Zombies, Nazis, Orcs, or Aliens?

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.

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