Tag Archives: society

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. 

Zombies, What’re They Good For?!

There’s been a fair amount of commentary on the idea of “zombies” in OZombie. The title is pretty in-your-face about the whole “zombie” thing, but as I’ve detailed on the Kickstarter page, in recent updates and in interviews, these are not your typical, shamble of the mill, brain-eating zombies. In this instance we’re applying one of the alternate definitions of the word:

zom•bie [zom-bee] noun

1. the body of a dead person given the semblance of life, but mute and will-less, by a supernatural force, usually for some evil purpose.

2. a person whose behavior or responses are wooden, listless, or seemingly rote; an automaton.

3. a tall drink made typically with several kinds of rum, citrus juice, and often apricot liqueur.

4. Canadian Slang. an army conscript assigned to home defense during World War II.

Yes, that’s right. OZombie actually casts Dorothy as an army conscript assigned to Canadian home defense during WWII. You got me. This is the game I’ve ALWAYS wanted to make. She’s drank too many zombies and lost her marbles – resulting in a psychedelic journey to an imagined world of Oz. We were going to call it “OZ-CanadianArmyConscript,” but it just didn’t have the right ring.

Seriously, the definition we’re going for here is #2 – an automaton. Specifically, of the type found throughout our modern society. The person who goes about their daily lives oblivious to the political and financial forces that shape and determine the quality and content of life. “The Matrix” offered beautiful commentary on this concept – of an entire race plugged into a simulation of life, and of a certain number of people who would prefer the illusion to the reality. These are the kinds of zombies we’re talking about.

I know the name is causing some confusion, but to be honest, I think that confusion only serves to prove the point. You’re reading this because you know the truth, because you know there’s another layer to the story. The knee-jerk reactions from readers in the comment sections on Eurogamer or Kotaku shows they haven’t bothered to go beyond the headline. They jump to a lazy conclusion and deprive themselves from a deeper, more meaningful understanding. You can’t force understanding and I don’t think it’s my responsibility to force a more “descriptive” title on the game for the sake of those zombies.

Beyond the metaphorical, there’s the literal usefulness of the name “OZombie.” It creates a clear and defend-able name space for the game, was available as a domain name and it’s instantly recognizable and it’s easy to remember. Even the current controversy around the name is useful because it’s forcing people to talk about the project.

A zombie by any other name would smell as rotten.