Year Without Zombies 2: The Dead of Winter

(For 2015, I am trying to avoid playing any games or consuming any static media with zombies in them. My reasons, and other fun things like ‘what exactly counts as a zombie?’, are explained here.)

Oh ye gods and little monsters. I was planning on doing these monthly, and hopefully the zombie-related content will slow down as I get better at avoiding it, but for now there is plenty of post material.

seriously bro?

Clem, the amount of time I spend playing videogames is totally healthy and compatible with a fulfilled, productive life.

Mostly it’s OK. I have my regular Crusader Kings 2 fix (argh update why you nerf pagans), I’ve introduced people to Long Live the Queen, I’ve hot-seated Never Alone with Jacq, I have checked back in on Prison Architect to confirm that it is still pretty boring, I have tried out ranged weapons in NEO Scavenger and determined that they are super fucking useless. I am not afflicted by dreadful cravings for XCOM or Skyrim or Dwarf Fortress beyond the level of mild annoyance. Jacq has only slightly guilted me about not playing NecroDancer with her. It’s the post-Steam-sale season, so I am not really feeling the need to buy new things.

And yet.

Left Unplayed

Saints Row IV: Another Christmas-sale purchase that I whiffed on. ‘It’s like GTA but it gives zero shits about taking itself seriously’ isn’t the world’s most enticing pitch, but enough people whose discernment I respect have told me that no, it’s really amazing and I should try it out. I should have realised that when you give zero shits and are just kickin’ it clownshoes, zombies follow logically.

Mid-Game Quit

Tropico 4: I love the original Tropico dearly, but its subsequent iterations have been highly disappointing. To a great extent this is a writing problem: one of the best things about Tropico 1 was its witty, quotable writing, sometimes over-the-top but always with a sense of understated ironic ridiculousness. It was cartoony, sure, but it maintained a basic respect for the subject-matter; it helped that it had voice actors who actually sounded Latino. Tropico 4, by contrast, is cheap, goofy, exploity, written by atrocious hacks* and voice-acted by hams. It’s still mechanically Tropico, so a year or three ago I stuck with it longer than it really deserved.

But I felt like a gentle, familiar strategy game, and it was already installed, and I hadn’t played it for long enough that perhaps memory had softened it. And the very next scenario in my old half-finished campaign was an exploitative-as-fuck Haitian voodoo thing which included, yes, the option to create a bunch of zombie workers. The whole thing was so profoundly half-assed that I can’t really glean any coherent meaning from it beyond ‘shit, we have to crank out a scenario in the next three hours; anybody got any ideas for a theme?’

That said, I’ve run into lots of games so far where the zombies were kind of serving a purpose, or weren’t really any different from other enemies, or what-have-you. (I equivocate by reflex.) This is the first one where my immediate reaction was ‘seriously? What the shitting fuck, game. Fuck you eternally. Uninstalled. Fuck.’ It’s about time that this enterprise got some righteous fury.

 Dragon Age: Origins. ‘Pretty sure there aren’t any zombies in it,’ I was told by a friend for whom Bioware romance games are a subject of near-religious enthusiasm. Then somewhere in the intro section I ran into animated skeletons: as it turns out, both skeletons and devouring corpses count as zombies under my terms – technically they’re demons inhabiting the remains of dead people, and that would normally be fine, but the demons are driven to zombie-style insanity in the process. In fact, I had already looked this up, but managed to forget all about it. And I looked it up again before playing, but evidently did a really crappy search. Christ, this must be what it’s like for baby vegetarians. Fortunately the friend in question is super-understanding about my stupid restrictions, and independently figured out that I shouldn’t keep playing.

Three Parts Dead (novel). I’d been curious about Max Gladstone’s Craft series since I read Choice of the Deathless, and was settling in for some bedtime reading. Alas, very early on in the first book of the series, heroine Tara Abernathy resurrects three dead watchmen to protect her hometown from raiders. The zombonym is ‘revenant’ – fine choice, a little early Gothic, a little Monstrous Manual – but they’re unambiguously zombies:

A revenant didn’t require a will of its own, or at least not so robust a will as most humans thought they possessed. Slice! Or complex emotions, though those were more fundamental to the human animal and thus harder to pry free; she made her knife’s edge jagged to saw them out, then fine and scalpel-sharp to excise the troublesome bits. Leave a fragment of self-preservation, and the seething rage left over from the last moments of the subject’s life.

A thoughtful treatment. Zombies were not conspicuously a thing (I think) in Deathless, but they’re pretty consistent with how the world works, so I should have been more careful. Increasingly, though, it looks as though any work with fantasy or SF elements is inherently a risk. I am weary, and it’s only mid-January.


I’ve been watching aforementioned friend play the first season of The Walking Dead. I contend that this doesn’t count, any more than enjoying the smell of bacon violates one’s vegetarianism, although that might be a bit more of a complicated case to make about this game. Still consumption, undoubtedly, though mostly what I’m consuming is player reaction (‘I immediately regret this’, ‘look at Clem again and I will cut you’).


OK Steam you are just fucking trolling me at this point

Theodore Roosevelt designated Zombie National Park & Preserve by executive order in 1908 through the Antiquities Act, to ‘preserve and protect the Nation’s proud heritage of bang noises.’

Since I’ve recently been playing a lot of NEO Scavenger, The Long Dark and This War of Mine, Steam is understandably of the belief that I want to do nothing but play postapocalyptic early-access games. Holy shit, there are a lot of ’em, and they all look really fucking similar: crafting/building system, lots of guns, online multiplayer, high incidence of rugged brotagonists, and all zombies all the fucking time. Evidently ‘zombie survival, crafting/building, multiplayer’ is the weeping motorcycle gorilla of early access games. Regardless, our civilisation is at no risk of Peak Zombie. They just keep coming, dead-eyed, implacable.

It does not escape my attention that this formula is essentially ‘Minecraft, but not for little kids‘. So much of videogames are a tension between childhood and adolescence; if adulthood gets a look-in it’s generally just as backup for one or the other.

Honourable Mentions


History is giving you side-eye, zombies.

I picked up Expeditions: Conquistador at the recommendation of Gunther Schmidl; it deserves props for taking a combat-centric game in a decidedly anti-zombie direction, with the fundamental attitude that all sides of a conflict are populated by people with lives, diverse personalities and motivations, complicated ethics. It’s a neat subversion of the whole adventurer-party concept, the weird idea that a roving band of mercenaries might be the world’s most important force for good. Recommended.

* OK, while that’s true, it’s not entirely fair. In order to be an atrocious hack, someone has to give you money and say ‘please produce some atrocious hackwork; you have until Tuesday.’ In this case, it was a matter of… I don’t even know how the IP ended up there, but it’s a matter of a German publisher hiring a Bulgarian developer to make a game about Caribbean nations to be consumed by Americans. That is not a process likely to place high value on expert handling of either the English language or Caribbean cultures.

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9 Responses to Year Without Zombies 2: The Dead of Winter

  1. Jason Dyer says:

    Since I’ve recently been playing a lot of NEO Scavenger, The Long Dark and This War of Mine, Steam is understandably of the belief that I want to do nothing but play postapocalyptic early-access games.

    That sentence makes me think the same thing. It’s understandable Steam is confused.

  2. Andrew Plotkin says:

    I think you could read Gladstone’s _Full Fathom Five_ with no loss of context and no zombie-risk.

  3. George Dorn says:

    Oddly, I found ranged weapons, particularly the bows, exceptionally useful in NEO Scavenger. I suspect it’s a matter of PC skills and careful control of combat range.

    You don’t consider melonheads to be zombies?

    • Well, hm. It takes a fair amount of time and effort to craft all the things, and at the end of it I couldn’t usually do much more than scratch up dogmen before they closed to melee, even with Ranged. Bows can only load five arrows (if there’s a way to reload mid-battle I never figured it out), and I still needed the other hand free for melee. The few times I’ve laid hands on a gun and compatible bullets have been similar. Maybe I’ve just been extremely unlucky with damage.

      I don’t think melonheads quite count as zombies, no, based on what evidence I’ve been able to piece together. They’re capable of knowing when it’s a good idea to retreat, for instance, can acquire and use weapons and clothes (even if they don’t normally have any), and don’t seem to be more aggressive than other scavengers. It’s not really clear that they were ever human, or if they’re a human-derived mutant species like dogmen.

  4. Pingback: A Year Without Zombies: Envoi | These Heterogenous Tasks

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