Friday, June 6, 2014

What happened to zombie games?

I grew up loving zombies.  They were the perfect movie villains.  They were the enemies that you could kill without feeling bad about it -and one of my favorite games was Resident Evil - very zombiecentric.

But something has happened in the last 10-20 years in regards to zombies...  Something I'm none too comfortable with.

So, I've been at the research again.  Some of you that know me will likely roll your eyes, and think, "oh no, not again..."  and I totally understand that.  When I get on a tangent, I'm like a puppy with a sock, and tend not to let go until I'm missing a tooth...

Well, maybe not that bad.

At any rate, I've been working on zombies, and the idea that something that was once scary and unknown is now cannon fodder and mundane.  How did we get to the point that we are no longer afraid of zombies?  Well, I would argue that the introduction of zombies was likely something to create fear in people and that everything since then, in some way or another was to fight that fear, and get past it.

First, let’s look at what made us afraid of zombies in the first place.  I'm talking about the original concept of the 'zombie' and not the popular shuffling construct that we are seeing in mainstream media today, of course - the idea that a man was killed by a Bokor, then revived, enslaved and used primarily for manual labor.  This goes back to Haiti, and roots there in voodoo and other (I hesitate at 'mythology') religions and was a way to take away free will.  Notice that there is no mention of cannibalism, or trying to eat brains.  It was as simple as removing your ability to resist.  The idea that your corpse could get up and work without your consent WAS terrifying to people.  I suspect it is less so today, but it's still a disturbing concept, to say the least.  Something that actually led to me starting this research was from the book, "This Book is Full of Spiders (seriously dude, don't touch it), and I'll quote the excerpt here:

 “The zombie looks like a man, walks like a man, eats and otherwise functions fully, yet is devoid of the spark. It represents the nagging doubt that lays deep in the heart of even the most zealous believer: behind all of your pretty songs and stained glass, this is what you really are. Shambling meat. Our true fear of the zombie was never that its bite would turn us into one of them. Our fear is that we are already zombies.” 
David Wong

Now, that's obviously taking from the modern zombies, that the idea that the bite could spread the infection, or disease, and change YOU to a zombie as well, and I think that deviation was only because the original idea wasn't frightening enough.  If you think about it, someone had to be willing to commit murder to create a zombie.  They had to kill you, then bring you back to life, then maintain you in some way, even if it was just standing you in the closet at night.  The point is, there are only so many people that another person can kill and bring back to life, even if they worked at it every day and night for as long as they lived.  But MASS zombification, now that's terrifying...  at least, it was.  The idea that an infection or disease could cause dead flesh to rise is relatively new, and it has a purpose as well, to insulate us to the fear of the world around us.  We do this often, by the way.  When everyone was scared to death of nuclear power, there were movies and books and comic books about people getting radioactive powers (Spiderman, anyone?)  I'd be willing to bet that if a poll was taken today, most people are not all that worried about radiation, or nuclear power - and that's AFTER Chernobyl happened.

In the earliest of zombie movies, it was the Bokor, and it was limited to a small amount of people.  In the next phase, we had George Romero, and the idea that it could be spread - but in his case, and I believe he did this consciously, there was no explanation for what caused spread.  Not knowing, after all, definitely makes something more frightening.  It's only in the later years that we've sought a REASON for the start of the 'end of the world'.  That's part of the process as well, trying to explain what caused the problem.  It's part of solving the riddle, and if we can just figure out what happened, we can save everyone - in some cases, even the infected themselves.  At one point, there was no cure for zombiism, you were DEAD.  Now, we've gone to the idea that you are not only still alive somehow, but that you can be saved.  Never mind that physically, this would be all but impossible.  It's that spark of hope, that the process can be reversed.

At one point, not only could the spread not be determined to have a starting point, but it had no weaknesses either.  It was unstoppable, and for all practical reasons, it was unavoidable.  In the scenarios presented, you were almost certainly going to die horribly, and then come back and likely kill someone else - in all likelihood, someone you loved.  If that doesn't frighten you, you might be a sociopath.  NOW, we have zombie love stories, and after a little while (and eating the right brains to spark memories apparently) you can become human again.  While I liked the movie - it was entertaining - I just sit and sigh when I see it because it is such a disconnect from reality.    Then again, zombies are disconnects from reality as well, so far...

Back to the point - we've made zombies less frightening, and it was done by my generation most likely.  We grew up watching Romero zombies, and conversations with my friends about the zombies was generally centered around how WE would handle it - that WE wouldn't be so afraid, and that the idiots in the movies had to be the dumbest people on the earth to lose to ZOMBIES of all things.  They're slow, they're stupid, and they're weak.  That's the trifecta of losers in the horror universe.  To lose to zombies would be embarrassingly ridiculous.  And then we grew up.  Some of us became writers...  And now we have lovable zombies that only eat brains because they want to still feel human.  And they feel bad about killing people.  And they can be cured. And get girlfriends.

Zombies were once terrifying.  They were an idea that was the reminder that death was inescapable, but that what came after could be worse.  Zombies now are no longer frightening, they're victims.  We treat victims differently in our minds than we treat villains.  We feel sorry for victims.  We empathize.  It's difficult to be afraid of something like that.  It's easier to feel pity for them.

So in answer to my own question - Yes, zombies used to be more frightening, and it's by design that they are not now.

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