Rise From Your Grave

Rise From Your Grave
How Games Get Zombies Wrong

Chuck Wendig | 26 Apr 2011 13:01
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Dear Game Industry,

I regret to inform you that you have failed your Zombie Aptitude Test, or the ZAT. You got a score of 10 out of 1600. You received those ten points because you spelled your name correctly and because you drew a little doodle of a chibi zombie at the top corner of the exam.

image

Your failure is the result of the fact that you chose to answer every question on the ZAT with the multiple choice solution, "d: Shoot zombies with guns." Consider for example the question, How do you survive the zombie apocalypse? You answered, "Shoot zombies with guns." Or the question, What is the true threat in a zombie apocalypse? You again answered, "Shoot zombies with guns." Here's another good one: What makes zombies scary? Your answer? Ding ding ding. Give the test-taker a kewpie. "Shoot zombies with guns."

That answer doesn't even make sense. It wasn't even a choice half the time. You just wrote it in on the Scantron form. In pen, no less. Your teachers are very disappointed.

That said, you are likely aware that everyone is allowed one free retake of the ZAT to determine whether you're going to be allowed into Undead University. As such, we are casually and quietly suggesting - oh, just ignore the pesky pistol lodged in the small of your back and the car battery on that nightstand over there - that you undergo a tutoring session with us, ZAT Prep Course Inc., before reattempting the ZAT and making more zombie-related videogames which, as noted, get zombies totally fucking wrong.

Let the tutoring begin!

***

We begin by addressing the question, What makes zombies scary?

What's that? You think that zombies are scary because they're gory undead half-rotting cannibals? And I'm sorry, did you again mumble something about "shoot zombies with guns?"

Bzzt. As the electric shock that just coursed through your body suggests: Wrong.

Zombies are about subversion.

Zombies are like a form of really aggressive cancer: Just as cancer subverts healthy cells and corrupts their normal function, so, too, do zombies subvert healthy humans. It might be with a bite or a scratch, or maybe it's by dint of death itself, so that when one's demise comes it never truly comes. This is the subversion of sickness, of disease. Zombies are scary in the way that Ebola or HIV are scary. Zombies are the black plague of monsters - get too close, drop your guard, and they will do more than just kill you. They will infect you.

As you may note, this rarely, if ever, shows up in your zombie-themed videogames. For the most part, zombies in games are scary only as a constant physical threat. They stomp, shuffle or run at you. Then you shoot them. Or blow them up. Or decapitate them with Garden Weasels.

But rarely are we confronted with the fear of becoming them.

And this subversion is what makes the zombie unique. If all they are is a horde of rampaging lunatics that must be dispatched with shotguns and pipe bombs, then are they really any different than a Christmas Eve shopper riot at Toys R' Us?

***

Second question. What is the true threat in a zombie apocalypse? On this napkin here, you've written in your own urine, "ZOMBIES R SCARRY CUZ THEY EAT YOUR HED - SHOOT THEM W/GUNZ."

Wow. That electric shock already did a number on your frontal lobe. My bad. Still, wrong is wrong, so - bzzt! - it's time for another shock.

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