When asked ‘What is a zombie?’, we always imagine reanimated corpses, hungry for brains and walking in a strange manner as if they are dragging their own body. Then, ask yourself, how did you come up with this definition? Well, popular entertainment media. Video games, movies, books, comics, and even music have defined what we today imagine zombies to be like. But, honestly, who owns zombies? No one, right? Then where is the creativity? Why is it so hard to come up with your own definition of a zombie? In my opinion, over the past 30 years if anything in the game industry has least evolved, it’s zombies. So why did this happen? The answer is pretty straightforward; game developers found out that the basic linear zombies have such potential as far as the market is concerned, that they all started making games based on that.
Wikipedia has compiled a list of several zombies games, and it’s definitely worth noting that every year since 1990, we’ve had at least one successful game. Just like an actual zombie, zombies in video games always rise from the dead. The biggest thing that makes them popular is that it is that they are the closest form of human being that you can morally kill.
Even though there is minimal evolution in zombies, the fact that they have been used in video games for over three decades, sure calls for an evolution check. “Zombie Zombie” is considered to be the first zombie game ever made. It was created in 1984, and even by looking carelessly at the art, you’d recognize this zombie from many favorite zombie games today.
This art gave birth to the traditional balding zombie, with no nose, upper lip gone, eyeballs sticking out, and of course, random wounds.
The next significant zombie game I can think of came out almost nine years later as ‘Zombies Ate My Neighbors’. The game became a hit for its graphic style. Zombies looked very human, with regular everyday human clothes. Even though it had its own unique art style and aesthetic, the game failed to deliver a novel take on zombies.
Next in the list, is The House of the Dead. A zombie game with really great graphics (from 1996 standards). The zombies looked more like monsters, but then again, they behaved the same. Next in the list would’ve been Resident Evil, but I find it pretty similar to The House of the Dead. And even though, Resident Evil still makes games, I think the 1996 title goes to The House of the Dead.
Finally! A game with different kinds of zombies, but are they though? What do they do? Attack humans. What is their end goal? Nothing. So what’s different except the way they attack people? Nothing. The Last Of Us was a great success for the emotions it generated for the characters. Even if it was a different apocalyptic situation, the story could have still worked perfectly. The zombies are nothing but placeholders. The list could go longer and longer, but I do not want to make it redundant. Because that’s what zombies
A Moral Twist?
Okay, I complained a lot in this post about how redundant zombies are. But let’s talk about what could have been done to make these zombies novel. First of all, can we not ignore the morality in these games? My first zombie game was House Of The Dead (1996) which was terrifying for a 5-year old me. Sure, I had watched horror movies before, but it felt a little personal when a bunch of bodies resembling humans were trying to attack me. They have no human consciousness in them, but do they? Tell me game, where did you define your zombie rules and where does it say that your versions of zombies do not have human consciousness inside them? Would it be different if your zombies were still humans controlled by a virus?
This clip is a scene which I found really touching from an episode from one of my favorite game series of all time: Telltale’s The Walking Dead Season 4 Episode 3. To make my point clearer, I would like you to watch this incredible three minutes scene. Let’s review what happens in the scene. The main character, Clementine is challenged by a character called James who argues that Zombies do have consciousness in them. (Someone gets my point. Thank you, James). At first, she’s ridiculed by this fact, but as she walks into this place and disturbs the windchime, all the walkers look at it with a lot of hopefulness on their face. The Walking Dead finally addressed the point I have been trying to make. It is very vaguely revealed that the zombies in this game have consciousness, but with ONE episode left in the entire game, this was definitely not a great time to present this scene. In some previous episodes which felt like fillers, could’ve created a great storyline if characters sympathized zombies and humans fell into two parts: Aware and the Unaware. Regardless, I am still happy that Telltale was brave enough to brush the idea of consciousness in zombies. We, as humans, are not yet capable of sympathizing zombies yet because of our three decades worth of zombie education.
Zombies are not humans with specific properties that make humans human. They are ZOMBIES. You can make your own version of your zombie, be creative, not just with the physical appearance, but also their mental state, their intentions, their motives and their emotions. What The Walking Dead did was revolutionary for zombie video games, and I hope other game studios are also brave enough to actually begin what Telltale started. To end my post, I will present you a beautiful Nicolas Cage in the form of a zombie.