A few months ago, I wrote my very first gaming column. It was filled with innocence and whimsy. That's because I wrote it before my full-blown Left 4 Dead addiction kicked in. For those of you who don't know, the Left 4 Dead series allows you to assume the identity of one of four characters, killing zombies in an overrun city, swamp, mall, amusement park ... until you make it to safety. More importantly, since it came into my life, I've been a quivering zombie-killing junkie. And I'm jonesing for the rumored third installment -- although in my day, if you wanted to make a video game sequel, you had to add breasts. (Or at least a red ribbon.)
Even more bizarre? I don't even play online. I'm so busy these days that I just find like 20 minutes here or there. One level before bed, a break while paying bills, whatever I can manage. I simply don't have the time to call up a bunch of friends to get online and play a full collaborative game. (Or friends.) So yes, I'm addicted to Left 4 Dead even though I'm using the game's virtual teammates to help me play.
I can hear you now: "Why?"
Well, it looks cool, and it's fun, and it's violent, and, y'know, zombies.
Then I can hear you say: "No, I mean, why are you telling us this, old man? What's your point?"
Oh, my point is, Left 4 Dead has done more than entertain me; it's taught me about life. There are many valuable lessons in its code, all there for the taking, and I'm going to explain them all to you right now so I can pretend I'm not wasting my life playing video games in my basement.
One of the cool things about Left 4 Dead is that it features a variety of zombies. And some of them, or indeed most of them, make no damn sense. But that's part of the fun. One of the zombies is referred to as a Witch. She looks like this:
Not Fiona Apple.
Here's the thing about the Witch. All she wants to do is sit alone and cry. If you don't go near her, she won't hurt you. Step too close, however, and she will literally tear your fucking eyes out. Sorta like this:
The Witch is a lot like that hot-but-borderline-anorexic chick from your freshman dorm. The one you'll get an instant crush on during orientation, but then one day, in the middle of the semester, you'll notice she hasn't bathed or changed clothes for three days. Her room is a mess of cigarette butts and uneaten pizza, and like the Witch in Left 4 Dead, she will absolutely destroy you. You need to stay away.
There is no way to help the Witch. It's also almost impossible to put her out of her misery quickly before she drags you down and reduces you to a bloody lifeless corpse.
LIFE LESSON: Stay away from crazy bitches.
As I'll discuss further below, Left 4 Dead, much like life itself, values a little bit of pragmatic cowardice. Most of the time, however, Left 4 Dead will punish you for being a pure coward. The best example of this is the zombie known as Tank. Why do they call him Tank? Well, because they'd be sued for copyright infringement if they called him what he really is: Zombie Hulk.
"Hulk Smash. I mean, Tank Smash. I mean, braaaaaaaaaaaaaaainnnnnnnnns."
It takes a team to bring down Tank. If you take him on alone, you will die. If you simply run away and let your teammates deal with him, most of the time you will die. In the beginning of the first Left 4 Dead game, there is a little explanatory vignette. Tank comes hauling ass, flipping cars and grunting. The four startled characters back away slowly, asking "Run or shoot? Run. Or. SHOOT?!" And the wise advice given by the old Vietnam vet is "BOTH!"
The best way to take down Tank is to run the hell away from him while still pumping him with bullets.
LIFE LESSON: Run away from trouble, but don't turn your back on it. Some problems are too big to face head on, alone. You need the help of friends, and you need to break it down in pieces. It's OK to take a few steps back, as long as you're still taking steps to move forward with a solution.
So just going by Left 4 Dead and Left 4 Dead 2, there are a whole host of special attacks that can kill you besides just ordinary zombies. There are:
Boomers that puke on you and bring on an infestation;
Smokers who constrict you with insanely long tongues;
Tanks that beat you to death;
Witches that murderously claw you;
Hunters that move like Spider-Man and kill you;
Spitters that spew acid;
Chargers who are like half-Tanks that pummel you; and
Jockeys who ride you to your death.
Yeah, the Jockey zombie is just as ridiculous and stupid and awesome as it sounds.
And the thing is, each of these vehicles of death has either sound effects or theme music (or both). You get some heads up that trouble is coming. Boomers make gross vomity noises, Hunters growl like tigers, Jockeys giggle like frat boys on nitrous. If you're paying attention, you can prepare for trouble before it finds you. I like to squat when a Jockey's coming; I start firing whenever I hear a Hunter, even if I can't see him; and I proactively shit my pants the instant I hear a Witch crying.
LIFE LESSON: In life, there is an endless variety of things coming your way for the sole purpose of fucking you up, but if you're alert to your surroundings, your chances of defeating them are greatly increased.