Like pirates, zombies are reaching the peak of their popularity. They’re cool. They’re in movies, books, videogames, boardgames and MMOGs. I’ve only played two MMOGs seriously; the first was about seven years ago, when I beta-tested Ultima Online (yeah, I’m that cool). The second is Urban Dead, a browser-based text MMOG that sees zombies and humans fight it out in a post-apocalyptic city.
I began playing it back in July, not long after it started, and even though my character is totally maxed out now, I still find it pretty entertaining, despite the absence of pretty graphics, or indeed graphics of any kind. There isn’t an awful lot to do apart from collect guns and ammo and blow up zombies, or get killed, become a zombie, and start eating zombies (and then get revived as a human, etc etc), but the roleplaying makes up for it.
Not the human roleplaying; that tends to be fairly dull, with the notable exception of the Malton DEA, who spend their time kicking doors in and killing their fellow humans. No, the guys who have all the fun are the zombies. It would be easy to assume that being a faceless zombie in Urban Dead wouldn’t be particularly interesting, since zombies are far more limited in their skills and abilities than humans, but inventive players have taken advantage of those limitations to make life much more fun.
Take speaking, for example. Humans can speak in Urban Dead perfectly normally. Zombies, however, are only allowed to use the characters ‘zhrgbmna.!?-‘; all others are stripped out*. Along with a few other rules governing zombie speech, all of this was supposed to make the zombies ‘realistic’ in the sense that they not supposed to be able to say anything comprehensible apart from groan.
(*Even to get those characters, you have to gain the Death Rattle skill. Until then, you’re limited to a choice of only a few preset phrases, including ‘Graagh!’ and ‘Mrh?’)
For the first couple of months, the zombies didn’t bother speaking much, what with the strict limitations. A few shorthand rules were used, wherein a zombie saying ‘Mrh?’ was construed as wanting to be revived, but nothing particularly complex. Then, all of a sudden, they realised that they could speak – after a fashion – and not just speak, but do it in a immensely satisfying way.
Zombies became ‘Zambahz’. Humans became ‘Haman Hambargarz’. The word ‘gangbang’ was discovered to work within the speech rules, so often you’d read things like ‘Graagh! Barhah gangbang haman hambargarzzzz!!!’ shortly before being killed. Today, well-constructed and inventive zombie speech is savoured, like a fine wine. One particularly good exchange I’ve seen was this:
Zombie: Harmanz harm zambah! ZAMBAH BANG HARMANZ! BARHAH!
Human: BARHAH THIS MOTHER F**CKER!!! (whereupon the human killed the zombie with a shotgun)
You might be wondering what Barhah actually means. As far as I can tell, it only started appearing a few weeks ago, but its meteoric rise in popularity coincided with the Stanstock ’05 festival, where over 1200 zombies and humans went on strike against the creator of the game for not giving zombies enough skills, thus unbalancing the game and making it less fun. It’s that sort of game.
Barhah is basically a zombie rallying cry, roughly translated as the ‘spirit of zombie warriors in brotherhood’. I don’t know how or why specifically Barhah was picked, but it’s clearly very suitable – short, original, funny, and it works within the speech rules. It’s very fun to see the zombies embracing their new culture, and during the Stanstock festival, a common refrain was “Marrah barhahzmaz, harmanz!”
Indeed, Merry Barhahzmaz to you all!