User:Ethan Frome

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Zombie Philosophy

There are certain aspects to the form of this game which are interesting, and which warrant further attention.

Zombies as Other

I'm interested in the construction of "zombie" as "the Other" in this game. This is probably due at least in part to the fact that (as far as we know) everyone playing the game is a human, and therefore identifies to a greater or lesser extent with humans in general. Those who play as zombies certainly see zombies as a "fun" or "interesting" alternative/challenge. However, they can only see zombies in this way because they don't see zombies as "normal."

So, having discovered that zombies are, by default, the Other, it should come as no surprise that they are seen as the lesser half of the human/zombie dichotomy (where, it should be noted, they are the "marked" term). From this stems the tendency of players to play their zombies in a manner which typifies the Other - as a disadvantaged, and potentially diseased creature. It is no coincidence that the archetype of the zombie is that of a formerly human ("normal") being, which now maintains the basic form of a human, but is diseased in a way which causes it to be an outsider. This disease can be transferred through contact with the infected creature and, given time to fester (and inaction by uninfected humans, or the infected person him/herself), can cause a previously "whole" human to instead become an "infected" zombie. This occurs despite the fact that zombies must actively choose to have the capacity to infect, and then must further choose to instigate an attack which will infect. (Also, interestingly, zombies can receive a benefit from carrying out an attack which can potentially infect a non-infected human.)

The role of zombies in Urban Dead is not dissimilar to the status of many minority groups. It would be sadly inaccurate to suggest that groups of all sort -- groups identified by racial, ethnic, sexual, political, etc. characteristics -- are not involved in hierarchies of oppression. Their Otherness is evident in the way that members are treated as if they are marked, and different from members of the dominant group(s). There is even an element of moral panic when an "infected" member of the Other seeks contact with a member of the prime group. Though the infection of a zombie is physical, one would be hard pressed to see members of disadvantaged groups as not constructed as socially diseased in some way.

Zombie "Spies"

Humans with zombie skills (those "marked" with signs of the "enemy") are frequently accused of being in league with zombies. What could be a worse insult to a supposedly "pure" human than to suggest that s/he not only has the trappings of being a zombie, but is actually an agent of the polluted class? These accusations often have little merit, as there are people who play as both types of characters. However, people are often killed as a symbol of human disapproval of the Other.

On the other hand, zombies have few qualms about those in their midst with human skills. This is partially because there is less emphasis on protection and exclusivity in the zombie community -- there is no need to hold buildings or maintain barricades. Zombies, in fact, welcome those from the human community and even make jokes about how they hope to "convert" humans into zombies. This is, of course, a counter-normative desire. Why would anyone want to become a zombie, after all?

Who Wants to Be a Zombie?

Zombies see themselves as a fun-loving group, albeit one motivated by counter-(human)normative desires. The desire to eat brains (and kill the possessor of said grey matter) is obviously counter to the goal of a survivor (which is to live, at all costs -- to "survive").

Because of their marked status, zombies tend to associate themselves with traditionally negative or transgressive activities. Hence, zombies' focus on dancing, drinking, lewd talk, and both conventional and sexual violence. It is no coincidence that the majority of zombie put-downs have sexual and violent overtones. To be sure, taunting inherently has a violent and transgressive element to it, since that is its purpose -- to question the tauntee's power in some way (physical, sexual, social, etc.).

However, one cannot overlook the way that death rattle is used, and the words that are present there. "Azz/(Ass)," "gangbang," "mama/gran(d)ma," "harm," "grab," and all the variations thereof all present zombies as transgressive figures - those who will do anything to break traditional human boundaries.

How Do You Avoid Being a Zombie?

It is a reality in Urban Dead that a human character is likely to spend a certain amount of time as a zombie. If s/he doesn't wish to remain that way, s/he must seek to be revived, to be re-initiated into the human world. To do this, a zombie must assure humans that, despite its currently polluted state, its inner self is clear and pure, and that it wishes to return to a state of grace within the privileged ranks of humans.

This is made clear by the fact that zombies seeking revivification must stand at certain (literally) marked points to achieve the grace which will allow them to return to safe and unpolluted status. Furthermore, they must again "mark" themselves by uttering a plaintive cry - "Mrh?" - signaling their desire to be revived.

This abject humiliation is sometimes recognized by the Christ-like NecroTech worker who grants salvation and a return to the world of the unpolluted. More often than not, however, even this process of denying one's existence as a zombie is met with skepticism and opportunism. Humans see a way to gain (through XP) and will attack anyone who is unlucky enough to have "marked" status. Certain humans will even actively seek out areas where zombies seeking revivification are told to gather in order to have personal gain at the expense of the unfortunate. This is a clear example of class conflict and oppression where those marked as members of the polluted class - whether ot not they desire to be a member of that class - are subject to violent sanction by purportedly superior members of the unmarked class.

Ambiguities of NecroTechs and Revival

There are necessary ambiguities in the revival process beyond simple opportunism. Revivification is also used as a weapon - a "combat revive." This is an interesting alteration of the Christ-like image given to those with NecroTech skills. Instead of being a beneficent bringer of life, they can be seen as oppressors who force their values ("life/humanity is good") on those who do not share those values. Some argue that the use of combat revives is unethical since it forces an unwanted status onto an unwilling participant. However, those who advocate its use make claims that it is easy for those unwillingly revived to change their status (by jumping out a window, or finding zombies to kill them). Underlying their claims, though, is the suggestion that they have done a favor for the zombie by reviving him/her and that s/he should be grateful. If s/he is not, though, s/he always has the option to return to the polluted status.

This outlook is not unlike Colonialism in which those of a native culture have an unfamiliar, and largely unwanted, status forced upon them by those with superior power. Though the link is less clear due to a poor understanding of "territory" and the lack of the idea of the nation-state, it might well be productive to analyze this phenomenon using the rubric established by Edward Said in his study of Orientalism.

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