Zombies are a staple of geek and gamer culture. In the recent past I took a class called Critical Analysis where I learned how to look at literature through a bunch of different lenses. Being a gamer and a geek I started analyzing everything including zombie stories. When it came to the walking dead I asked myself why are they’re so cool these days and how can they be used in games? This is what I came up with:
1) Zombies are interesting backdrops to telling stories about people.
Zombie stories are really about people and how they react under duress. As the saying goes “stressful situations reveal true character”. There isn’t a much more stressful situation that having hordes of undead people trying to rip your head off so they can get a little refreshment.
2) Zombies used to be people
Every zombie used to be a human being and having humans, even if they’re dead, eating humans is creepy. Take this a step further and have some of the zombies be people the characters were close too and you have drama.
3) There are always more
No matter how many zombies might get killed there are always more coming from somewhere. They are legion and they keep adding to their ranks as the living die. It’s only a matter of time before they over run everything.
4) Infection creates tension.
Once someone is infected the time bomb is set. Your dead, you just haven’t got there yet. A sense of doom is created. This situation creates the moral question. Do we kill the infected now or wait till they turn. You can even change the situation and give the infected hope. Make it be known an anti virus is out there somewhere. What is a character willing to do and how far will they go to get that anti virus. (See point 1)
I think this is one of the places where fantasy loses out. There aren’t too many examples of infection causing people to turn into zombies in fantasy literature or games. The Warcraft universe is the biggest exception I know of. I would suggest using that trope in your games some time. Invent a disease track, have only a few ways to get rid of the disease, and see what happens. It’ll add another layer to your games. Now go and have some fun watching your players wrestle with those hard moral choices and remember zombies are a setting for character drama.