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Debatoid: Are zombies an overused gaming concept?


Welcome to Debatoid! We take a controversial topic, form a proposition, and set two contenders the challenge of stating their case in favor of and in opposition to the proposition. After which, users may vote to decide which contender they support.

(Rules for voting are at the bottom of the blog, but it is recommended that you read the contenders' cases before you cast your vote.)

The proposition: Zombies are an overused gaming concept.

Andrew Kauz states his case for the proposition:

Let's get one thing out of the way: zombies are awesome. Zombie films, zombies in games, real-life zombie invasions; I love it all. The day that zombies are no longer used is the day that, well, I'd rather just become a zombie myself.

With that said, the zombie overuse is getting overwhelming and frankly disappointing, but it's not the zombies' fault. As they say, it's not the size of the zombie population. It's how you use it. And people are using it like a wet piece of broken angelhair pasta, if you get my meaning.

Zombies are turning into the Chex Mix of the gaming industry: yeah, we all like Chex Mix, and when we go to a party and it's just sitting there in a big ass bowl in the living room, we'll probably grab a handful and munch happily. But next time we go to a party and some badass made Spanish tapas, you sit back and say, "Thank god they didn't just do Chex Mix!"

So let's make some bacon-wrapped dates.

Let's start with Dead Island and its now infamous trailer. Remember how you felt when you first saw it? Excitement? Emotion? Zombies? If you're anything like me, the answer to each question is yes. I watched that trailer and above all else felt revitalized.

Why "revitalized?" It made me realize that no matter how much I think I love zombies, I'm really bored by the way they're being used. Dead Rising gives us huge numbers of zombies that do absolutely nothing for us other than stumble and die. We chop them to bits with chainsaws, and it's awesome because of the chainsaws, not the zombies. Call of Duty gives us zombies that we shoot until we die, and it's cool because zombies in Call of Duty.

The concept of zombies deserves better treatment. Use them to do something new. Make a zombie game that's emotional (which, sadly, probably won't be a game called Dead Island). Use zombies to make a game that actually feels like a horror game (remember when games used to do that?) Make a game that makes zombies feel new again. They're not some obligatory thing to put in your games when you want to be cool.

There's a wealth of inspiration to draw from. There's plenty of history from a variety of cultures that we largely ignore, and so much of the original use of zombies has gone by the wayside. A commentary on mindlessness and consumerism? Yeah, now the concept is pretty much a mindless consumerist tool. Not that I want zombies to be all Marxist or anything, but it is a little sad.

It comes down to this: if you think zombies should go away, you're wrong. But if don't you think the concept of zombies has gotten lazy and stale, It's time to ask for more. Zombie games shouldn't be as mindless as the zombies themselves.

And come on, who wouldn't love a zombie romance series? Zombie Twilight! Yeah!

Nihil states his case against the proposition:

Ladies. Gentlemen. Boners. I'd like to present some facts for you.

FACT: Of all plausible doomsday scenarios, a global pandemic is the most likely. Scientists are doing nothing to prevent it.

FACT: Primitive forms of "zombiism" already exist in nature, including cases of infected humans. Scientists are studying ways to weaponize it.

FACT: The End is near. Because science.

Alarmed? You should be.

Now I don't mean to alarm anybody, but if Zombies are an overused "concept", then Safe Sex education is a practice in futility. Granted, video games are by no means a legit training exercise for dispatching the undead, should they truly come to your doorstep. But there is a good reason why the subgenre has saturated pop culture and our dear medium of entertainment. The typical zombie scenario asks of you a simple question that taps into the very core of yourself and your player character: How Would You Survive?

This question is not to be taken lightly, and if you're one to scoff at the notion, then I'd consider you one of the thousands of hundreds whose bodies I will be seeing either decimated by the dead or decapitated by the living. However, I would implore you to humor me for a moment, if only for your own amusement, in the hopes that perhaps your soon-to-be digested brain will retain something useful from this.

For decades now, Le Genre de Zombie has been ripe for unique narrative exploration and socio-political commentary in the electronic entertainment venue. Yet most have been relegated to lampooning and run rampant with irksome stereotypes, akin to their B-level cinematic counterparts. I believe this is the reason most people don't take the subject seriously; thinking it an impossible situation, brought about by impossible circumstances, involving impossibly stupid people. You've been led astray, my friend. And I apologize on behalf of those lazy artists and programmers whose only purpose in creating such games was to cash in on the latest trend.

You see, when a topic of controversy (such as this) becomes popular enough, either in the mainstream media or through a subculture, it spawns quite a bit of parody and fixation on skewed details, diluting the heart of the source material. This has been true for other sensitive subjects that video games have tackled carelessly - leading the uneducated to assume that Nazis were soulless demonic occultists, or that everything in the Bible actually happened. This kind of commercial behavior is par for the course when an idea gets latched onto and then turned into a marketing tactic.

Lately though, certain people have been saying they are noticing an unprecedented surge of zombie-themed games, downloadable content, and paraphernalia, to the point where it is unnecessary. I don't associate with those people and neither should you, because they'll get you killed when the proverbial poo hits the blood-splattered fan. They need to realize that this isn't a gimmick to chuckle at and wave off, despite an influx of lackluster titles. There is valuable information to be read between the lines, if they can just take the time away from their military shooter, social farming simulator, or Korean sexual deviant roleplayer. For those that are unaware of the nigh-inevitable oncoming threat, there is no better time to become knowledgeable of the walking dead via the safest way possible: through virtual means.

Many thanks to Andrew Kauz and Nihil for their contributions.


The votes have closed on Debatoid and "Are zombies an overused gaming concept?" and I thought last week's results were close! This proved to be the closest Debatoid so far so many thanks to both Andrew Kauz and Nihil for making it tough for the community to decide!

Congratulations to Andrew Kauz on his victory, and commiserations to Nihil on his defeat.

Clichés are the bugbear of modern gaming: There is a tidal wave of ire amongst the enthusiast gaming community if a title is looking to rest into a familiar pattern. Though it may seem commercially practical to go with what people know, and there is no doubt in the runaway success of well worn franchises such as the Call of Duty series, the Final Fantasy legacy or the FIFA and Madden yearly releases, there is nonetheless a great deal of wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth if an RPG tells you to give Graham The Shopkeep 15 Gold Spider Pelts, forcing you into the Spider Tunnels to fight spider after spider until you reach the few dozen Golden Spiders in the depths of the Spider Mines, or a game tells you to wait by a perfectly serviceable door until some guy 20 yards away decides to kick his bum into gear and walk on over and open it for you like an amnesiac prom date.

This hostile relationship with the overindulged concept extends to the obsession with the undead. For some, the concept of an endless supply of shambling or sprinting dolls, ripe for dismemberment and decapitation, and with an endless hunger for your organs, is a guilty pleasure. For others, zombies are as welcome as gruff space marines, quick-time actions and auto-checkpointing with a grain of health and two bullets remaining.

Here are some of the highlights from the discussion in the comments:

"Both the guys seem to agree that zombies kick ass, but Kauza just seems to want a bit more out of the genre, which is certainly something I can get behind."

"I don't think the industry should completely abandon the zombie concept, as I'm sure there could be a lot of interesting and original ways to utilize zombies in video games. Unfortunately, all of the zombie games that I've played or heard about have all felt like pretty much the same game to me."

Occams electric toothbrush
"I'm so tired of zombies in games. They are cannon fodder, a trope, and easy out and filler for all manner of games. Frankly, I'm sick of it.

Growing up, zombies scared the hell out of me. Having older parents who were too tired to play catch after work, I got to spend a lot of time watching movies. My natural proclivity towards the macabre meant I watched a ton of horror movies. The absolute worst kind for me to watch alone were zombie movies; low moans, shuffling feet, rotting flesh with opaque dead eyes, it all became entirely too real in my Steak 'Ums ballon animal mind. So when a zombie game comes out and its just another shoot every zombie you see blah game, I disregard it.

It might not be a shit game, but that's not what I want. I want the sheer terror of looking at this thing that used to be a person and realizing its going to eat me unless I destroy its brain. Give me something like The Walking Dead where i'ts got weight and depth and its genuinely despondent and rough. I want consequences and the despair that comes with trying to survive in a world of zombies, not an automatic shotgun and some generic butt metal soundtrack."

"The day that zombie games begin to take themselves more seriously and expand upon the sociology of the situation I'll be glad to play them, but for now they are tired and overused."

"Emotional disconnect is something that I am seeing more and more from games as I get older, because I get older. Weaving a tale of survivors that isn't actually about shooting Zombies heads off would be fantastic. Where is my Raw Dangeresque Zombie game?

The potential is still here and I can't wait to see how gaming can top Romero's pieces. We haven't seen enough top shelf Zombie games, and I believe there are many more ideas for the genre."

"To be honest, the way the arguments here are worded is not really fair. Its seems like this is not really a debate of "are zombies overplayed, yes or no?" but more a question of "are you happy with the way zombies are used right now?"

Andrew has the much more comfortable position of saying "I like zombies, I just want to see them used better" which is a pretty safe thing to say. I mean I love handjobs but there is always room for improvement. I think its safe to say if you like zombies at all then you would naturally like to see them used to greater and more fulfilling effect."

Ali D
"If it's not zombies, then it's ghosts, vampires or some other generic villain. There's still plenty of variety in zombie games: Plants vs Zombies isn't the same as Left 4 Dead. Resident Evil isn't the same as Dead Rising. Zombies can be used creatively, and yes developers aren't giving us much variety but that's no good reason to just give up on a game that features zombies."

"Feel free to attach social commentary or whatever onto them if you want, but sorry - when you get down to brass tacks, zombies are a quick and lazy way to come up with something you can kill repeatedly in gruesome ways without any inhibitions."

"Viscerally destroying zombies in zombie games used to be my favorite way of yelling, "I'm an individual, you can't funnel all my splendorous complexity into some stream-lined target demographic!"

Then I realized I was buying an awful lot of carbon-copy zombie games, which effectively funneled all my splendorous complexity into some stream-lined target demographic."

"No two zombie games were the same for me and the moment I start thinking to myself "I've played this before and it was called _____" is the moment I know the zombie idea is dead. Until then though, I challenge the developers to still keep it interesting."

"You see, the best thing about Dead Rising is that these zombies tell a story in their design. They're a shambling pathetic mess of people that play on the staire of both games - the original had mallrats to remind us of the anti-captialist message, while the sequel used them to highlight the tackiness of tourist traps. They weren't your enemy either, just obstacles to ridicule against the clock. You can humiliate them, but at the same time, you feel sympathy for what they've become.

Zombies can be made more humane too, for an increased frightening effect. If you've ever played the Forbidden Siren franchise, then you know how terrifying it is to "sightjack" into a crying Shibito. Rab from videoGaiden likened them to Hiroshima victims."

"In comics superheroes have been around since the creation of the first graphic novel decades ago, but they have yet to be overused either. With enough creativity and imagination almost any concept can last forever."

"I still play zombie games, but not out of respect for the genre, but rather that I like video games for their use for strategy and intuitive thought. It just frightens me to think that we are asking about one specific enemy type, when as a whole the most popular activity within is a game is to exact violence on something or someone else. That the zombie so cleanly and clearly fits that bill is an unsettling commentary on gaming."

Fame Designer
"I don't think Zombies are overused. And I think people that say they are have to start admitting that tons of other concepts are overused. I mean... are chicks with big boobs overused? Are you bored with that? Are you bored with skeletons? Vampires? Rogues? Space Marines? World War II?"

Byronic Man
"I don't think people are hating on zombies because they're popular, but rather because they've been notoriously implemented as shallow monsters, interchangeable with cardboard cut-out targets.

The problem is so few of them even do anything with zombies. Instead of the undead, they could just as easily be lunatics or vampires or werewolves or mutants or gang members or mole people or animated furniture or anything coming to get you and you must shoot them. The games might be perfectly fine in terms of fun but that doesn't mean they are utilizing zombies to a fraction of their potential.

Another great discussion this week! Things are all set for next week's Debatoid which should be up later in the week.

Some of you picked me up on my puns last week and thought they were a bit floppy, nonetheless, I've decided to cart in a whole load more one this week! Nothing seedy, but I want to make a hard drive, with immedia effect, to net the maximum physical interest in ware I might be going with Debatoid this week!

Find out what it's all aboot, and get the load-down with Debatoid soon!

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About MassDebateone of us since 1:12 AM on 03.14.2011

New header kindly contributed by falsenipple

Brought about as a result of a CaptainBus/Sean Daisy fever dream, Debatoid offers one proposal with two sides; two users give the case for and against the proposal and you vote for the outcome.

Debatoid changed its name to MassDebate, but don't fret; the principle of controversial topics, smart candidate and avid discussion remains at the forefront! Vive la même chose et la difference!

If anyone wants to volunteer a topic or submit their interest in being a contender then please PM MassDebate, email captainbus AT gmail DOT com or message _SeanDaisy on Twitter.

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The proposition: Scores are necessary in video game reviews.
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The proposition: Zombies are an overused gaming concept.
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