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E3 2019 has featured a few games that incorporate nazi zombies — Wolfenstein: Youngblood, Zombie Army 4: Dead War, and perhaps even more to come — so I thought it begged the question: why are there so many undead fascists aimlessly wandering around in video games right now? Well, I did a little digging, and what I found out goes way back to WWII and a largely forgotten, very bad B movie.

Beyond going with the obvious fact that it’s fun to put members of the Third Reich back into the grave, to properly answer this question, I started with a black and white film called Revenge of the Zombies, released in 1943. The movie’s storyline includes a mad scientist who resurrects an army of dead nazi soldiers. Who knows if it was the tales of Hitler’s scientists doing supernatural experiments on humans that inspired this dark fantasy, but it was the first time nazi zombies were encountered through a popular medium, and since then hoards of them have flooded the current zeitgeist.

Decades after the release of Revenge of the Zombies, nazi zombies started cropping up left and right in movies like The Frozen Dead (1966), Shock Waves (1977), Dead Snow (2009), and other B-horror films over the years. New generations of filmmakers stumbled across the concept of the reanimated nazi and internalized it into their own work. Then in 1992, Wolfenstein 3D debuted and with it came the first wave of the nazi zombie video game virus. By the late 2000s, the infection had spread exponentially and there was a full-blown outbreak in the FPS scene.

At this point, it’s pretty much a nazi zombie pandemic, one that we’ve grown strangely comfortable with. Anyone who has been actively gaming over the last twenty years is all too familiar with the rise of the Call of Duty series’ immensely popular cooperative nazi zombie survival mode, and there are plenty of other examples, like the Sniper Elite series, the Zombie Army Trilogy, and even South Park: The Stick of Truth. And now, a new Wolfenstein entry and Zombie Army 4 are on the horizon, so it seems that there is no shortage of undead fascists to gun down and won’t be for the foreseeable future.

When, if ever, will this somewhat overused trope finally kick the bucket? Don’t get me wrong, games like Zombie Army 4 look entertaining, and I’m a fan of the zombie apocalypse genre in general, but something’s got to give. Just as a parting anecdote, at one point during Stick of Truth, the character Big Bad Government Guy says, “God dammit. I’m so tired of nazi zombies. It’s so overused,” and that mirrors my gut reaction to seeing so many nazi zombies at E3. There are already enough nazis in the world. So why keep reanimating them?

About author
Ross Howerton

Ross Howerton

Ross is a writer, educator, and performer who lives and works in NYC. When he's not doing any of the aforementioned activities, he's playing video games.

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