• A utilitarian antagonist: the zombie in popular video games

      Hunt, Nathan; The University of Derby (Palgrave Macmillan, 2015)
      This article takes as its starting point the prevalence of the zombie in video games. I argue that, although the zombie games often superficially resemble filmic texts in their use of aesthetic and narrative, they must be understood, less as a set of conventions and thematic metaphors in the way that the zombie text has been read in film and television scholarship, and more as a utilisation of the zombie as a utilitarian antagonist that facilitates and permits the pleasures of violence and fantasy in video game play. Beginning with the Resident Evil and Left 4 Dead series of games I examine the way that games necessarily update the notion zombie as mass antagonist via the need to vary gameplay activity through different styles of adversary for players. At the same time I will demonstrate that, far from simply being the province of the survival horror genre, the zombie appears across an array of game forms, game cultures and game productions. The zombie highlights the participatory nature of game culture in the array of zombie 'mods' that users create to transform existing games into zombie based games, in particular in relation to titles such as the Call of Duty series. At the other end of the production spectrum the zombie features heavily in the little studied area of online flash games where the zombie can be found in a variety of game genres and forms. The zombie here often operates as a pastiche of popular zombie narratives in survival games (The Last Stand), parodic engagements with zombie conventions (Jetpacks and Zombies) or play with the notion of zombie pandemics (the Infectionator games). Here I situate the zombie game as a aesthetic genre that works to provide an easily understandable context for such interactive genres as survival horror, text adventures, shooting games, physics games and driving games, with the popularity of these enough to drive numerous dedicated hosting and link sites such as zombiegames.net. The pastiche element of these games extends into gamers social engagement with games. Online debates over the the appropriate actions or preparation for a zombie holocaust are commonplace on the internet in such spaces as Zombieresearch.net. Whilst many of these sites feature decidedly tongue in cheek engagement with the notion of the zombie apocalypse, the users of fora for games like Left 4 Dead and Dead Island tend to debate this directly in the terms of the games themselves, discussing their relative merits or realism. Some of these games also highlight the specific pleasures of identifying the zombie as protagonist of sorts. In discussing this I will return to online gaming and the Left 4 Dead games in which players may compete online as part of the zombie horde. Such games raise major questions for the issues of identification and immersion that are said to be at the centre of the game experience. I will also explore the parodic pleasures of many flash games that situate the player in the role of spreading zombie infections. Throughout this article I aim to demonstrate that the zombie in game culture is less a cultural metaphor than a combination of utilitarian antagonist and a persistent aesthetic; a means of providing style or pleasure to many games that relies on the intertextual and flexible nature of the zombie as popular cultural phenomenon.