I realize this is a bit late today, but in fairness I was recovering from the Metroid Dread announcement. So before we begin today, I would like to start off by saying that this post is somewhat based on ideas from the previous two posts, partially to highlight this cliché in games dealing with the zombie apocalypse and partially because I things it may clear a few things up about what I find to be annoying about it. I avoided really delving into games for the last two posts, but this time I will spend a bit more time specifically focusing on games where this cliché is prevalent. The two series of games that I have chosen to focus on is The Last of Us and its sequel as well as the games in Telltales The Walking Dead series. The reason as to why I picked them is because both games start out in roughly the same format and end up dealing with the same kinds of questions later on, especially in the sequels. So without further ado, let get rolling.
Now the zombie apocalypse is prevalent in many different games, but not every game gives you a glimpse as to what life was like before the zombies ran rampant. These two are no exception, but they do try and build up to it at least and give us some reason to care for the characters that they are presenting us with in the game. They even give us another character that we want to look out for as a way of redeeming the main character. I could go on about the similarities they have but in the end they both do their job well enough. The problem is that the threat in each game and especially their sequels transitions the villains to not be the apocalypse, but other humans who are fighting to survive. Which in my opinion is far less interesting because once the apocalypse happens, there are no standards for how people should live since society has crumbled. Due to this, every action taken exists in a moral gray area where no decision can be labeled clearly as right or wrong. Sure we can make a judgment based on our own society’s rules, but the characters aren’t playing the same game we are so the judgment is baseless. In The Walking Dead videogame series you are constantly making choices on how to survive, but they usually don’t make much of a difference on the story. Usually the choices themselves are two extremes on choosing who you should save but in the end the decisions you make mean nothing because there is no wrong answer. The ending never meaningfully changes so all of your choices are based on what you think is best in a strict time limit. However, you can never be wrong so none of your choices ever enhance the story. Zombie attacks and the like are just events that force you to navigate morally grey situations that don’t mean anything. there is no tension when you no there is no worth to your actions other than moving the story forward. After a while, you realize that you are just along for the ride and no matter what track you take, you still end at the same place.
In The Last of Us there was a big morally gray decision where Joel chose to save Ellie at the cost of potentially finding a cure for the infection that caused the zombie apocalypse. Man has really got his priorities on straight. Now that leads into the next game where Ellie ends up trying to get revenge on the person who killed Joel at the beginning of the game, Abby. Her reason was to get revenge on Joel for killing her father and saving Ellie. Of course you don’t really learn all of this until you play as Abby so you can understand her motivations. In the ends nothing is ever resolved since Ellie doesn’t get her revenge and they both end up alone on their respective paths. Now the problem is that the apocalypse has essentially become background noise at this point. This has become more about the struggle to survive each other rather than the apocalypse itself. Honestly, are zombies even needed in this game because world building has been tossed aside completely for this revenge drama where both sides have legitimate reasons to want to fight the other and yet both are unlikeable in their own ways. Why? Because since we understand both of their points of view, we know that there will be no winner. The people they lost will not be brought back and everything they do is pointless. I know that sounds cynical and that is because it is. However, that doesn’t excuse the fact that this morally gray showdown can never reach a satisfying conclusion. It that is what they were going for then all the props to them. It will still feel like a miserable experience though.
Now I just wanted to bring this up because zombies have no moral compass and there is never any reason to feel guilty about killing them. There are very few things more satisfying than getting headshots on zombies as they line up to take your bullets. So then tell me why do we keep pushing the narrative to humans? Why can’t we enjoy trying to survive in a fiendish environment without having to deal with unnecessary drama? Can’t we have zombie games that we can actually enjoy that also have decent stories? I feel as though maybe that is trying to have my cake and eat it too at this point. I just wish there could be more of a balance between story and gameplay experiences where we can keep things simple and have some fun, but still have some direction in terms of who we are, what we are doing, and where we are going. Maybe I am just speaking crazy things over here. After all, I am still reeling from the announcement of Metroid Dread. Wow, what a time to be alive. Anyway, see you next week where I’ll try to be a little more relaxed. Oh and I have decided that I might have to take a free day for October 8th. You should probably know why.