A Year Without Zombies 12: Teach Us To Care and Not To Care

(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.)

I’m done. On the stroke of midnight Anna made me watch iZombie (it’s considerably better than expected), and on New Year’s morning I ceremoniously bought Rebuild 3. My parents snagged me a copy of Fallout 4, the sneaky devils, although I’m still not at the machine which will actually play it.

Mostly Fine

Kiss of the Spider Woman, Manuel Puig’s 1976 novel, which I flicked through at the library. Set in an Argentine jail, much of the story consists of one prisoner narrating stories, based on movies, to the other. One of these is based on the 1943 film I Walked With A Zombie – an early zombie movie, predating the modern zombie synthesis. In this version, zombification has some pretty strong characteristics: it’s a form of mind-control, or just body-control, not a true undead state (the victim might appear to die, but it’s an illusion). There is often an explicit link to plantation slavery, but the foreground of the story usually involves the control of an individual white woman, who is driven to murderous violence. The setting is usually the Caribbean, and the context is always voodoo, but the zombie master is often a white person who has taken on voodoo abilities.

This is a really different portfolio of anxieties than are exhibited in the modern, post-Romero synthesis. The fear of the mob, and of decaying bodies, was far less significant; the fear of compulsion and loss of control, the idea of husbands losing control over wives, and the threat of savage, mystical Others usurping control over white women – that’s what zombies used to be about. (There’s a similar dynamic going on in Dracula – can the rational Germanics protect the Good Woman from the atavistic, madness-inducing Slav?)

Anyway: the rendition in Puig is not a zombie as I’ve defined it – it’s clear that the zombified woman remains conscious throughout, only losing control of physical action.

Project Spark. This is a simple, GUI-heavy game-maker for Xbox and Windows. In the example game, the Very Boring Intro Quest allows you to make a lot of choices about the world, by way of training you to make authoring decisions. One of these is ‘what do you want the bad guys who attack the village to be’, with options including zombies. I didn’t take it, but this leaves an issue.

This is another borderline kind of thing: is Project Spark a game with a series of user-made levels, or an authoring platform with a bunch of user-made games? If I found out that, say, Unity came with a package of default assets that included zombie art, I wouldn’t therefore invalidate every Unity game. But if I played a CYOA that had zombies in some branches but not others, I’d consider it unacceptable even if I could avoid the zombie branches. So if there’s a game with no default campaign, but whose level editor allows for zombies? I dunno. I feel as though I need a team of medieval Islamic jurists, who would really have fun with this kind of question.

Pandemic Legacy (board game). On the heels of Risk Legacy, this is a multi-session version of Pandemic in which the board changes and new game elements appear as you play the game, depending on how the game plays. There is a lot of uncertainty and hidden information: the game comes with sealed boxes, scratch-cards and perforated card windows, and a deck of cards telling you exactly when to open them. The rulebook is full of empty patches where you’ll end up affixing stickers. You gain new character choices, and can buy upgrades that strengthen characters, weaken diseases, or add features to the board. In other words, it’s very like a videogame-ification of a board game. And once you’ve finished the campaign, you’re basically done; even if you could put all the pieces back in their sealed condition, a great deal of the fun of the game is not knowing what comes next.

One of the early developments is that one of the disease strains – in our case, the East Asian one – mutated to become incurable. You have to work to aggressively limit its spread and cure the other diseases. And then, in the early mid-game – boom: its victims go zombie.

From the description, it initially seems as though the Faded aren’t strictly zombies; their rage episodes are temporary, closer to werewolf than zombie. My definition states that in order to count as a zombie, the state must be permanent – and the disease is incurable at first, yes, but its victims aren’t permanently zombies.

That said, this is very clearly drawing on zombie-epidemic fiction, like an unlicensed World War Z boardgame. Which is kind of sad, really; I had always felt as though a big part of Pandemic‘s brand was that it was the kind of near-future SF that doesn’t have much truck with fantasy. It’s frustrating that when you ask a bunch of game designers to punch up a non-violent game about epidemic disease control in order to introduce ongoing story development, the inevitable answer is ‘add more zombies and army men.’

Regardless, my mercy rule for boardgames dictated that I should continue playing, rather than be a jerk and quit the game mid-stream. I didn’t make any special provision for iterated boardgames, largely because I didn’t know they even existed at the time.

Kingdom of the Crescent Moon (novel), by Saladin Ahmed, a.k.a. that guy your friends retweet all the time. I picked this up in preparation for a plane flight – the plane flight was on the 2nd, so technically it was out of the dezombified zone, but I bought it on the 28th. I’d bought it pretty much sight unseen, and then caught a glimpse of ‘ghul hunter’ somewhere in a blurb. Uh-oh.

Ghuls: Mindless creatures made to do the bidding of cruel men. Born of grisly sorcery, they are made from dirt, vermin, and the hate and fear of living men. There are several sorts – bone ghuls, sand ghuls, night ghuls, water ghuls, skin ghuls – but all are incredibly strong and difficult to kill.

‘Ghoul’ is a relatively recent import into English, ganked from Arabic via Gothic novels. Arabic ghouls aren’t undead, but have similar fondness for graveyards and devouring corpses. Ahmed’s version sounded most like some kind of rampagey golem, so probably OK – but ones made out of bone or skin? What’s a night ghul made out of, mm?

As I started to read, I noticed two things: the ghuls intially seemed a lot more zombie-ish than the above extract suggested; dead bodies with glowing eyes were mentioned. And two, hypervigilance ruins the reading experience.

A little way in, it transpired that ghuls are, indeed, basically golems made out of grave-soil or sand or the like, although you need to torture and murder a bunch of people to make one. Seemed fine. And then, around the climax, skin ghuls make their first appearance – and they’re totally zombies. Seriously, Ahmed, don’t bait-and-switch me like that.

Under the Avoided heading… well, a whole bunch of stuff in the Steam winter sale, but pretty much all of it stuff that I’ve already mentioned.


I’m not sure that I’m ready to wrap this up yet. I want some kind of conclusion, and for that I think I need to do some more digging. And I am tired, for other reasons. But it’s a relief to drop the vigilance.

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2 Responses to A Year Without Zombies 12: Teach Us To Care and Not To Care

  1. Congratulations on getting through this! This article series is one of the main reasons I got into your blog in the first place, so I for one am very grateful for it.

    Now have fun dropping your guard. And if you do write a summing-up, I know I’ll enjoy reading it.

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

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