In 2005, college students at Goucher College began a game called Zombies vs. Humans. The game was similar to capture the flag, except for the fact that one side was steadily growing.
Human students could be converted to zombies at any moment – on the way to class, in the gym or even at the cafeteria. Some students went days without food to avoid highly populated areas on campus.
Humans were tagged instead of bitten, and zombies were pelted with foam bullets and socks. To intensify the sense of danger and adventure, the humans completed missions that made them susceptible to zombies. And after a week, either the humans won by surviving. Or the zombies won by converting all the humans.
Today, the game is played in 1,000 universities across the world.
But what do we find so fascinating about zombies? Why do we love to hate them so much?
When Night of the Living Dead was released in 1968, there was no name yet for what George A. Romero had created. He simply called the creatures “ghouls”, but his true inspiration came from Richard Matheson’s novel I am Legend, which featured vampire creatures.
In Haiti and Africa, there are rituals and folklore associated with reanimated corpses and subsequent possession or evil behavior; but the true birth of the American zombie was conceived in Romero’s unnamed ghoul of his monster flick.
Romero did little to explain the creature’s background, leaving America’s imagination plenty of room to play.
For the most part, any ties to folkloric ritual or legend have been severed; and a new cult of lore has been created. (Most notably the brain eating tradition.) The story behind why there are zombies is often much less interesting than how to survive the zombies.
In today’s culture, I think zombies serve two purposes: they provide a cathartic outlet for our innate survivalist instinct, and they fulfill a baser desire to dehumanize our enemies.
If this explanation sounds highbrow, it really isn’t.
It’s the opposite.
Many Americans today do not have an opportunity, even in imagination, to consider how to survive without modern conveniences. The appeal of the zombie apocalypse is that it provides a scenario in which we are tested as a species.
It takes ingenuity, strength and teamwork to survive a hoard of zombies. The college students who play the game are probably thrilled to exercise their survivalist instincts without having to join the army or the boy scouts. (I know I would be!)
You can see the themes of military survival completely merge with zombie lore in the new film Exit Humanity, which is about zombies in the American Civil War.
In many ways, though the zombie apocalypse is much gorier, it is in most ways, much cleaner than war. Humans are united against ravaging masses, fighting to preserve their dignity and their lives. The enemy is a natural predator, not a political threat.
Surviving the zombie apocalypse also tests the limits of your human morality and sanity; and this is where the social implications — like Romero’s anti-consumerist commentary in Dawn of the Dead — are really allowed to shine.
There is no arguing the fact that the zombie is a fabulous punching bag. As long as it’s not someone you love, killing a zombie is half the fun. There are no messy feelings of regret or self-loathing after killing a zombie, and most people would rather commit suicide that actually eat brains.
In zombie lore, there is the attitude that to become a zombie is to defect as a traitor. To allow yourself to get bitten is to become a threat to the shrinking human race.
In this way, the college student’s game is more final than the entertainment industry’s version. There is no suicide pill. You can’t quit the game. You have to play for the other side against your former teammates.
You either kill zombies or eat brains.
As long as it’s all pretend, it’s a load of fun.
About the Author
This guest post is brought to you by Mariana Ashley, a prolific blogger who provides web content to a number of blogs and websites. She’s most interested in providing guidance to prospective college students who wish to attend online colleges in Montana. When she’s not writing or researching online education trends, she enjoys riding her horse, George, and spending quality time with her four nieces. Mariana welcomes your questions and comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.