Pick Your Prey: The Perfect Enemy
Video games allow us to enter worlds and scenarios in which we couldn’t possibly take part in in the real world. You may battle aliens on a distant planet. Or you may fight the Reich in a WWII shooter. The possibilities are endless, because what can be done in the realm of imagination is endless. So why do we continue to return to the same enemies that we’ve killed thousands of times before? The straightforward answer? Because they’re safe.
Games like Grand Theft Auto and Saints Row take a lot of flak for letting you murder innocent civilians. Put ski masks on all of the civilians though, and you’ll likely hear nothing of controversy. Unless of course the game takes place on a ski resort. Never the less, it’s the fact that the people you are eviscerating are bad guys. Or are at least dressed up as bad guys. Ask anybody who hasn’t played GTA 4 what they know about it, and you’ll likely get a response akin to, “That game where you kill cops?”. But if you ask people who don’t play video games about, say, F.E.A.R. 2, and you will almost assuredly be met with a blank stare, because people don’t mind when you shoot the bad guys.
But who is the perfect villian? Through much deliberation, I narrowed down my choices to three, standard enemies that you will likely find in a given video game. Two mentioned above (Aliens and Nazi’s) and the third, increasingly popular choice, the Zombie. All have been around for almost as long as video games themselves, and all have proven themselves to be staples of the industry. Most important of all though, and undeniably one of the largest reasons for their staying power, is that as mentioned above, they are safe.
I’m going to go out on a limb here, and put my very small (very, very small) reputation on the line, and say that Zombies are in fact, the perfect enemy. I leave the categories open for interpretation, so while I will include both George A. Romero style zombies and 28 Days Later style zombies, I will likewise include Call of Duty Nazi’s and Mecha Hitler’s as well. Of course, none of this would mean anything if I didn’t have a solid set of reasons to back up my claim that Zombies beat both Nazi’s and Aliens. As far as I can tell, it’s obvious, but just in case, let us dissect the issue into three parts shall we? Alphabetical order even.
Most of us can appreciate the inherent awesomness of anything that comes to us from out in the cosmos. If they reach us first, then they are light years more intelligent than us. On the flip side though, if we reach them first, then we should probably just leave them and their feces fights alone.
If I am correct in my assumption then I would say that Space Invaders marked the first appearance of little green men in video games. If I am wrong then they most certainly marked the first mainstream success of a video game centered around aliens. People could appreciate the skill involved, and crowds would gather to watch the spectacle. As time wore on, more advanced games appeared which shoved Space Invaders out the door. Gamers became captivated by such distractions as Alien Vs. Predator, Half Life, and even modern games, such as Destroy All Humans and Resistance: Fall of Man. What was once a novelty became a sensation that has become common place, as is bound to happen with any novelty.
What intelligent life will probably look like
Aliens come in 3rd on my list of “The Perfect Enemy” because they are, in fact, too safe. Gears of War has skirted along the line of saying that the fictional war is the humans fault, but even if it is, would ever root for the aliens? Yes, they may have morality on their side, but would you honestly want their species to succeed while humanity is left to die? It would just go to show that even when the “bad guys” have the moral high ground, people will side with their own kind. There’s no sense arguing that the other way when it comes to Aliens attacking people first. If the aliens started it, we would be rip roarin’ across the Milky Way to kill em’, no questions asked. Because the questions only serve to complicate things, and why complicate things when you could just shoot something in what is probably the face?
Good ole’ B.J. Blazkowicz showed us first the almost perfect, yet irrefutable equation.
Kill+ Nazi = X
It’s a simple formula, but like every equation, it has an answer. Unlike every equation though, this one has a variable. Killing Nazis could equal fun. Or awesome. Or justice. But one thing is for sure, the answer is never a negative one. Killing Nazis is considered bad by no one who isn’t a Nazi. After the atrocities they inflicted, it’s acceptable to mock them, shoot them, and in extreme cases, even tea bag them.
So why do they come in second place only? It is the enemy that is (virtually) universally reviled, and whom no one has qualms with taking around back and pulling an Ole Yeller on their asses. Unlike the Aliens, Nazis are actually people, no matter how much many would like to refute it, which makes them hit closer to home as an enemy. We are forced to think about them, because unlike aliens (which we’re all still kind of up in the air about) the Nazis are a part of our history, and we can’t just make them go away. Despite this, the Nazi is also not only a bit too played out, but they are also very mundane enemies.
Nazis are confined to human limitations in 90% of the games we play that involve them. The other 10% being games that use the “Nazis were obsessed with paranormal” to put a new spin on them. But even then, what do we get? Zombies. Undead creatures from the netherworlds, and occaisionally Nazi zombies. Zombies, none the less. In Wolfenstien 3D, we were introduced to Mecha Hitler, which paved the way for outlandish Nazi enemies that very few game developers have chosen to follow. Except for Pokemon evidently.
(According to Wikipedia) The first Zombie game appeared in 1984, and it was creativly titled Zombie Zombie. After that, about 8 years in fact, Alone in the Dark hit store shelves, and evidently those things were zombies too. Resident Evil helped to solidify zombies as a acceptable enemies, Dead Rising ran with it years later, and Left 4 Dead blew the theme away a few short months ago. They have steadily become one of the most used enemies in video games, and I for one, am happy about it.
Zombies have variety. They can be fast, or they can be slow. They can be horribly misfigured, or they can look like they just walked out of the coffee shop. Many purists were shaking their heads in that last paragraph, muttering to themselves that the enemies in Left 4 Dead were “Infected”, not zombies. I say, “Who gives a crap?”. Do they attack people, and avoid their own kind? They’re cannabalistic right? Then they’re zombies.
Zombies are on the cusp of humanity. The thing about “Infected” zombies is that there may be a hope for a cure. You can craft a story around the fact that you are killing all of these potentially normal people. When it comes to the undead, there is no morality, so you can get rid of the story all together and have a kill fest. The zombies can mutate, creating many forms and varities (though Aliens can vary as well, so this isn’t necessarilly a unique trait) ala the special infected in Left 4 Dead. They can be everything you want in an enemy and more. Hard to kill, fast, maybe they can’t die unless you make a head shot. They can be cut in half and each half will continue to live on. Their numbers added create a deadly combination, seeing as if everyone but you were turned into a zombie, you would have no problem keeping yourself occupied, assuming you don’t mind killing thousands of already dead people.
Two great tastes that taste great together!
It’s simple really. Aliens are fun and all, but there’s never a question as to who you’re gonna root for, their foreign species, or your familiar one. Nazis hit closer to home not only because we are dealing with real people, but because it is a part of our history, and a fairly recent and often hard to deal with part at that. The fact that they are pretty much universally despised makes them almost as safe as aliens. The zombie has the a close relation to us. They were once people, like you or I, and we can craft interesting stories around them. Create a moral imperative where the protaganist must deal with an undead loved one, or let us loose in an amusement park filled to the brim with infected. Either way, my bet is that you will have a hard time not finding something to enjoy.
So there it is. Aliens, then Nazis, then Zombies. Not just listed in descending order, but in alphabetical order too. Of course certain tastes may differ, and I concede that, but this is what I think and I’m sticking to it.