As fans of Left 4 Dead and zombies in general gear up for the release of Back 4 Blood, the interest for the sub-genre remains as high as ever. While not quite as fresh of an idea as it once was, the proven viability and fun which the living dead have imparted on the game-playing living keeps us coming back. Though a simple enough concept on its surface that we might expect burnout, zombies have continuously stayed popular, and this pattern doesn’t look to change anytime soon. So, what makes zombies so prevalent, and why are they likely to remain a gaming mainstay?

A Common Target

When releasing a game set in a realistic environment, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to paint any one culture or people as the enemy and finding an opponent everyone agrees on can be difficult. For this reason, gaming needed something new to shoot at.

Zombies claim no nationality or religion once they turn, none of their previous lives matter. They’re still human enough for us to relate to in a way that straight monsters can’t, but their inclusion is never going to make a country cry foul. Not only are they demographic-less, but they’re also an ongoing threat to whatever lives, with their slaughter becoming the only humane option. In simple terms, Zombies make for guilt-free violence, and when you’re building a game around killing hundreds of beings, that makes them a perfect fit.

An Evolved Genre

Acting as a target is one thing, but just as important is the level of flexibility that the undead menace represents. In a game like Left 4 Dead or Back 4 Blood, players in first-person use a variety of conventional and unconventional weaponry to take down growing hordes. World War Z drops back to third-person, involving more elements of character progression, while still keeping enemy counts high.

The Resident Evil series, on the other hand, adopts a more methodical approach in the survival-horror genre. Here the focus is on the real threat even one zombie can have on a player, which is much more intimate than the disconnected slaughter approach of faster titles. 

Even outside of video games, the concept of the undead is so wide that it lends itself to forms of entertainment not traditionally undead-inclined. The slot title Book of Dead is a popular example of this, leveraging ancient Egyptian mythology and the unliving menace for a widely appreciated result. Though more based in cultural reality than most video games, Book of Dead nonetheless draws from our wide appreciation of the undead’s place in our zeitgeist, backed by easy mobile access and the potential for big wins.

Candy Crushing Zombie Killer (14/52 #1)” (CC BY-ND 2.0) by Rodger_Evans

From was a point of obscurity just a few decades ago, zombies and the undead have become one of the most popular targets in contemporary interactive entertainment. While this popularity doesn’t guarantee each game will be a hit, it does at least help create a framework from which new games can borrow to create better titles. With any luck, this could mean the future is full of more Left 4 Dead’s, and less The Slaughtering Grounds, so grab your shotguns and start thinning the herd.