shortly after that, id Software thought whatâs better than zombies armed with guns? The answer of course - Nazi zombies, introduced by the legendary Wolfenstein 3d (1992).
But itâs in recent years that the zombie craze has really taken hold. Resident Evil and Left 4 Dead have done for zombies what Twilight did for vampires. In fact itâs hard to go a month without seeing a video game with zombies in it these days. In recent memory weâve had; Plants vs. Zombies, Zombie Tycoon, Dead Space, Left 4 Dead, Dead Nation, Doom 3, The Last Guy, Rock of the Dead, Dead Rising and fellow team mates from International Cricket 2010. Sure some of the above have avoided the term âzombieâ but letâs face it, whether theyâre called âthe infectedâ, âMajiniâ or âAustralian cricketerâ, itâs all the same thing.
Even franchises that have had no reason to feature zombies what-so-ever have still managed to do so. Such as Call of Duty: World at War and the recent installment Black Ops that both included Nazi zombie gameplay. The original (and near faultless) Red Dead Redemption series even managed to go all undead on us with their downloadable content that gave us zombie cowboys.
So the question beckons, have we seen enough zombie-related video games? And whatâs so appealing about the walking dead that we feel the need to incorporate their brain-lusting ways at every opportunity? The first question is open to opinion but the attraction to zombies is more understandable when broken down:
Firstly, zombies are believable: Part of the reason why zombies make such great cannon-fodder is because the concept of the animated dead is actually scientifically plausible. There are several known brain parasites or neurotoxins that have been recorded to affect animal behavior. For example a species known as âtoxoplasmosa gondiiâ has be known to turn rodents into mindless, zombie-like slaves willing to endanger their own well-being for no reason. Other chemicals have been known to render a human clinically dead with them âreanimatedâ or brought back to life several hours (or days) later. The poison from the Japanese blowfish, or fugu for example has similar capabilities. Those paralysed from the fuguâs toxins sometimes re-emerge from their trance-like state with only basic motor-skills like eating and yes, even staggering around with their arms outstretched like this guy:
Secondly, zombies donât feel pain: So killing 4027 zombies in Left 4 Dead is sweet as. Wives, sons, brothers, husbands â itâs all good as theyâre impervious to a sniper shot to the crotch or that Molotov cocktail to the face. Without the emotional connection, they make perfect targets for us to plough through. Plus there is even a slight possibility that you just took a baseball bat to your boss or your ex along the way. There are less censorship issues to worry about too because âtheyâre not people, theyâre monsters broâ. Few people could argue that charging around a shopping mall armed with a golf-club in Dead Rising isnât great stress relief after a long dayâs work.
Zombies are icky: Like most 13 year old boys, a large percentage of us are still attracted to really sick stuff like missing limbs, gory flesh wounds, disgusting bile, leaky eyeballs and green festering skin. Zombies have all of this in spades and, when mixed with a high level of contagiousness, it just makes the whole situation even more appealing. For those with a conscience, you could even argue that youâre doing the humane thing by putting them out of their misery. âYeah, I chopped his head off with this garden rake and then ran him over with this lawn mower â I was doing him a favour! Look at his messed up face!â
Finally, zombies are generally pretty stupid: Letâs face it, the walking dead usually only care about one thing: human flesh sandwiches. So one could argue that zombies are incredibly easy to program when it comes to artificial intelligence. Theyâre literally brain-dead and more often than not, charge towards you with reckless abandon. No need to write in clever flanking or cover-taking decision making engines, just allow for a crap-load of them to be on screen at one time. Done!
So there you have it. Whether any of the above actually warrants any attention or not is another matter. But there is little doubting that zombies have stood the test of time. In fact many would agree that they have generated some of the best gaming franchises to date, not to mention memorable cinematic experiences as well (Zombieland, Shaun of the Dead, 28 Days Later, The Evil Dead, White Zombie, Dawn of the Dead, REC, Braindead, Versus, Planet Terror, etc). So love âem or hit âem with a crowbar, I say âviva la zombie!â.