Zombies and Computers

Yes, I realize the relation there.  Several of them, actually.  Computers can turn people into zombies, and people use computers to fight zombies.  Anyway, I’m using the Title because it accurately depicts the two main things I want to talk about.

Item One:  I have a new computer!  If you followed this from my Facebook page you probably know this already, but even if you haven’t you should know, because it’s really really cool.

First of all, it’s a desktop, which is a switch from the laptop I’ve held for the last five years, but a welcome change, in a way, as I get more computing power and it’s a lot easier to operate and upgrade by parts as it gets outdated (not that I know how to do that yet).  Second of all, obviously, its a lot more powerful than my old laptop, and holds a lot more potential.  I WAS thinking rather seriously about buying a REALLY amped-up gaming machine, but opted for a lower price and a more flexible setup.  This thing isn’t pure gaming, its also office-oriented, which is a better match for me. 

I don’t have it connected to the internet yet, because the router is in another room and desktops don’t come with wireless antennas.  Hopefully, the wireless antenna I ordered will arrive shortly, along with the speakers.  Personally, I’m surprised the computer itself came as quickly as it did.  In the meantime, I’ll surf the internet with my already-ugly laptop.  Amazing how fast the old thing looks clunky once the new one comes in.

I’ve been wanting a new computer for a while, just because the laptop is outdated, but the real reason I got it NOW was because my old one started freezing up and shutting down on me.  That being said, I’m VERY excited about the new video games now back in my technology range.  Half-Life, Exile, Mass Effect…. all number of games that have been closed to me are now once again in my playable range.  Just the option is nice.  I won’t necessarily play all those games… I’d never get anything done and would turn into some kind of vegetative slob.

Which brings us to zombies…

A number of weeks ago, I mentioned my interest in zombie apocalypse games and the inherent premise.  I’m not going to provide a lot of image examples, as I have no idea what age group is reading this and I’d REALLY rather not scare any five-year olds.  But I do consider zombie games/movies/books a rather prevalent part of our modern culture, and there are several aspects of it that I consider worth examining.

Zombies are a rather new conception, or at least in their current form.  So far as I can tell, they come from some old African legends, and more particularly the voodoo offshoots of American and Haiti.  You can read the wikipedia article on them here if you’re so inclined, it’s actually somewhat interesting.  But even in their dark early days, they were generally just solitary things, a scattered zombie here or there, like a vampire or werewolf.  Actually, it’s probably not a far shout to call a zombie essentially a really really ugly vampire who can’t fly or shapeshift.  Or think, really, though I don’t know if that was true in the old days.

Interesting thing, by the way, zombies are one of the few nasties that has actually STAYED nasty.  Twilight has done a lot toward the sissification of vampires and werewolves, but even before then they were becoming angsty, sympathetic characters. Amazing what a few dimestore novels and B-rated movies can do.  But Zombies… no.  There’s not really a way to sweeten up a lurching, rotting, mindless drone.

At least I hope not.  Sparkling zombies are a little too horrible to think about.

Anyway, zombie apocalypse scenarios never made much sense to me.  Assuming somehow the zombies were powerful/contagious enough to escape from whatever lab/portal they came from, and also somehow strong enough to overcome the fully armed, well-trained military and law enforcement forces, how is it that a handful of survivors manage to take out so many? Also, why, exactly, does a zombie hunger brains?  Perhaps its because a zombie HAS no brains?  But then why the eternal video game emphasis on “going for the headshot?”

Actually, the video game emphasis on zombies is really easy to explain.  Zombies have an incredibly simplistic AI to program.  They just rush you.  No tactics, no weaponry, no lateral thinking, no hand-to-hand combat… just swarming. Oh, certain games, like Left 4 Dead, shake things up a bit and add some smart zombies, but mostly it’s very simple AI. Very nice if you’re on a limited budget.  And a lot of times, you don’t even need to bother with any kind of story. It’s just survival.

But that’s the somewhat depressing thing about zombie games, particularly zombie apocalypse games.  You never really win.  You just outrun them.  And even when you do, chances are pretty good the zombies have somehow diseased a member of your party.  There’s never a permanent solution, there’s never any kind of triumph of life over death.  Just survival, for another day.  The whole zombie apocalypse scenario is very much in keeping with an existentialist philosophy, or even a nihilist philosophy.

This is REALLY evident in the Marvel Zombies comic book line, which is really just a series of glorious last stands.  Heroes just get picked down one by one, however well they fight or whatever they sacrifice, it doesn’t stop things from going steadily downhill.    In that world, there’s not only no hope, no future, and no life, there’s not really any POINT to anything either.  Even living to fight another day is fairly worthless.

Too deep?  Lets try this, then.  The facelessness of the zombie hordes.  Again, I’m not entirely familiar with the rules of the olden days, but I imagine originally in legend they needed some kind of guiding dark lord or something.  But in the modern conception, its always the horde.  No hive queen, no great mind… just a lot of really mindlessly hostile people, who don’t really even hate you but nonetheless threaten your existence.

Similar examples include the Flood from Halo or even the Borg from Star Trek.  Those DID end up having leaders, of a kind, but most of my friends contend that giving those mindless hordes a guiding voice or purpose rather ruined their scariness factor.

So why is that?  Maybe just because you fear most what you know least?  There’s no reasoning with a mob, there’s no understanding a mob.  It’s just a force of nature.  Perhaps, too, the faceless horde reminds people of a seemingly apathetic world that neither hates nor loves it, yet somehow is still out to get it.  Either way, the message is pretty hopeless–there’s nothing you can do.  Just avoid it.  Don’t try to solve the problem, it can’t be solved.

Exceptions exist.  “I am Legend” depicts a man who survived the apocalypse and is trying to fix the problem.  The game ReBuild that I mentioned in my last entry shows the progress of the rebirth of civilization amidst the chaos of governmental downfall.  Here we have examples of life outlasting, outsmarting death.  There is still hope beyond the darkness, resurrection comes after death.  And perhaps, as people get tired of the cliche apocalypse, we’ll see more hope and morality in these games.  But for the moment, most of them paint a depressing picture of the future.

One thought on “Zombies and Computers

  1. Its interesting that you mention the lack of storyline in the games. I think Valve realized that and so actually added a story in Left 4 Dead 2. Left 4 Dead 1 started as a series of stand alone campaigns, the idea was to just play through a zombie movie that that was it. The loading screens were movie posters, there was even film grain you could set in the graphics settings. The campaigns didn’t appear to be related, at least not at first.Left 4 Dead 2 changed that. The campaigns have a specific sequence and tell the story of the survivors trying to travel to New Orleans.  Valve even went back and added a story to Left 4 Dead 1 through a online comic book and a few downloadable campaigns, which happened to tie the story of the L4D1 survivors into that of the L4D2 survivors.  The story isn’t thrown in your face though, you find it through the order of the campaigns, the dialogue of the player characters and by exploring the world. A lot of safe rooms in L4D2 have graffiti on them that contains speculation on the nature of the virus and the government’s response to it.If there’s a Left 4 Dead 3 I imagine they will continue the trend towards a stronger story, but we’ll see.


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