At the office yesterday I witnessed some verbal urination on zombie proliferation. Here I was gleefully slaughtering countless numbers of the walking dead without a thought to the success of their nerfarious campaign. Count up some of the recent IP: Dead Rising, Left 4 Dead, Fallout, Bioshock, Prototype, Mass Effect, Dead Space. There’s more. Zombies are everywhere! Killing a million zombies should get you a lifetime Achievement or something.
Why? Zombies represent unambiguous anthropomorphic evil.
We don’t get many evils that everyone can agree on. The world is too divided, too aware, too full of post-cultural relativism and political correctness. We can’t reach consensus on the world’s villains. Sure we can agree on problems: hunger, war, disease, etc., but we have trouble pointing at people and saying: Thou art evil. Individuals can cast that verbal stone, but someone will always disagree. So it’s pretty much down to mindless undead (not vampires, obviously, they’re soulful) now that we can kill without remorse. No guilt for mass murder? What more could the shooter fan want!
It’s also important that zombies look basically human. We’re wired to recognize human appearance and motion. Even if things seem a little off, we register the walking dead as a kind of enemy that we understand. It wouldn’t have the same emtional impact to be fighting nonhumanoid forms (though given our attachment to our pets, zombie dogs are a nice trope.)
As a nice benefit on the production side, you can attach, um, mindless or even buggy AI to the poor bastards and no one will care. It’s in character for the soulless bits of postconsumer flesh to fail to pathplan, get stuck on objects, or block each other in a doorway.
So are there non-undead solutions for enemies? Get away from the present day…
- Historical. Mask your political incorrectness and cultural relevance by jumping back in time. Hide beneath the blanket of realism, niceties be damned. That means we get Nazis, the other anthropomorphic unquestionable evil. And a reenactments of WWII that appear unlikely to end during the 21st century. Sadly, if you go back in time much further you quickly eliminate shooters entirely. Sure, you have Westerns, which my father and Clint Eastwood raised me on. Sadly, though, not an especially popular game genre.
- Fantasy. You can make your villains as evil as you want if they emerge from your own sick imagination. You can also make them dumb, smart, or whatever. And in your fantasy setting, you can use whatever magic powers you want in order to simulate brawler combat, shooter combat, or whatever. One problem here is that unless you use the “default” fantasy setting — some mishmash of Tolkein and D&D — you’re going to have to do a lot of work explaining your world and how it works.
- Science Fiction. The future has just about all of the advantages of fantasy and more approachability for the audience. But because there is no default science fiction mish-mash for science fiction, you may have to do a lot more exposition on how your universe came to be.