Zombies have been a staple of horror culture for decades, lurking in the dark corners of our imagination and literature. However, it was in the world of video games that these reanimated corpses truly found their stride. The history of zombies featured in video games is certainly a fascinating journey, from humble beginnings to becoming one of the most iconic and enduring adversaries in gaming. What makes zombies so loveable? Why do gamers seemingly love these zombie experiences? Join us as we unearth the history of zombies in video games, and look out for your favorite games (or TV shows), as they may be on the list!
We shall begin our semi-comprehensive timeline with the subject's humble beginnings. The concept of zombies in video games can be traced back to the early 1980s to the early 1990s. So, what was the first game to include these creatures? Quicksilva's “Zombie Zombie,” released on the ZX Spectrum in 1984. Additionally, titles like "Haunted House" (1981) by Atari and "Zombies Ate My Neighbors" (1993) developed by LucasArts helped lay the foundation for the undead to be incorporated into interactive entertainment. These games, although basic by today's standards, introduced players to the spine-chilling thrill of battling hordes of zombies.
Resident Evil: Pioneering Survival Horror
No discussion of zombies in video games would be complete without mentioning "Resident Evil." This iconic franchise, created by Capcom in 1996, is widely regarded as the progenitor of the survival horror genre. The original Resident Evil game set the stage for what would become a multi-decade saga of battling zombies, mutants, and bioengineered horrors. It introduced the world to the zombie-infested Raccoon City and the ominous Umbrella Corporation.
The series' gripping narrative, atmospheric settings, and iconic characters like Leon Kennedy and Jill Valentine helped cement zombies as a video game mainstay. The franchise has seen numerous sequels, spin-offs, and even a successful movie series, solidifying its place in the annals of gaming history.
Left 4 Dead: Cooperative Carnage
Valve's "Left 4 Dead" series, first released in 2008, brought a new dimension to zombie gaming. It focused on cooperative multiplayer gameplay and emphasized teamwork and strategy. Players formed teams of survivors battling through hordes of infected, and the game's AI director ensured a dynamic and challenging experience with every playthrough. The success of "Left 4 Dead" demonstrated that the zombie genre could evolve and adapt to new gaming trends.
What’s more, titles like "Dead Rising" (2006), "The Last of Us" (2013), and "State of Decay" (2013) showcased different approaches to the zombie apocalypse. "Dead Rising" embraced absurdity and allowed players to use almost anything as a weapon, "The Last of Us" brought cinematic storytelling to the genre, and "State of Decay" emphasized survival and community building in a post-apocalyptic world.
The influence of these games extend far beyond the gaming community. The popularity of zombies in video games led to the creation of movies, TV series (who watched The Last of Us?), and merchandise, contributing to the broader zombie craze in pop culture.
Minecraft and Customizability
Even a game as seemingly unrelated to zombies as "Minecraft" (2009) found a way to incorporate them. Although it may not be widely known, Minecraft didn’t always have zombies! Zombies, according to the Minecraft Wiki, were added to the game in the 0.2 Update. Additionally, and with the help of the modding community, players created custom game modes that introduced zombies into the blocky, sandbox world of "Minecraft,” creating content across the internet and making the game their own (just search “Minecraft zombie mod” on YouTube!).
The history of zombies in video games is definitely a testament to the enduring appeal of the undead. From humble beginnings to the forefront of horror gaming, zombies have clearly evolved and adapted to the ever-changing landscape of the industry. They continue to be a source of entertainment and inspiration, offering players the chance to confront their fears and test their survival skills in a variety of entertaining—and often frightening—ways. As long as there are video games, it's safe to say that zombies will never truly rest in peace.
Nodwin Gaming. “The History of Zombies in Video Games.” Redbull. January 24, 2017. https://www.redbull.com/sg-en/the-history-of-zombies-in-video-games
“Resident Evil.” Britannica. September 27, 2023.