Sunday, 19 June 2011

Zombies, Daleks and the triumph of death

Kent at Some King's Kent has an interesting approach to the nature of encounters with zombies. I can't help but connect this with the story Dave Morris tells at Mirabilis - Year of Wonders of meeting a Dalek at BBC Television Centre as a boy in 1964.

But what is that connection? Do you sense it too? The zombie and Dalek seem akin.

I think Kent gets at the movement link well with mention of resource management, and Dave in the suggestion of the sterile Dalek environments of the 1960s. Dave also hints at the body horror of the claustrophobic Dalek interior - "something small, vulnerable and fearful surrounded by electronics and armour" - and its world observed remotely, which ties in with the small but insurmountable distance separating us from a zombie.

In this sense, both creatures suggest an alienation from our bodies. That's something I remember played up well in a sequence from the novelisation of Remembrance of the Daleks by Ben Aaronovitch, and it could be part of what makes Davros so compelling.

Zombie and Dalek are unlike us and yet oddly similar, recognisable, even if only by eyestalk, upper-limb-like extensions and voice. There's an uncanniness in there too.

Interestingly, both can also be product of an apocalypse, nuclear in the case of the Daleks; and that powerful image of the '60s Dalek comes back - the petrified forest - and what is that if not ranks of the dead? A potentially empty future.

Linked with all of this, Beedo at Dreams if the Lich House recently posted on the idea of the familiar dead returning. That's another reminder of the triumph of death, of loss.

Isn't that the root of all the terrors our games evoke? Loss of a shot at greatness, of a squad, of a much-loved character. But also the loss of time as the years go by; christian at destination unknown had a wonderful post on this a while back, on a fleeting light. We may well play the good old games to relive the early feelings. The zombie and Dalek represent decay visibly, but also less visibly entropy, as they slowly close us down.

That icy cold sweat.

Remember Kirk and the Kobayashi Maru? Here's the line from The Wrath of Khan; very appropriately for Father's Day, it's Kirk speaking to his son, David Marcus:

I haven't faced death. I've cheated death. I've tricked my way out of death and patted myself on the back for my ingenuity. I know nothing.

In a way we gamers cheat, every time we deploy our army afresh in yet another battle or roll up a new character. How about a propluristemic rule then, a rule for many games?

The cold sweat

If your army loses the campaign or your character dies, close the ruleset, book or box, put it on the shelf and never open it again. You may hold a ceremony.

- - - - - -

As an aside, talk of Kent and Daleks makes me think of John at John's Toy Soldiers, who's based in the county of Kent in the UK; just today he posted on an odd sign. He also has a Doctor Who battle report featuring Daleks, based on a modified 40K.


christian said...

I was in a disagreement with a co-worker the other day. I told this person, "I'm not saying that X isn't important. It is. I just don't care."

I think zombies and Daleks are like that, in a way. They just don't care about the things we hold dear. In the case of zombies they can't care and Daleks just don't.

That cognitive dissonance - What do you mean my life is not valuable?! - must be psyche shattering.

I love the rule at the end, the never again opening a book because a character has been lost. Classic!

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I was just going to say great line from a great movie...

Unknown said...

I would like to add cybermen and Borg to the mix. We like to play with the thought of a hostile race that has no understanding of our values, it seems. It allows us to really explore those values - sometimes, it can be no more than patting ourselves on the back, but if it's done right, it can be inspiring. The first Dalek episode of the new Who for example or the STNG episodes featuring the Borg Hugh.

Porky said...

@ christian - Agreed. That dissonance seems a large part of the shock if we suspend disbelief enough to accept what we're seeing, and maybe harder to deal with for the recognition of something like us in the creature.

Of course, monsters can become too familiar, and in the case of the Daleks, I think the effect has been weakened over the years by the knowledge they can be verbally tricked. And that they never have the upper hand - or plunger - for long.

At the same time, growing up for many of us means a growing awareness we can behave awfully like the Daleks too, and even be proud of the fact. I see the zombie idea expressing a worry about what the other might be up to, a lack of empathy, intolerance. Night of the Living Dead captures this well.

And that's far more terrifying. As adults we just hide behind a larger sofa.

@ Alex J. Cavanaugh - I was thinking the same when I went back for the quote. There's so much going on in that film, almost too much to fit in, but it works.

@ Jedediah - I think you're quite right to want them in there. They definitely play on similar worries.

Oddly I've never felt quite the same sense of depth in the Cyberman concept as in the Dalek, but I guess that's because we really got under the skin of the Daleks in the early days. That said, the Cybermen did conjure up a great mood, again more in the earlier years than now. There seems to me a little too much buffoonery nowadays.

As for the Borg, I still remember the impact of Q Who. The episode set the whole thing up perfectly with the distance and the unknown. It's still hard to believe there were so few Borg episodes before Voyager. The Borg seem to me one of the defining features of TNG.

All of this is very energising. I've had some cyborg statting I've been wanting to put into a post for a while now and I'll be doing that all the quicker for this discussion.

The Happy Whisk said...

Great post title and an interesting post, too boot.

Porky said...

Thanks - I love mixing it all back up.