16 January 2010

January Challenge #16:

The Restless Dead, Part 1

I'll open with a bold assertion. I like zombies more than you do. Something about the restless dead gets my creative juices running. The very first D&D session I DM'd in 1979, I achieved a TPK with way too many zombies, and it's been downhill from there ever since.

Zombies are very hot in gaming and pop culture right now. From Left 4 Dead 2 to All Flesh Must Be Eaten to The Zombie Survival Guide, the Zombie Apocalypse is upon us.

And who doesn't love mowing down zombies by the score? They're already dead. They're evil, mindless, and damned. They're hungry for your brain. They're a guilt-free hack-fest.

We're culturally programmed to automatically think of the walking dead as a blight to be destroyed, but it wasn't always that way. The roots of this concept lie in Zoroastrianism, the first major theological school of thought to teach that the dead rising before the End Time was forbidden by the Creator.

Today, this rule is broken deliberately by some writers to make a point. In his Xanth series, Piers Anthony features zombies as sympathetic characters. One zombie in particular is personified enough (and fresh enough) to serve as a love interest. Terry Pratchett goes a step further in his Discworld series, featuring protagonist zombies such as Reg Shoe.

Maybe these are not truly examples of zombies. Many sources consider zombies to be mindless by definition, whether under the thrall of their creator or driven to brutish action by baser needs (BRAINZ). Willful undead are frequently given different labels, such as revenant, wight, or lich. There's actually a very broad taxonomy of restless dead of all sorts from many folkloric traditions. They arrive in our modern culture through the lense of writers and film makers, such as Tolkien and Romero, who exercised a great deal of literary license with the original material.

In Part 2, I'll tackle a partial list of undead types from gaming and folklore, and in Part 3, I'll throw out a bunch of ideas about how to make video game zombies even more awesome.


  1. Student Questions about Zombies:

    Teacher, can we really make a Zombie Virus?

    Teacher, are viruses really just small Zombies?

    Teacher, did you see the article about the hornet that makes Zombies?

    Older Student Questions or debates about Zombies

    "If you are fighting Zombies all you need is chainlink fence and a flamethrower because Zombies cannot get through chainlink fence."

    "So if a virus was made that caused people to become zombies would it be ok to kill them?"

    Student 1 "Chainsaws are the best way to deal with Zombies"

    Student 2 "No! All you will do is allow the virus to get on you"

    Student 1 "But the chainsaw is best beacause you can through multiple zombies at once..."

    and the best one of all...
    "We all are aleady zombies we just don't know it!"

  2. oh and I forgot about all the questions about
    Solomon Grundee!

  3. Git outa my notes! :)

    Most of these questions will be answered parts 2 & 3.

  4. Thank you, I am looking forward to it, as you know the concept of Zombies comes up every year in my science class.

  5. but, of course the you will cover classic...undead gerbil swarm...

  6. Dear David,
    I read your post with more interest than usual today, for, while programming and game development are not a major part of my life, well truthfully, they do not make up even a smidgen of my life, zombies do impact my life regularly and in many interesting methods that are not normally discussed in polite company. Recognizing that, as a computer programmer and a game designer as well as a long time friend of a member of the LeDuc family, it would likely be completely inappropriate to accuse you of being “polite company” I will admit to a great deal of surprise over the limited number and forms of examples you brought up in your review of the Zombie and its dispersion across the modern landscape. At the beginning of your article you boldly assert your position as “I like Zombies more than you do.” I respectfully disagree.
    That you gain a sense of enjoyment or satisfaction from Zombies is with out a doubt, true. But I would put forth that your enjoyment of them is, as you say, borne of an enjoyment of their pain and suffering. Your text gleefully describes “mowing down zombies by the score” and their being a “guilt free hack-fest.” You portray them in the worst possible light by describing them as evil, mindless and damned.” I find it difficult to justify such descriptions as those of a person who truly likes another of gods ambulatory beings. This is not the basis of a healthy relationship. Rather, it is one that will inevitably appear on either Jerry’s or Dr. Phil’s stage.
    Conversely, there are those of us out here in the big world who welcome and enjoy the growing presence of Zombies in our life. Those qualities which many decry in the zombie, I argue, we must embrace. Zombies are not evil and mindless, they are very open to direction given the proper motivation. Zombies are driven, focused and can be depended upon to act in a predictable manner in a wide range of situations. There drive and focus makes them incredibly reliable. I would put forth my preference of a Zombie as a potential boyfriend for either of my daughters over a vampire, werewolf or typical high school or college student. These young beings show a man like me the proper respect and deference due any man who greets his daughters boyfriend with 32 inches of razor sharp live steel. Most other teenagers argue the need to use a chainsaw or a BFG seemingly unaware of the long term problems with gasoline and reloading. Inevitably this degrades into the argument of Pirates vs. Ninja at which point I have to ask my dear zombies to please dig yet another hole so I have a place to bury the body, after they have finished their feasting of course. Living or recently living young men can be so damn tiresome. I don’t even want to begin to discuss the problems associated with shedding and sparkling that the other alternatives offer. Needless to say, given my choice I would prefer a Zombie as a potential mate for my daughter over any modern alternative.
    Continuing on this discussion, a zombie is a friend you can count on. I am blessed to be able to call many zombies my friends. They are critical thinkers capable of determining the presence of thoughtful individuals at a glance and of recognizing the best minds in the vicinity instinctually. You cannot find it in yourself to deny this assertion I am sure as the absolute absence of attacks on Fox TV Newscasters is a singular proof of their ability in this respect. Zombies can be counted on to come forth whenever they are asked simply by yelling “arise!” They are willing and valiant warriors taking up the cause and charging forth in defense of countless lost causes throughout history. Knowingly going into a meat grinder. Heroically sacrificing themselves so that their friend, and master, can escape. What more can you hope for from a companion. From a friend.
    Continued next post…

  7. Continued from previous post...
    Long term relationships with a zombie can also be a delight. I have been married to the same woman in excess of twenty years. During that time the physical changes she has undergone are not without mention. A zombie on the other hand provide unexpected benefits as a potential spouse. A zombie does not change over time. She will not age, wrinkle, gain weight or loose her hearing or vision. She won’t get sick. She will never worry about the ridiculous. Zombie women do not ask “does this dress make my ass look big” or “do you think she is pretty.” Another great aspect of a long term personal relationship with a zombie is that you never have to worry about pregnancy or disease. Even if she is unfaithful she will not bring anything back to you. Yes, I will admit, the body temperature issue does take some getting used to and there is some, still lingering, moral question associated with necrophilia but in the current cultural climate, what with True Blood and Twilight both Necrophilia and Bestiality are being seriously re-examined, even by mainstream America.
    Now, I will admit, that initially odor can be an issue. But as I am sure anyone who has ever worked in a sewage treatment plant, hospital, mortuary or fast food restaurant can attest to, any smell can be eventually ignored. In the mean time we have air fresheners and those little pine tree shaped things you hang in your car to see you through. So, David, I must, at this point protest your initial assertion. I have no doubt of your fascination with or awareness of zombies in general but I must say that I doubt your assertion that you like them more than I? Would you choose a zombie as a mate for your daughter? For your best friend? For your own life partner? Until you find yourself able to answer yes to those questions I must and will doubt your commitment to zombies. I am sorry.
    Yours, sincerly,
    Jim LeDuc

  8. Thanks for the comment, Jim.

    [tongue firmly in cheek from this point on]

    I'm afraid I must post a counter-disagreement. You seem not to love zombies, accepting them as they are, so much as to love their ideal and want them to be something they are not. "A zombie does not change over time." Nonsense. Your zombie bride will putrefy over time, and no amount of freshener will halt this process.

    No, Jim, I love zombies for what they are: Objects of entertainment, tools of utility, targets of opportunity.

  9. Perhaps, you are correct, but only so far as they do change. But then, they change no more than all of us do. They, like us, will break down to a degree. I think, perhaps, "Putrefy" is too strong a word... but then, as I said above, I have been married for well in excess of twenty years so I will admit that I may be to close to render an unbiased opinion. It may also help explain the reduction in the numbers of dinner guest over the last several years... I will consider it.

    But again, I am also forced to ask, is yours a healthy love. It seems so angry. Maybe there is just too much Humboldt county still in this old madman but you seem to so want to hurt those you love.

    Maybe we all should just try a little harder to just, get along