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Theory on why zombies in video games

June 27, 2012

Antony Wanjala reports at WhatCulture! on the “5 Biggest Trends in Gaming”:

1. Longer Console Cycles
2. Free-to-Play Games
3. Tablet Integration
4. Augmented Realities
5. Zombies

So I am going to use his post as an opportunity to express (rant) my views about the relationship of these five topics outside of gaming and remind of my conspiracy-like theory on why I think “zombies” are being pushed by game designers.

First, “augmented reality” and “tablet integration”, that is happening all around us. We are all becoming more and more attached to the technology formerly known as cell phones. Tablets are embedding in walls, bluetooth connecting to our headsets and cars, google glasses on their way. Sci-fi fantasies have often predicted the digital revolution starting with the gamers. But also the foodies who overlay Yelp.com reviews of restaurants at their present geo-location.

We are still adapting to these incredible technology changes of the past decades and there is so much more to exploit at the current level of technology that industry is all too happy to let mainstream hardware development settle down for while. Devices will have “longer console cycles” meaning we won’t need to keep buying new and more powerful device. But that just means there will be less cutting edge stuff at consumer affordable prices. The market is shifting down to the masses.

The “free-to-play” model is capitalist doublespeak based on the business model of drug dealers – give them a taste make them pay in another way later. Either buy upgrades or watch ads. But the ads will get more nefarious and demand more and more private information. And inevitably, a class divide between players who can afford to amp their virtual universe with outside capital and those that can’t.

Augmented realities will be different for different users, thus further evidencing the literally different worlds we each inhabit. Even if we are physically in the same room, our electronic marsupial brains (the cell phone in your pocket) are literally connected to and supported by different networks (as our human brains always were but the timescale has changed). The opportunities for individual collaboration expands globally at the speed of light, but the dissociation between each of us from one another grows exponentially greater.

Thus, Zombies. They embody these fears of technologically dissociated humanity. But also, and I think this is actually perhaps more important: Zombies don’t have to look like real humans in order to look realistic.

That is to say, the job of the programmers is substantially easier than if the story required an actual human-looking bad guy. It is not yet possible at current technology levels to truly simulate a realistic real opponent with perfectly real fluid human movements. Games are getting better and better all the time but graphics and artificial intelligence are just not quite there yet. And the market for perfecting this is smaller than the market of programming for computer processing speeds required of the average smart phone.

See also my previous ZombieLaw post about this theory of zombies as easy for programmers to suspend disbelief and contrast alternative theory that killing zombies is less guilt inducing and/or more culturally accepted way of killing human like creatures.

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