The evolution of videogame zombies

A horrifying history of the shambling flesh-eaters we love to shoot

Above: Don’t we all, really?

You might not have noticed it (mainly because they all act the same), but zombies have undergone a long series of changes, subtle and otherwise, over the years. While their single-minded, shuffling hunger remains just as strong as ever, they’ve evolved with the games they populate, becoming more nuanced and complicated than most people realize. Don’t believe us? Then join us as we take a look at just how time has changed our favorite monsters.

Stick Zombie

As seen in: Death Race (1976)

Disposition: Frightened, panicky

While alternately referred to as “zombies,” “gremlins” or “stick figures,” the little white blobs in the controversial-for-its-time Death Race display all the classic characteristics of zombification, from the aimless wandering to the complete lack of self-preservation. Sometimes, you don’t even need to move to score against these idiots – they’ll wander right underneath your tires while you’re idling. We put forth that only a zombie could possibly find such a stupid way in which to die, and as such declare them to be the very first instance of a zombie in a game.

Vaguely Threatening Zombie

As seen in: Ghosts ‘n Goblins (1985)

Disposition: Lumbering

One of the earliest recognizable instances of a classic zombie, these pale creeps had it all. Not only could they walk in a straight line with their arms outstretched and knock Sir Arthur out of his armor (and, later, skin), but they actually came up out of the ground to do it. Also like movie zombies, they’re only really a serious threat when they mass in groups, at which point it can be difficult to jump over them or take them out quickly enough.

Self-Mutilating Zombie, Mark 1

As seen in: Chiller (1986)

Disposition: Passive-aggressive

For a game that’s ostensibly about shooting undead creeps (but is actually more about shooting defenseless torture victims bloody), Chiller is awfully stingy with its zombies. In fact, it only really busts them out during its final stage (or first stage, if you’re playing the NES version), and even then it’s debatable if what’s onscreen actually qualifies as a “zombie.” Is the chick whose shirt can be shot off actually an undead monster clawing her way out of the grave, or has she just been buried up to her waist? The only thing here that really qualifies is the weird zombie in the foreground, which just keeps ripping off its own head and throwing it into an open grave full of flames. Fun!


After graduating from college in 2000 with a BA in journalism, I worked for five years as a copy editor, page designer and videogame-review columnist at a couple of mid-sized newspapers you've never heard of. My column eventually got me a freelancing gig with GMR magazine, which folded a few months later. I was hired on full-time by GamesRadar in late 2005, and have since been paid actual money to write silly articles about lovable blobs.
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