I’ve never been a huge fan of zombies, but they seem to be as difficult to escape in popular culture as they are in the media they’re portrayed in. I just feel like, pardon the pun, they’ve been done to death. In all the years zombies have been around, the only real change-up has been that now some of them can run. Often, where gaming is concerned, I feel like they serve the same function as Nazis: an unambivalent enemy that you don’t have to feel bad about mowing down by the thousands. They’re suitably human enough to provide the cathartic experience of ending a digital life without having to feel guilty about killing actual people… or getting politicians on your back. So for all that I enjoy horror, I tend to avoid zombies.
Because of this, it might be surprising to say that zombies are actually helping me get in shape.
If you follow me on Twitter, you may have noticed some posts with #zombierun. Apparently the saying is true that there’s an app for everything, because there’s an app that actually makes running fun by following the #1 rule for surviving the zombie apocalypse: Cardio.
Zombies, Run! is an app available on both Android & iOS that gamifies getting into shape. I’ve written a little about gamification in the past when I talked about HabitRPG, an app that encourages people to complete tasks through systems you’d find in any RPG, like leveling up & gaining loot. “Gamification” is an idea that’s been growing in the past few years, & is essentially trying to translate the elements that make playing games enjoyable over to more productive pursuits. In simple terms, think of taking the frustratingly addicting elements from games like Farmville & using them to encourage people to actually get things done. You can probably think of lots of ways games reward us for playing. A narrative experience, the innate satisfaction that comes from improving our skill or levels, completing missions, gaining loot… all these things make us want to play more. You might be surprised to learn just how much psychology is behind game system design. Gamification is a concept with a lot of potential, & some serious hazards.
If you’re interested in learning more about it, I recommend checking out Extra Credit‘s channel.
Zombies, Run! takes all of these elements to encourage people to do something that most of us don’t find all that enjoyable; Running. Or cardio in general. The synopsis for the app is:
Run in the Real World.
Become a Hero in Another.
Only a few have survived the zombie epidemic. You are a Runner en-route to one of humanity’s last remaining outposts. They need your help to gather supplies, rescue survivors, and defend their home.
And you have another mission — one they don’t know about…
You are the hero. You are a character is this dystopian world. The way it works is pretty simple. You start-up the app & run, walk, jog, or whatever. As you move you’ll occasionally receive radio transmissions from your home base progressing the plot of whatever mission you’re on. You’ll also gather supplies as you run, which you use to build up your home base when you’re not on a run, taking on a bit of an RTS vibe. With those supplies, you can build up defenses, construct new facilities to keep everyone safe & happy, or even expand your territory. It’s like playing a game, but no one can try to guilt you into sitting on your butt all day.
I’ve been using the app for about two weeks now, & I really enjoy it. It’s the most polished, put-together app I’ve used. The writing & characters are engaging. It really makes me feel like I’m part of the story & what I do matters. There’s a nice variety to the missions. Not only are there story missions, but Supply Runs, Races, & Airdrops. You can even train for marathons. It’s actually made me want to exercise, which is amazing. As someone who exercises pretty regularly already, I’ll be the first to tell you it gets boring after a while. It’s never really been something I did because I enjoyed it so much as it was just something I knew I needed to do to stay healthy. But now I want to go for a run every day so I can just to build up my base.
I think it’s a great app for any level of fitness. You can go at your own pace. You don’t have to run if you don’t want… unless you’re being chased by zombies.
That’s another cool feature is that you can set it up to have chases during your missions, where you have to keep a certain pace to stay ahead of a zombie “horde.” Just on the normal setting, it’s not a long run, but it’s pretty exciting. It even plays zombie sounds in your headphones so you know how close the zombies are. And if you get caught, you lose supplies.
The only drawback I can see is that, rather than a one-time purchase, it’s a subscription-based app. You can get the app for free, & have access to pretty much everything. The only modes you have to pay for are Airdrop & Interval Training. I also think the free version caps the number of supplies you can pick up on a run. But, given the amount of work that has to go in to an app like this, & that they’re always adding new features (they just released the first two missions for Season 5), I think it’s fair. I’ll probably end up subscribing to support the developers, which will make it the only app I’ve ever paid for. So that really says something about the quality.
If this has piqued your interest, you can check out the site at zombiesrungame.com. So if you’re one of those people who said the only time you’d ever run is if a zombie were chasing you, now’s your time.