Opinion: Zombies Just Aren’t Scary Anymore
The trend for so-called ‘horror’ games that feature zombies needs to die already – primarily because zombies, as an adversary, stopped being scary quite some time ago.
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when this happened, but it was right around the time that the undead ceased to be a metaphor for aspects of humanity that everyone takes part in: George A Romero exemplified this in Dawn of the Dead, where he criticized the shopping mall for turning people into mindless drones; to targets that move and test different types of weapons on.
In games, zombies have essentially become a way of taking the guilt out of shooting human beings with virtual bullets. If, for example, you included a level in your game where you shoot mindlessly into a crowd of people – including women and children – there would be a huge controversy. But turn them into the shambling undead and, all of a sudden, the controversy disappears and you have something akinto Left 4 Dead’s “alerted the horde”.
This is why zombies need to take a rest as the go-to monster for video games. They no longer induce fear in people. Even kids are introduced to zombies as cartoonish figures in Plants vs. Zombies. When we see a zombie shambling towards us, our first thought shouldn’t be ‘how much ammo is left in my gun’, it should be: ‘HOLY SHIT, IT’S A ZOMBIE, QUICK RUN THE OTHER WAY BEFORE IT CHEWS MY FACE OFF’.
The fact that we have overused them as an enemy desensitizes us to them as a legitimate monster. If you took someone from the sixties or seventies and showed them the Left 4 Dead franchise, they may well find it to be the scariest thing they’ve ever encountered. But if you took any gamer now and showed them ‘Night of the Living Dead’, they’d think that the zombies are tame, the action boring – and they’d wonder why the protagonists aren’t running at the zombies with guns blazing while wielding an axe.
This is mainly due to the fact that zombie games nowadays aren’t actually horror games at all; they’re generic action games masquerading as horror. A horror game shouldn’t be about who can blow the most heads off – a good horror game should make you doubt your own decision-making skills; it should make you extremely paranoid and make you fear your own surroundings. A good horror game should stay with you long after you’ve shut down the console or PC (see Amnesia: The Dark Descent, for a great example of this).
There is now a danger of zombie games becoming parodies of themselves; used more for humour than for horror. They’ve already become pale shadows of their former selves. Resident Evil 6 is a perfect illustration; what was originally an original and terrifying series has now devolved into a boring, bland shooter that has more in common with the Call of Duty franchise than it does the classic Resident Evil games.
Then there’s the ever-popular Plants vs. Zombies, which is aimed at children and proves my point even more: that zombies are comedic rather than horrific. The most damning thing is that no-one is attempting to correct this by making them scary. Sure, you could bring up the DayZ mod for Arma 2, but again, there’s more of a focus on survival than there is on making the zombies frightening, and it is hostile players that take centre-stage as the ‘real’ monsters.
Why do developers have this notion that only zombies are going to sell when it comes to effective monsters? There is a whole stable of supernatural creatures that could make for fearsome antagonists: ghosts, demons, vampires, werewolves, and immortal serial killers to name but a few.
You don’t necessarily have to use a supernatural creature in order to make a good horror game either. An old, spooky house is just as effective in its ability to scare someone as a ghost or a zombie. The whole popular trend for farming out more and more zombie games goes back to my previous article about how there’s a crippling lack of creativity in the industry these days.
In my opinion, zombies should return to the video game grave and not re-emerge for another five to ten years. At least then there’ll be a whole new generation of gamers, who haven’t had to endure a new zombie title every two to three months for what seems like an unholy eternity.