The Perils of being a Zombie

How easy is it to manipulate and control people? What kind of power do officials, experts and authority figures have over our thoughts and actions? These questions are more relevant than ever but we’re being systematically conditioned to never ask them in the first place. These are questions that go to the root of power – questions that story in a game like OZombie can explore and illuminate. Some background on the topic…

The Milgram Experiments were carried out at Yale University during the 1960s. Researchers wanted to understand how, during WWII, so many seemingly normal individuals committed atrocities against their fellow human beings. An experiment was created where a test subject (in the role of “teacher”) would ask another subject (in the role of “student”) a series of memory challenge questions. The “teacher” was told to punish the “student” with an electric shock if any question was answered incorrectly. Each incorrect answer also caused the subsequent shock to be delivered at a higher voltage – starting at a mild 20-volts and ultimately ending with a beyond-lethal 450-volts. The teacher was always a random test subject (a person “off the street”), unaware that the student was an actor – and the electric shock and pain reaction fake. Throughout the tests a research scientist (an authority figure) remained in the room with the teacher to oversee and record results. 

These tests revealed something very disturbing about human psychology. Teachers would ask their questions, students would respond incorrectly and shocks would be administered. The voltage would increase with each incorrect answer. Mild yelps of discomfort would turn to screams of pain. The student would ask that the test be stopped. At this point the teacher would look to the researcher for guidance and the researcher would insist that the test continue. This is where things got really scary.Even as the voltage increased to near lethal levels and the student begged for the test to stop, the teacher would continue – so long as the researcher insisted that the test continue. 

Can you guess what percentage of teachers continued the test, administered shocks and increased the voltage up to and beyond lethal levels? How many normal test subjects would harm and even kill another human being simply because a scientist overseeing a university research experiment demanded that the shocks be administered? You’re probably sitting there thinking there’s no way you or anyone you know would continue.

Up to 65% of test subjects continued administering shocks all the way up to the lethal 450-volt level. That’s 65% of subjects who would kill another human being because an authority figure told them to continue. Read the Wikipedia article – it’s sobering stuff. 

Milgram, the guy running these experiments, drew two powerful conclusions from the results: 

First, “…a subject who has neither ability nor expertise to make decisions, especially in a crisis, will leave decision making to the group and its hierarchy. The group is the person’s behavioral model.”

Second, “…the essence of obedience consists in the fact that a person comes to view themselves as the instrument for carrying out another person’s wishes, and they therefore no longer see themselves as responsible for their actions. Once this critical shift of viewpoint has occurred in the person, all of the essential features of obedience follow.”

Within the world of OZombie we’re going to discover and must repair instances where Ozites are being turned against each other by abuse of this same knowledge. You’ll find Munchkins engaged in ritual sacrifice of their friends and family members, Quadlings committing mass suicide, Winkies snitching on each other, Vegetable People on death marches and the inhabitants of China Country smashing their own homes – all because authority figures have convinced them these things must be done. More critically, you’ll find yourself in positions of power over others with trusted authority figures asking you to do things you know are wrong. How will you respond? 

It’s a fascinating topic and one that few games (“Fallout” is one) have properly explored. And it’s this type of conformity we’re referring to with the use of “zombie” in the game’s title. What’s interesting to me is reading the different tone in reaction comments on websites announcing our Kickstarter campaign. On those sites where the writer (an authority figure) details the game’s narrative theme and alternative use of the word “zombie,” the reactions are largely positive. On those sites where the narrative isn’t mentioned or the “zombie” idea is highlighted in a negative way, the comments are largely negative. Goes to show that independent thinking is a rare and special thing. 

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