of zombies, peaches, and time

I’ve had very little game-playing time in the last week or so.

This is actually a good thing, as far as The Last of Us is concerned; its relentlessly grim atmosphere can start to feel suffocating after a while.  I’m not sure how far I am into it, actually, because my time with it has been so stuttered; if you’ve already played the game, then you’ll know where I am when I tell you that I just recently picked up the bow and arrow for the first time, and am in that booby-trapped town, trying to help this guy find auto parts so that he can build us a car.

It’s weird how I can binge-watch a show like Hannibal and have a really great time (even if I end up having trouble sleeping), but that I can’t play TLoU for more than 30 minutes at a time without feeling restless and agitated.  Of course, I’m also having trouble enjoying TLoU.  It’s an incredibly well-crafted experience; it’s probably the best-looking game on the PS3 (which is no mean feat; how Naughty Dog managed to top its own Uncharted 2/3 is beyond me).  But aside from the oppressive atmosphere and the overwhelming sadness that pervades every inch of this apocalyptic wasteland, it also suffers from the same kinda-shitty combat that plagued the Uncharted games.  To be fair, the body count thus far is much, much lower than in Uncharted, and the stakes feel much higher – the violence actually means something this time around.  But it still feels awkward, and I die an awful lot (even on Normal), and one-hit kills stop being devastating after you’ve been one-hit killed 20 times in a row.   I feel compelled to push on, as it’s one of the last truly significant games of this generation, but I can’t honestly say I ever look forward to playing it.

I suppose I’ve also reached my saturation point with zombies.  In the mid-’00s, I was getting tired of killing Nazis; now it’s zombies.  They’re a very convenient enemy – you don’t feel bad killing them, you won’t offend anybody by making them the bad guys, and it’s easy enough (if you want) to drape your own morality tale over whatever metaphor you want the zombies to represent.  I get it.  And zombies are still a hot commodity right now, and if there’s anything you can do to get a new IP off the ground, zombies have a proven, successful track record.  But how many more goddamned zombies are we going to have to kill before the industry feels comfortable inventing something new?

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The having-no-time thing is a bit of a drag, though, with respect to Animal Crossing: New Leaf.  Ordinarily I’d appreciate the slow pace and the do-what-you-want gameplay, but because my time is so limited, I feel this weird sort of pressure to try and finish all the town maintenance stuff I need to do as quickly as possible.  Now, to be fair, it’s not the game’s fault; it doesn’t necessarily punish you for not staying on top of things all the time (though it does mean there’s more weeds that need to be picked up, and sometimes you’ll end up missing on certain special events).  I fully acknowledge that my previous addictions to stupid timer-based town-maintenance shit like Farmville have informed my approach to AC:NL.  Still, though, it is what it is, and my weirdness about not having any time is making the game less fun to experience.  Which is a drag, because it’s clearly something that everyone else on my twitter feed is madly in love with.

>Zombies ZOMG

>Zombies are the new Nazis.

Think about it. Nazis have been the de facto bad guys in popular culture for the last 50 years. They are a perfect enemy; nobody gets offended when you have to kill them. Castle Wolfenstein illustrated this in interactive 3D, and the videogame boom as we know it was born.

I think, however, that we’ve reached a point in our society where the evilness of Nazis has lost a bit of its power. The videogaming generation did not grow up in WW2, and neither did its parents. When you kill Nazis in videogames, you’re not avenging the horrors of the Holocaust anymore, or freeing Europe from the tyrannical grips of a monster; you are killing bad guys in order to make it to the next checkpoint, and Nazis have always been an easy target for game designers because (a) you don’t have to worry about cultural sensitivity issues, and (b) who doesn’t enjoy killing Nazis? It’s just that most WW2 games these days don’t really focus on the why; they focus on the experience of the soldier in the middle of the battle, rather than the reason why the soldier is over there in the first place, and as a result, the enemy Nazi soldier is no longer as capital-E Evil because they all look the same and there’s so damn many of them.

Enter the zombie.

Zombies have been around forever, but I would point to the 2002 film 28 Days Later as the source of the current zombie revival. (My own personal interest in the coming zombie apocalypse was not borne from movies but from Max Brooks, whose Zombie Survival Guide and World War Z made for highly engrossing and informative reading.) Danny Boyle’s film reimagined zombies as less of a slow-moving, brainless dread and more of a HOLY SHIT IT’S COMING RIGHT AT ME AAAAAAAAAA horrorshow, and it seems to have struck quite a nerve; now there’s zombie films and games all over the place. In fact, one need look no further than a bonus mode in Call of Duty: World At War to see the ultimate crossover – zombie Nazis.

I bring this up because I spent a highly entertaining hour yesterday with 2 close friends killing hundreds upon hundreds of zombies in Left 4 Dead, and it occured to me in the crazy dreams that ensued later that night that a zombie horde is, in 2008, a far more frightening prospect than a Nazi ambush. And it’s also a much more fertile idea for game developers. Nazis can only exist in Europe in the 1940s; zombies can exist anywhere, at any time, and they don’t need guns to kill you. They have no political agenda or ideology, they have no apologists, and they never run out of numbers. They can be fast or slow; they can be subhuman and superhuman. ALSO: they can be hilarious (Shaun of the Dead, FIDO).

I’m not saying that Nazis aren’t evil; of course they’re evil. I’m Jewish, fercrissakes, I’m not suggesting any such thing. I’m simply positing that there will eventually be more zombies than Nazis, and we should all prepare accordingly.