Thursday, February 12, 2015

Why does no one in zombie fiction assume body armor?

For some reason zombie fiction always seems to take place in settings that are so wholly unlike the real world that no one knows about zombies.  The Resident Evil game franchise, which I've been looking back at recently, doesn't.  People are quick to point out that there are zombies and monsters.

But it still has a lack of people picking up on the fact that shooting the zombies in the head is the way to go.  The occasional character will pick up on it (or at least say they have), but usually one who has plot reasons to know more about the zombies than ordinary characters.  Otherwise, even when shots to the body demonstrably don't work very quickly and shots to the head are one bullet and done, the characters keep on aiming at the chest.  This might make sense if they were horrible shots (no amount of aiming at the head and missing is going to stop a zombie while enough shots to the chest will stop a Resident Evil zombie, so if you're a bad shot go for the bigger target) but some of them are excellent shots and they still don't favor headshots.

But back to general zombie fiction.

Bad people are coming to do bad things and you've reached the point of lethal force.  You fire a shot into the person's chest.  Either they don't even fall, or they get back up again after falling.  After you've shot them.  At this point zombie fiction usually expects us to believe that you'll be confused and unsure of what to do next.

I quote Wash: "What about his face?  Is his face wearing armor?"

The local police force might not be willing to make the leap to realizing that the evil crowd advancing upon them is made up of the walking dead, but after shooting people repeatedly in the body didn't stop them, wouldn't they at least consider the possibility that they should aim for the one place they know doesn't have concealed body armor shielding it?

Yes, zombie fiction, for reasons that defy explanation, takes place in a world with no zombie fiction (it's why Jaws was set in a world where no one had ever heard of sharks-- oh, wait...), but it seems like well before people reach the conclusion, "Dead people are walking around and biting living people," they should reach the conclusion, "Aim for the head."

Yet I can think of no instance where someone said, "They must be wearing body armor, aim for the head," in a zombie movie or game.  I have not actually read zombie books.


  1. Where zombie fiction is imitative, it tends to push the "normal person in horrible situation" model, and most normal people in the 1970s didn't think about body armour. What's needed, I think, is a willingness to step away from the classic tropes and try to do something interesting - who are these people, how do they think about things?

    1. But the thing is, normal people tend to have a much more... for lack of a better term magical understanding of body armor than trained professionals.

      In real life armor that can stop bullets is getting more effective and less bulky, but it still doesn't come close to the popular conception of a bulletproof vest that will protect you from anything and can be worn under any clothing without giving the slightest hint it might be there.

      An expert might look at a zombie and be confused because no ship that small could have a cloaking device-- shit, switched genres mid apocalypse let's try again: because there's no way the shot person could be hiding body armor under that t-shirt, but an untrained person who knows of body armor only via pop-culture osmosis would think, "Bullet proof vest," and move on without much difficulty.

  2. That's a really good point. And people are really good at picking up on patterns - it's part of being an animal - so you should expect them subconsciously to start aiming for the head if nothing else.

    On which note: it shouldn't take long for hand-to-hand fighters to be focusing their attacks on the most vulnerable parts of the skull. I think that one filmmakers tend to get right by accident, though.

  3. Well, and if you're law enforcement, and you have a hostile crowd which doesn't react to tasers, or tear gas, or to being shot in the chest, isn't that about the point where you start shooting the legs out from under them?