chapter  1
15 Pages

Zombies, Again? A Qualitative Analysis of the Zombie Antagonist's Appeal in Game Design

WithMatthew Barr

Assumptions are made about the continued popularity of zombies as video game antagonists, many of which are framed in terms of design-driven or technological concerns. For example, zombies’ impaired mental and physical function means that they are readily re-created using even limited in-game artificial intelligence. It is also assumed that something of zombies’ appeal lies in their ‘otherness’, that enemies lacking any shred of human consciousness might be considered ideal targets for indiscriminate on-screen execution.

In this chapter, assumptions about the ludic appeal of the undead are discarded and a fresh qualitative approach taken to determine why game designers continue to create games centred on zombie antagonists. Interviews were conducted with twenty game designers who have worked on high-profile zombie titles, both indie and triple-A, and content analysis performed on the resulting material.

The interviews reveal that zombies’ utility remains a relevant consideration for game designers but that less pragmatic advantages, such as those related to storytelling and representation, have grown in importance. It is also clear that the undead support a range of compelling game mechanics and satisfying, varied gameplay, if deployed with flair.