I’m sure if you’ve existed on this earth for more than a couple of months, you’ve probably noticed that a staggering amount of video games involve violence. Now, true, games like Tetris and Peggle exist in a void where nothing sinister happens (granted removing blocks could be seen as killing them), but most games involve some form of sadistic release, whether it’s stomping on turtles as Mario or gunning down hundreds of foreigners as Nathan Drake. Of the wide spectrum of video game baddies, however, none have as much of a special place in the heart of gamers as Nazis and zombies. It’s exactly the reason why Call of Duty: World at War’s Nazi Zombie mode was so popular. But which is, in fact, the best video game baddie of all time. Let’s go on through and see if we can provide an answer.
Firstly, let’s look briefly at why both are so popular. The crux of it is that they both are supposed to give players something guilt-free to kill. Other games accomplish this by creating monsters, but the last thing any game developer wants is for the player to sympathize with the generic baddies, or feel bad for beating them. That is, unless that’s the point the developer is making (I’m looking at you Nier). Nevertheless, zombies aren’t human, but they look human. They let us tap into our warlike state without having to worry about pesky things like emotions or empathy, because they are corpses, or infected or what have you. Nazis on the other hand, are the most villanized regime in western culture. Movies, games, pictures, everything, depicts Nazis as nothing more than brutal, racist killing machines, and western (read England, France, North America) like to portray them as the Devil incarnate. Thus, similarly to zombies, Nazis are supposed to be guilt-free kills for players.
So, let us begin with zombies. The biggest and best zombie games and modes deal with a society overrun, where zombies outnumber humans and you, the player, have to gun or sneak your way through. There is an added satisfaction with villains who are superior. After all, everybody loves an underdog story, and the only thing better than watching one, is being one. So, zombie apocalypse. We are the minority, and we have to survive. Aside from the murder aspect, it’s also compelling human drama as the zombies act as a constant force, pressing down on the player and the other characters in the story.
From a gameplay perspective, zombies let us really indulge our inner-sadists. Zombies are dead, usually. They are covered in gooey gore, and killing them usually provides a satisfying spray of blood. Even in early zombie games, developers knew this. In Resident Evil, despite the severe technical limitations of the PlayStation, your character could blow off zombies’ heads with a good upward shot of your shotgun. Nowadays, games like Dead Island allow us to viscerally dismember zombies in a way that would be too cruel to do for many people if it was done on a regular human being, even a bad one. Look, as a rule, people don’t want to hurt other people. But many still have violent instincts that video games can act as a total release for. Zombies act, in many ways as the perfect opponent to vent your most primitive urges on.
The downside to zombies is that there is no drama to be found with the zombies themselves other than “Oh no! This zombie is my aunt Gladys!” Predictability is rarely a concern since zombies include the standard walking corpse all the way to brutally mutated infected monsters (Yes, I know there is a debate whether infected count as zombies. Assume they do for this article). Some are stupid like in Dead Nation, others work in teams like in Resident Evil 4 and 5. However, the situations one finds zombies can be a little predictable, and most zombie games don’t go further than giving you a bare excuse to start the murder factory like with Left 4 Dead.
Then there are Nazis. They bring something completely different to the table. While zombies live in pure myth, Nazis exist as part of our own collective history, as a lesson to what happens when a state get blinded by nationalistic pride and gives itself over to a totalitarian government, even when it seems like a good idea at the time. The Nazi regime was genocidal, and warmongering, but they were also extremely effective at their gruesome chores. So, like zombies, Nazi games like to portray them as being somehow above the regular people so that it is more satisfying to kill them. For example, in the recently released Wolfenstein: the New Order, you play an alternate history where the Nazis have won the war and rule the world. Underdog story indeed.
Unlike zombies, Nazis aren’t inherently spewing their guts out. However, they are often smarter, meaning that actual intelligence and tactics are required to dispatch them, whereas in most zombie games the tactic is to funnel them into the sight of your weapon. It allows developers to bring Nazis more into the real world than they can with zombies. War is very different with survival, and both are there to alleviate guilt for players. But many people have family, who actually suffered by the Nazi regime, and there gets to be a bit of a revenge fantasy for them.
The biggest problem with Nazis is that they existed in a very brief period of history, and it is extremely predictable where and how you are going to fight them. If I have to run over the beaches of Normandy one more time, I’ll pass out from boredom. That’s why the once-flagging Call of Duty series changed from a generic World War 2 shooter, to a massively successful franchise upon leaving the western front. The aforementioned alternative history of Wolfenstien, and the zombie nazi modes try to change things up, but generally, you are stuck with a very tiny set of circumstances, which have been done to death.
However, Nazis, as a villain group can be expanded, though artificially. Many games use Nazi parallels. As a western totalitarian state that was so ahead of its time scientifically that we’re still using the direct fruits of their research, the Nazis are somewhat unique On the world stage. As such, Nazi parallels are really easy to spot in games. Killzone’s Helghast are probably the easiest allegory to point at, but, if a game involves a fantasy totalitarian state, the chances are that it is a reflection of the Nazi regime somehow. This allow for developers to use Nazis indirectly as baddies.
But there is a problem that I personally have with Nazis as villains (not Nazi allegories) – these were real people. The Nazi regime was evil; we can all agree on that. But the day to day soldiers were mostly just scared young men trying their best to serve their country, like any other military. Demonizing Adolf Hitler? I’m all right with that. But the majority of Germans were not the blood-thirsty monsters the media loves to portray them as. Thus, I’m uncomfortable when games portray all Nazis as soulless creatures, and I’m certain that the German descendants of those men don’t enjoy it either. There is the argument that Germany somehow deserves this scorn for what they did during the War, but if that’s true then so does Japan for its warcrimes, and Canada for the residential schools, or England and France for Colonialism, or any number of countries across the world. In my own personal opinion, nobody should be guilty for the sins of their fathers. Should the father’s be guilty? Yes, of course, but if you didn’t do anything personally, I think it’s ridiculous to level blame on you. Ad with World War 2 being over for so long, there wouldn’t be many real Nazis left, and those that did serve would have been so young they wouldn’t have been in any position of power. But that’s just me.
So, to digress, who is the best baddie? Zombies are pure satisfaction of killing, whereas Nazis put a more dour real-world fell to the whole procession. I’m giving it to zombies. Not because of the previous paragraph’s rant (though that too), but more importantly because of versatility. There are only so many times you can see a Nazi, or Nazi allegory before things start to run together. Zombies, on the other hand, have been portrayed in such a wide variety of situations that I’m still eager for more. And I’d say that’s more important. Nevertheless, I’ll set up this week’s poll to ask you which you’d pick as your favourite between the two.
– Mistranslations for the Modern Gamer