Lab of the dead | Opensource.com

Lab of the dead

Posted 28 Mar 2012 by 

Joseph Ottinger (Red Hat)
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Lab of the dead
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I’ve wasted a few hours finishing an odd game called “Lab of the Dead,” a game in which you play a scientist doing experiments on zombies in an attempt to find a cure for their condition. It’s an oddly amusing game, for various reasons, and if you’d like to play it, do so before reading too much – I’m going to mention the ending.

The game has subject matter warnings, mostly because you’re basically assaulting corpses. Some language, but nothing worse than you’d see on most television.

Basically, the story is this: Zombie Apocalypse! You’re a scientist in an underground bunker, with an endless supply of test subjects (i.e., former humans) with a largely self-assigned goal of determining a cure. To do so, you have various weapons, food supplies (for the zombies), and objects, with which you poke and prod and tempt the zombies to ascertain and develop their reactions.

As noted in “I Love New Words:” See those zombies over there? You should probably get away from them.

Along the way, you can research new items, as well as the subjects themselves (“this one likes candy,” along with some others). The items range from animals (dead and alive), weapons (chainsaws and crossbows, for example), and objects (guitars, stuffed bears, etc.).

Weapons are used to attack the zombie (with some attacks resulting in termination of the test subject). Many of the weapons yield permanent damage (which can affect how the zombie responds to other objects).

The weapons were amusing in a slightly horrific way. The game’s maturity level is affected by the constant (and often necessary) mutilation of the zombies; I found this rather disturbing, but the game makes clear that the zombies are dead; it’s supposed to be working with dead tissue that happens to respond, at that point.

And therein lies the amusement. The game’s basic premise is that you are basically applying behavioral psychology to zombies, in an attempt to find a cure for a weaponized virus.

It does not end well for anyone; at one point, lacking support from the military sponsors who are guarding you, you actually kill off everyone with you (which gives you more test subjects, naturally, as well as some other less savory things to work with.) Even after you’ve accomplished the game’s goals, you… basically give up, doing whatever you want until you decide to stop playing.

It’s pretty obvious from early on that this is the case. You’re the one scientist, using prior research that clearly lays out the viral nature of the zombies’ genesis. Your cure would rely in genetic engineering as well, or at least something to block the function of the virus that causes zombification.

Yet you’re using behavioral psychology! You’re saying, “given stimulus X, with this precondition, I will get result Y,” throughout the whole game. You can “teach” the zombies slightly, in that the results establish a pattern for the test subject (i.e., give it a doll enough and it plays with it appropriately), but at no point do the zombies indicate anything more than a very passing concept of past, future, or anything.

They’re basically reptilian brains: eat, eat, eat. Only when satiated do they really change behaviors. Regression is trivial; train it to play a drum, for example, then beat it with sticks, and its behavior goes back to raw aggression with no memory of knowing how to play a drum until you repeat the “training” by treating it nicely.

That said, it’s an amusing game. Not a fun one, as such, in that now that I’ve finished it I’m not likely to ever play it again, but I was curious as to whether the authors were going to decide Behaviorism was a way to “cure” zombies – and no, it wasn’t.

Originally posted on enigmastation.com and re-posted with permission.

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