As Kyle William Bishop so compellingly argues in his book American Zombie Gothic, the zombie has become a crucial rhetorical artifact of American pop culture that both reflects and impels the ideology of its ravenous audiences. According to Bishop, the changing nature of the zombie in Hollywood film parallels historical developments in (primarily) American culture; for instance, Romero’s zombies were a byproduct of the war in Vietnam, whereas the earlier and more folklore-based zombies of White Zombie were more symptomatic of post-colonial imperialistic tensions. While I agree fully with the connections Bishop makes, I also find it intriguing to consider Romero’s classic Night of the Living Dead from a media perspective. As the documentary Birth of the Living Dead points out, Romero was working on a shoestring budget with extremely limited experience in film (until Night, Romero had produced television commercials for local businesses). In effect, much of what made the movie so effective were a result of necessity rather than invention. For instance, the black and white film was cheaper, and the grisly scenes of zombies eating flesh were no matter of special effects but rather of sourcing actual animal entrails from a local butcher.

When we turn from the filmic zombie of Romero to the digitized zombie of video games, I find an even more compelling and dynamic relationship between the limitations of technology (in this case, early PCs and game consoles) and resources. Frederick Raynal and Frank de Gorolami’s Alone in the Dark (1992) certainly warrants a close look in this regard; the slow-moving, decomposing zombies in this production were in many ways a concession to the 3D rendering and animation technology of the time. Likewise, Resident Evil (1996), which borrowed heavily from Alone in the Dark, also made a virtue of necessity by incorporating live-acted “cut scenes.” While laughably bad by even B-Movie standards, these clips nevertheless heightened interest in the game by showing off what was then an impressive display of graphics technology.

In my contribution for this book, I’d like to explore in depth these intriguing connections between the medium and the message, as it were. I argue that in oft-provocative ways, these early zombie games heavily influenced not only later games in the zombie genre, but a lasting impact on many other genres and even the concept of “game narrative” itself.