I love running. It helps my anxiety and it keeps me in shape. Often, I come up with new blog posts when I run, or at least work through the problems of my day. Did I mention it helps my anxiety?
So it may seem strange that I also like to run to this crazy immersive game called Zombies, Run. It’s an app you can download and then listen to while you are running. I use it all the time. I turn on my music, and then at random bursts, zombies run after me and I have to go faster. In addition, I take on the role of “Runner 5” and get to hear from the communications center in Abel Township, where some of the remaining humans are barricaded away from the zombies. “Runner 5, we need you to go west for supplies,” I might hear on one run, “but avoid those zoms right behind you. Run!”
I laughed through much of the first episode, convinced it was a silly gimmick. But then, I got involved in the storyline. I rooted for the radio controller Mr. Yao and I secretly hated Runner 8. I worried about baby Molly and her mechanic father. I knew it was ridiculous to pretend to run away from zombies (even my kids made fun of me for it) but I found the story compelling, so I kept listening. (As a side note, for those of you who may be sensitive to it, there is usually gunfire in the episodes.)
In between the transmissions from Abel Township, my music pops back in and I run to that. I’ve been running to pop hits from the early 2000s lately, which is pretty funny, when I think about it. Because of course if there was a zombie apocalypse, I’d hope Nelly’s “Hot in Herre” would be preserved. (“It’s gettin’ hot in herre (so hot), so take off all your clothes…”)
All of this makes for a fun run in the morning, especially if I’m outside. I put on my headphones and enjoy the entertainment. Sometimes, there are long stretches of time where I simply listen to music and think about life. That’s nice too.
But Zombies, Run, isn’t just about running away from zombies. As I’ve listened to more of it, I’ve realized it’s a lot more complex. For me, the central question in the game that I’ve found compelling is this: What does it mean to keep living when someone you love has died? (Or, in this case, become a zombie?)
In Abel Township, survival is paramount, especially in the beginning. But as the series continues, the survivors start to wonder what it all means that they have survived and others have not. No one actually says this (at least not in the episodes I’ve listened to so far) so maybe it’s just what I think about when I ponder such an existential situation. How do we, as humans, make meaning of our lives when we lose someone dear? Yes, we may be able to outrun the metaphorical zombies, but is that really the end goal? Survival? Of course it’s not, even though I’ve written a lot about survival. But what about once the crisis is over, when the gates are up to keep the zombies out, or when you know that you’ll be able to cover the mortgage and unclog the drain? What about after that? How do we make meaning of our lives when the survival part becomes routine, and now we have to figure out what the hell comes next?
See, here’s the thing. The zombies are still out there in the world. The people of Abel Township spend much of each day dealing with them. But after a while, there’s room to start thinking about what life really means. Who are we when we wake up one day, and the world is completely different than it once was?
For me, and I think for many other widows, it’s a similar question: What does it mean to go on living, when the person who made life worth living is gone?
Zombies, Run doesn’t give me any answers. There’s just more questions, and a moment or two each episode when I have to flee from a hoard of zombies. But each time I finish my run, I think about how much I feel like the people of Abel Township. Scared and trapped, in many ways, but also trying to find my way back to a place where I can find both safety and meaning.
I guess like Runner 5, I’m just trying to find my way home.