Well, people are eating other people now.
Wait. Let me say that a better way: People are eating other people now, and everyone is dying to see it.
What do your young friends usually say when you ask them if they watch the news? “No, it’s too depressing. Every time I turn it on, they’re showing pictures of people who were murdered or raped or something. I just can’t handle it.”
If that’s the case, then it sure doesn’t explain the security camera footage and horribly graphic photographs of the “Miami Zombie Attack” getting millions of views, as well as the details of this insane cannibalism being a topic of discussion at nearly every party (even weddings!) I’ve been to in the last month. Reactions are diverse: Some people are terrified, some disgusted, but most of them… excited?
Yes, it took bath salts and a crazy homeless guy in Miami to further prove that people are absolutely obsessed with the idea of zombies, and gamers are at the front of the pack with shotguns cocked.
Dead Rising, Dead Island, Left4Dead, Lollipop Chainsaw, Resident Evil, Call of Duty: Nazi Zombies, Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare, Telltale’s The Walking Dead, Onechanbara, even Plants vs. Zombies—these are just video game examples, not including movies, TV shows, and the countless number of books and “strategy guides” for surviving an actual Zombie Apocalypse, should one occur. We want zombies. We crave them.
The question is, why?
Zombies, as we know them, are killers. They are disgusting monsters. They feed on living organs and seek to infect. Any sane person can agree that these are bad things. So, with these factors taken into consideration, where does this sick, twisted desire in our (delicious) human brains come from?
A proven design rule in video games has become “When in doubt, add zombies.” The reason likely being because it’s a nice change of pace from always fighting meatbag human beings.
But we can still ask, why zombies? Gunning down Cape Buffalo would be a change of pace, and those are probably smarter and more deadly than your average undead gimp. Or, even in the same vein of Halloween creatures, killing werewolves could be a change of pace. Yet, we don’t have The Werewolf Island of Dr. Ned or Nazi Cape Buffalo expansion packs.
My conclusion? There’s a guilt factor.
Humans, werewolves, buffalo—technically, they are all still alive, forcing us to end the life of a living creature. Killing a zombie, however, is a way for us to release bottled up rage on a target without feeling guilty. It’s okay to bash in the face of a zombie with a rusty nail-adorned 2x4; it’s socially acceptable to create a shish kebab out of three zombies and one chainsaw. Why? Because they’re already dead. In fact, one could even argue that, because of their sad bodily state and lack of intelligence, we’re putting them out of their misery.
This leads us to motive and doubt in combat. In a war scenario, such as Call of Duty, you are killing bad humans in order to protect good humans. In a Zombie Apocalypse scenario, you are killing monsters in order to protect all of humanity.
Whenever you pit humans against humans, there are questions: Are you fighting for the right side? Is your buddy secretly a traitor? Is any of this fair or morally sound? What are we truly fighting for? Don’t our enemies have families? It’s up to you to figure out if you’re fighting for the right side… and if you’re going to remain loyal.
When it comes to zombies, there is absolutely no question that you are fighting for the right side. You’re saving humans—the team that counts—from genocide. Zombies don’t have families. They don’t have morals. They can’t infiltrate your camp undercover. They’re dead, and there will never be a shadow of a doubt that destroying them is a just cause. Like taking a can of Raid to a swarm of fire ants—the decision is a no-brainer. (Pun intended.)
It seems the only other fictional beings that so often bring us together in a similar way, fighting for Team Humanity, are aliens. And while it’s usually apparent in the first hostile encounter whether or not it’s a responsible decision to blow their heads off, thus eliminating the guilt factor, they still raise questions. Could we find a compromise? Is there a way to end this fighting and live in harmony with extra terrestrials? What can we learn from them, regarding intelligence and technology?
While an alien arrival presents a greater potential benefit, it also presents a much more difficult, advanced fight—one that cannot simply be approached with 2x4s and chainsaws wielded by the average human being.
This, again, adds to the approachability of zombies.
Despite the superiority of aliens as a species, zombies are still more loved and talked about. This seems to be because any Average Joe feels surprisingly confident about their chances in a match between them and a zombie in real life. I’ll gladly admit that I would like to take on a zombie to see how I would fair, while at the same time hoping I never come into contact with an alien.
There is something sublime about the undead—that is, they are both beautiful and terrifying. Terrifying in the sense that they are rotting, limping corpses, depicted in fiction as bent on killing the living; beautiful in the sense that we want them to be real. Video games these days go for realism mixed with fantasy, and zombie games provide us with a wide variety of simulations and scenarios for a Zombie Apocalypse—a catastrophe that we would apparently welcome with open arms in the real world.
Though gamers continue to express their tiredness of video game zombies, the concept will never die. The bottom line? Killing zombies is fun—and we’re proud to be part of the resistance.
Kotaku Presents’ debut season features Lisa Foiles, who is best known as the former star of Nickelodeon’s award-winning comedy show, All That. She currently works as an actress/web host in Hollywood and is continuing to dabble in video game voiceovers. For more info, visit Lisa’s official website She’s also on Twitter.