(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.)
Oy. An impending overseas move, a death in the family and the onset of winter have me in a low mood, without much of a taste for new media offerings. (Also, my primary gaming machine is going to be inaccessible for most of the rest of the year). But the zombies pile up, nonetheless.
(There’s brief reference to a couple of IF Comp games in here, if you’re trying to keep yourself unspoilt.)
Renowned Explorers: Another Verne/Doyle exploration game, akin to The Curious Expedition but without pixel art, yay. Expedition turned out to have Abominations; I can’t quite tell whether Explorers has anything similar, but it certainly plays with lots of closely-related material: trailers show a mummy, ‘voodoo pirates’, ghosts. There are some allusions scattered around the internet about zombie pirates, but they could be iterations of the ‘every game has zombies now’ joke. Anyway, I’m at the point where I’m not putting money down on anything if it looks like zombie habitat.
Drinking Quest: A card-based thing that touts itself as a drinking-game RPG but seemed more board-gamey in execution. We found it in the games shelf at the pub where we have our board game night; we were the first people there and hadn’t brought any games, so we were poking around. The central idea is that you chug whenever you run out of HP It’s not so much that I’m too old to consider vomiting a recreational activity – it doesn’t look as if the game’s balance leans towards constant death and getting blotto. But I prefer not to drink booze that’s bad enough to justify chugging.
Not a big drinker? That’s okay, Drinking Quest is full of enough dry wit and internet memes to entertain even the most sober of guests.
As a rule of thumb, nobody who explicitly claims to possess dry wit has anything of the kind. Exhibit A:
Failed a Saving Throw for Sexual Prowess? Turns out she was a zombie the whole time.
A quick skim through the cards revealed abundant zombie references. We played Wits and Wagers instead.
Dead Scare (tabletop RPG), a Kickstarted powered-by-the-apocalypse game in which you play women and children survivors of the zombie apocalypse. Found out about this earlier, but somehow didn’t mention it. Googling it, however, I discovered at least two other zombie/50s-housewife games, one of them (Aberford) now also on Kickstarter. I’ve no idea whether this is more than thematically-linked coincidence: zombies as force of oppressive conformity is hardly anything new, and 50s-housewife is a strong cultural signifier for Peak Oppressive Conformity. (After that I ran into the game’s designer, Elsa S. Henry, at GeekGirlCon. She seemed pretty demoralised. There was a lot of that going around at GGC this year.)
Dead but Alive! Southern England. Not much here that jumps out at me as particularly compelling, except that I’m very much in favour of British apocalypses. I don’t have a ton of personal investment in the South, but my grandparents lived in West Sussex and I was born just outside the edge of the game’s map, so it’s kind of an area I have investment in. Anyway, it completely brands itself as a zombie game, so no big dilemma.
And of course the Pride and Prejudice and Zombies movie released a trailer. Anna watched it in my hearing, and her response was along the lines of ‘damn, I give zero shits about either Jane Austen or zombies, but now I really want to see this.’ The trailer cannily downplays the zombie part in favour of hot ladies in Regency dress engaged in flying kicks and swordplay. I am not unmoved.
Now, OK, on one level the fact that this is becoming a movie has to represent some kind of apotheosis of the doofy geek mashup. P&P&Z is the kind of thing that, by all rights, should have been a momentarily amusing photo composite or a one-off webcomic gag. That it’s become a slickly-produced movie is hardly anomalous, and that’s what’s really weird.
Honestly, I kind of see the point of adding zombies to Austen. It deals with the two of the most common complaints about her work – that none of its women seem to care about anything but romance, and that even in romance they’re pretty inert. Conferring a great big pile of action-hero agency on the confined women of the story, while preserving the class-fantasy of ballgowns, horses and well-mannered gentlemen suitors, is a really straightforward way to say ‘hell with historical accuracy: this story is most important to me as wish-fulfilment.’ Adding zombies is at present the simplest way to add an action-hero element off-the-peg, when you only want enemies as adornments for the hero.
Axe Cop (animated series). I thought the comic was brilliant when it first came out, then got tired of it fairly quickly. But the show is definitely the sort of thing well-suited to watch drunk with friends at three in the morning. Plus, Nick Offerman is perfectly cast.
Much of Axe Cop is just a random melange of nerd-schlock tropes, so it was not enormously surprising that the second episode of S1 (this has had two seasons?) was entitled Zombie Island… In Space. I requested that we skip that one. We did. Technically I should have thrown out the whole series, but at 1AM I didn’t have the energy.
TOMBs of Reschette: an IF Comp entry seemingly custom-made to make this project difficult. A pastiche of dungeon-crawls, the game contains a variety of unconventional undead, none of which works precisely like a basic zombie and most of which aren’t hostile unless the player pokes them pretty thoroughly with a stick. I did, however, ultimately run into the TOMB Worms, parasites which consume everything but your skin and then work together to animate “a sagging, bloated, ambulatory bag of skin resembling the host,” whose sole purpose is to stagger into settlements and then explode. It’s a little more icky than yer basic XCOM zombie, but essentially the same concept.
Questor’s Quest: another Comp entry. The cover features probably-zombies. I didn’t get far enough in it to encounter any, but other players assure me that they exist.
Jotun. The first boss, though unnamed, is pretty clearly a draugr, a malevolent Norse undead. Draugr appear in a number of games – Skyrim, Battle for Wesnoth – but are often just bigger, tougher, weapon-wielding zombies. In the original tradition they were much more formidable, able to change size, induce madness; despite being rotting corpses, they could float through walls and sink through the earth. They were often named individuals, and acted from individual (if evil) motives. This one can change size, and is presented individually and as a Big Deal, but doesn’t have a name or much of a personality; Jotun’s storytelling is a bit thin, particularly when it comes to ‘who is this monster and why am I fighting them?’ While a full-fledged Norse-style draugr wouldn’t be a zombie, this didn’t feel like that; if you weren’t already aware of draugr, it’d just look like a big skeleton boss. So maybe this counts as a failure?
Twitchy But Fine
Black Closet: one of the mysteries which turns out to be innocent involves a bunch of girls who stage an act-like-a-zombie day. Closet has only peripheral F/SF content, so there was little real threat of zombies; this is just a matter of the trope’s appearance making me twitchy.
In general, I’m not listing every smartass book title, T-shirt. (Though there’s a tourist T-shirt shop downtown that I walk past regularly which has not one, but three almost-funny zombie T-shirts in the window.)
Mythbusters (TV), which has done zombie-related scenarios before. In this case, they were doing a specifically videogame-related experiment – is the inventory weight in an FPS like Doom reasonable, or would it slow you down? (Their conclusion: it wouldn’t slow you down if you were built like Video Game Mans.) Doom features zombies as low-level cannon fodder, so the physical simulation included a bunch of extras filling in that role. There’s not much fictional veneer – there’s never any pretense that these were anything other than actors with nerf guns – and really this feels more like criticism than anything. But it’s still a fictional representation, kind of, even though it’s the kind of fictional representation where everyone keeps excitedly showing you how the props are cardboard. I dunno.
Supernatural (TV). S3E12, Jus in Bello, in which demon-possessed humans besiege a police station. The show typically portrays demon-possessed humans as cunning, dangerous individual adversaries, who use subterfuge, bargaining and magic at least as much as direct violence. Here, the possessed humans lurk in zombie-like packs and mostly attack in zombie-like ways; there’s clear influence both from zombie movies generally and from the 1976 Assault on Precinct 13 (itself essentially a zombie movie with the zombies recast as a street gang). By this point in the show, however, exorcisms are routine (a mass exorcism is conducted using a recorded message played over a PA system) and usually allow the human hosts to survive, so the state isn’t permanent.
A couple of episodes later, in Time Is On My Side, the Winchesters investigate what they at first speculate is zombies; this possibility becomes implausible very quickly. And then Metamorphosis features a man at risk of turning into an uncontrollably ravenous, cannibal rugaru – but rather than mindlessness, the emphasis is on whether he has the will to restrain himself from violence.
This is a notable place where zombies haven’t been showing up: paranormal-investigation shows. I’ve been watching a bunch of Supernatural and a certain amount of X-Files, both of which strip-mine popular culture for monsters – Jersey Devils, Krampus, whatever. Supernatural, in particular, eats, breathes and shits undead. But as of early S4, Proper Zombies have not really featured, although the story has come awfully close a number of times. Why not?
The most obvious thing is that horde-type zombies are really inconvenient if you want to keep your monsters hidden beneath the surface of a largely-oblivious world. Mindless, unrelenting attackers just aren’t very good at concealing themselves. This is not a normal consideration of games. Game monsters are unrelenting attackers by default. Even if they’re sort of hidden – as in jump-scare games – the game still generally starts out right in the abandoned spaceship or whatnot.
In TV and movies it’s cheaper and easier to portray the normal world than the ravening monsters that lurk beneath it, so it behooves you to have the story mostly be about people doing normal people stuff and only bring out the fight scenes and special-effects horrors occasionally, at climactic points. In games it’s the reverse: it’s easier to move the action away from complicated, labour-intensive simulations of people and get directly to the monster-slaying.
Seriously, What the Fuck
On October 17th, at ZombiCon, a street festival held in Fort Myers, Florida, a man opened fire with a handgun, killing one person and injuring five. No suspect has been apprehended and investigations are ongoing.
It’s not all that surprising that there’s a zombie convention. To be honest, it may not say all that much that there was a mass shooting there, other than that, well, the USA has lots and lots of guns and lots and lots of mass shootings. This one was the 305th this year; the only reason that news outlets took any particular notice is the weird factor.
I don’t even really want to call it irony, because that seems glib in the face of actual murder. Still, it’s hard to shrug off the juxtaposition. There were a bunch of people gathered together to celebrate a trope, the main purpose of which is to provide objects for fictional indiscriminate killing. And someone decided to use them as targets for indiscriminate killing. The investigation was complicated because so many of the attendees – cosplaying as survivors – were wearing replica guns, indistinguishable from the real thing in blurry night-time images.
The sign is not the signified. The map is not the territory. Fictions are exploration, play, not commitment. The cosplay makeup in the photos of con attendees, mimicking the effects of mutilation and decay, doesn’t really tell us anything about the specific people beneath it. We are all swimming in the same water.