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Games as Carriers : Congrats you are getting reprogrammed

The reason why everybody loves Zombie games.

Andreas Ahlborn, Blogger

October 13, 2014

6 Min Read

Everybody loves Zombiegames. The reason is obvious: we are steering in the direction of a society that gets zombified by the minute. That shouldn`t bother us too much, the Zombiefication that is happening has only marginal similarities to our typical brain-and flesheating Friends from Horrortropes. Being a zombie has its merits, even modern philosophy is entertaining the idea that our brains are constantly tricked into thinking they would be conscious, making deliberate decisions whereas in fact it could be well possible that we are on full auto.


There are multiple types of Zombies but for our purpose it should suffice to distinguish between two major types: the dysfunctional and the highly functional zombie. The dysfunctional Zombie is rotting, eating flesh and in general dead, he shouldn`t concern us at this point.  The functional Zombie is reading these lines, developing games and watching TV in the evening.

The functional Zombie is our heroine, she is Ellie and Joel from the Last Of us, Clementine and Lee from the Walking dead.

In this Blog I will try to approach some ideas that aren`t exactly new, so I am far from claiming any originality (as the good zombie I am), to get the most out of it you should have some basic understanding of  Memes ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meme ) that exceeds the popular use of the word.

In his work “the selfish gene” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Selfish_Gene ) Richard Dawkins introduced the terms “memes” to build a bridge from the scientific principle of natural selection, that is at the core of Darwinism to draw parallels (as well as differences) between the Evolution that can be observed going on in nature and the one we are seeing going on in culture/society for the last 10,000+ years or so.

He coined the term “vehicle” for the fact that every living and surviving organism can be interpreted and even reduced to his “task” of carrying its genepool to the next generation. He then goes on to describe mankind as a vehicle for memes (a unit of cultural evolution). Later on he developed this idea further in his essay “Viruses of the Mind”

 (  http://vserver1.cscs.lsa.umich.edu/~crshalizi/Dawkins/viruses-of-the-mind.html )

His theory is to this day highly controversial because of the fact that he alienated a lot of people by basically claiming that all religions are nothing else than elaborated viral complexes.

To avoid this let`s switch to the field of mass media and see if we can relieve the tensions by choosing a more everyday, less loaded subject. I will also employ Analogies that might be more familiar to game developers.

Human culture can be seen as the total of “Languages” that are used by mankind over the course of history and by “Language”  I am not necessarily restricting it to the kind of “Languages” a Linguist might be most interested in, but also including “Languages” every kind of Mass Medium/Art/Science is using to be able to communicate with human brains. So, Mathematics is surely a Language, Boolean Logic is a Language, There is a Language of Music (Harmony) of Visual Arts (Color Theory, Perspective) and so on.

In the context of this article I will be referring to these kinds of languages as “Programming Languages” and the different Mediaproducts as “Programs” (in the sense of Dawkins` Memes).

(You see were I am getting at with this if you have a background in Information Theory).

While the Elements of Information are Bits, the elements of a Programming Language are objects, variables, expressions etc.

In this sense a work of literature (Dantes Divine Comedy for example) can be considered a program as well as The Mona Lisa, as well as Tetris, Chess or “The Simpsons” (kind of funny that the term Television program already exists).

The Hero with a thousand faces or the Damsel in Distress is a class (Template, Trope)  that can be found in any narrative medium and thus every narrative medium can be easily “translated” into another, (there are Harry Potter movies, books, comics, games that use different “Languages” to create the same type of Object from the Class “Gifted Underdog Hero”)

Following Dawkins idea the main reason for any program is: to copy itself in such a way that it is easier/ faster and more reliable to copy than other programs that are concurring for the essential resources of a human brain: attention span, memory storage etc.

Human Brains are Carriers (Vehicles) of these types of programs, in a way we all can be considered as “Infected” spreading the programs on facebook, twitter and gamasutra. Ever noticed that the term “going viral” has become a positive term, a blessing? That is the inner Zombie in us embracing his/her programs.

Now why is it that at the moment I am claiming that “Games” are overtaking TV/Cinema as the new leading medium that is only dwarfed by the role of the Internet for this information age?

Lets take a look at the state of the medium and see in which direction it has moved over the past few years, especially on mobile its clear that most carriers expect to get games for free (as in free beer) and the most successful games that are played by hundred of millions are indeed “free”, they only become profitable, because their programs are successfully hijacking human brains into becoming addicted to them, which is the perfect habitat any meme could dream of.

Imagine J.K.Rowling giving her Potters away for free, but then every second page or so, she is deliberately rearranging sentences to make you work really hard to understand the story and you either could “decode” the story or paying her 10 bucks to “unlock” the next 100 pages. A joke? It`s called free to read. I mean the whole text is there. Nobody has ever said it would be in the right order…

Look at the principle of grind that is at the core of most of these games: grinding takes time, the more time a player invests in one game, the less he has for others, so the game is feeding on this gamers lifetime thereby increasing the chance that other brains in the vicinity of this player might be infected, too. And even if the Player is paying to circumvent this grind, it’s a win-win situation for the game anyway. Now, with the revenue its possible to elongate the grind even further. We must understand that, from the viewpoint of the memecomplex/game/program the roles of the player/gamedeveloper are interchangeable. The Gamedeveloper, who sees that the game is successful the way that it is (because he gets rich) will recruit more developers to work on the game, spend more money on advertising, develop mutations (angry chickens, angry zombies, angry cheerleaders, angry stars, angry wars etc.) that further spread the memepool of the game.

The game developer himself/herself is not evil, nor are the corporations he/she is working for. In the context of the meme, he/she is just another friendly neighbourhood zombie like we all.

Look at the term crunch and carefully read essays from esteemed developers like this one here:


Singing during convict labour surely makes the work easier, but only a game developer would enjoy singing during convict labour because  he is proud of the temple his stones are part of.

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