We all know zombies as these rotting hunks of flesh, which, according to whatever timeline or story arc is in place, are interested in either biting you or consuming you or both, with bonus plague strains in some instances.
Zombies are anti-human, the crazy, open binary pair that can be molded according to whatever the story needs at the moment.
When PopCap Games released Plants vs. Zombies in 2009, nearly everyone in the casual gaming community embraced it (or played it at least once). Admittedly I purchased it on Steam really quickly and I’ve played the scenarios thousands of times.
It’s been years since this game was first launched into the market but it’s still here – raking in big bucks not just on PC but on mobile platforms. I still have it on my Android phone, too (strange though, that it now has a ton of micro transactions, which dampened the experience for me, admittedly).
Why candied zombies?
Everything about PvZ is cute and comical. It’s one of the things that struck people when this game first came out.
There was so much variety in the zombie breeds: football zombie, newspaper guy zombie, metal bucket head zombie… It was funny and at the same time, mildly disturbing because these zombies were essentially omnivores and they couldn’t get enough of plants.
Human brains were just dessert for them. Imagine going through thick columns of Wall-Nuts, pea shooters and fungi in the evening just to get at one brain. While one may argue that these zombies are mindless, the mythos behind them proves otherwise. Their funny backstories prove that they had ‘lives’ (pardon the pun) beyond their function as hench-zombies to Doctor Zomboss.
Clearly, it was the inversions that really attracted people to the zombie mythos in the game. Players are in God Mode all the time and they had a way to “touch” the evil zombie horde without having to run for their lives virtually.
Take a good look at similar zombie-themed games on iTunes or the Play Store and you’ll get what I mean.
PopCap’s approach took away a lot of the usual emotive elements that people associated with interacting with zombies: relentless fear (there are lots of zombies, but they’re not so bloodthirsty and they’re cute), hopelessness (you have a whole army of armed plants at your disposal, not just you with a lone baseball bat or shotgun, with matching flickering flashlight) and finally, gore – which goes against our most primitive of instincts.
Humans are naturally averse to blood and viscera. The zombies in PvZ look more like animated clay models than anything else. That if we would see them in real life without blood and the usual nasty scowl and drool, they would be more manageable, less frightening and closer to objects than reanimated visages of post-humans.
In summary, PvZ is “fear control” taken to its most extreme: by stripping the source of fear to its barely recognizable parts, the human psyche encroaches upon the subject of fear easily, playing master once more.