Zombies and the Apocalypse go hand-in-hand like biscuits and gravy… or meth labs and the Midwest. And while you may sometimes see an Apocalypse book or movie without zombies, you almost never see a zombie movie without the apocalypse. They are the quintessential villains of countless movies, books, and video games. Generally speaking, the zombie genesis seems to originate from one of three options:
- The dead rise again
- Chemical or bio-warfare
- People driven crazy
Out of curiosity, I want to pose two questions to anyone reading this blog:
- What movie, book, or game in your opinion has depicted the most scary, horrifying, and/or intriguing zombie premise?
- Why do you think so many people are enamored with the prospect of the apocalypse and the mass conversion of the human species into zombies?
Out of fairness, I should try to answer my own questions first. I’m not sure I can name a specific book/game/movie, but in my opinion the scarier “zombies” are the ones that aren’t really zombies at all; they are everyday people who have been driven mad. For example, in the movie The Crazies, the zombies are actually high-functioning humans who have essentially been driven to bloodlust (in this case, due to exposure to some kind of toxin). Because of this, the zombies aren’t drooling over themselves and mindlessly hammering at barricaded doors like jackasses. They are capable of thought, and therefore, capable of more horrific acts. It’s like having a host of serial killers after you, which I think is a little more disconcerting than the almost comically slow zombies that you see in some cases.
In Reclamation (my RPG), the “zombies” are not zombies. They are men, women, and children who are consumed by The Sickness–a disease that basically allows the darkest thoughts and desires of a person to take over. The evil that is bottled up inside each and every one of us is suddenly loosed in a deadly explosion, and everyone nearby is caught in the destruction. I chose this approach for my game because I wanted my zombies (or the members of the Mortis-Horde as they’re called in Reclamation) to be more than just brain dead fodder. I want them to be what we are most afraid of… ourselves. It’s like staring into a mirror and seeing the person we try to hide from everyone else suddenly staring back.
This leads to my other question about “Why do we like zombies and the apocalypse so much?” My opinion is fairly cynical… I think this is part of the reason why I’d like to hear from others. I think each and every one of us has a violent streak that we fight to suppress. We are cultured to deny this monstrous side of ourselves and we understand the immorality of giving in to that kind of anger. I think zombies present a horrifying catharsis that allows us to destroy and murder without guilt or remorse. Sure… they LOOK human, but they’re not. They’re dead or at least alienated. You don’t shoot out the brains of a zombie and then think to yourself, “Oh no! Did that zombie have a wife or children?” We get to identify with the violence and free ourselves from the remorse. Same goes for video games. Ever play a WW2 game? How many Nazis did you blast through? You didn’t keep count, did you? Why should you?… they’re not HUMAN… they’re NAZIS. I think many of us seek to fulfill a violent catharsis by mowing down face-less enemies that feel real enough to be gratifying but inhuman enough for it to not be considered murder.
And again… this is something that Reclamation seeks to challenge. While there are certainly zombie-esque people shambling around, many of the enemies you will face in the Dystopia are men and women who slip in and out of the hold of The Sickness. It’s not so easy to divorce these individuals from their humanity… which means killing them–while potentially necessary to survive–means you might not be able to do so without serious guilt and remorse. In fact, there is a spot on the character sheet to track your Soul Path. The more guilt, remorse, sadness, and pain that you experience, the further you fall on the Path of Despair which in turn leaves you more susceptible to The Sickness yourself.
So once again, what’s your favorite “zombie storyline” and why do you think so many people are drawn to the apocalypse and zombies in general?