by Chris O’Neal

Zombies, Run!    
$1.99 for app, limited
free to play, $20 yearly

Keen-eyed readers of Gamer’s Notebook may have spotted me as I’ve chugged along downtown, trying to work off all of the doughnuts I’ve consumed over my lifetime. I don’t run very fast, but I make up for it in distance for one reason: Zombies, Run! 

Ooh, more zombies — when will it end? From The Walking Dead to Left 4 Dead to the 2016 elections (technically the brain dead), zombies have inundated our every medium. But you want more, right? Right?! 

This episodic “game” features you as Runner 5, the silent protagonist gathering supplies and literally running tactical missions for a small town of survivors living in Abel Township. The goal of the game is to run, though how quickly or how far you do is entirely up to you . . . for the most part.

The game, co-developed by English developers Six to Start and novelist Naomi Alderman, and launched in 2012, is one of many products in the school of gamification — the act of adding elements of a video game to everyday tasks. So-called “exergaming” (exercise plus gaming) has motivated people like me to attempt to power up in real life. 

I began running in October of last year using Six to Start’s couch-to-5K program, set in the same Zombies, Run! universe, as an introduction to running as a hobby. It’s an eight-week walk/run regimen ending with your very first 5K (about 3.1 miles) run. 

In February, I picked up the full version of the app and began plowing through season 1’s 23 episodes. The official story is on season 5 (and Six to Start is releasing two episodes weekly), so think of it as binge-watching a series on Netflix — only instead of sitting in front of the television, you’re outdoors. Spooky, I know.

The app (for both iOS and Android) is simple. Put on your running gear, plug in your headphones and press start. The app will track your progress via GPS. You can play your music or podcasts as you run, and the app will interrupt every once in a while with updates, kind of how Orson Welles spread mass panic via War of the Worlds in 1938. 

The story begins like many zombie stories — with an accident. You, the unnamed, survive a fiery helicopter crash. A mysterious voice then guides you to Abel. This person, Sam Yao, becomes your all-seeing eye, guiding you through the zombie-infested world on missions alongside a colorful cast of mostly English survivors.

The selling point of Zombies, Run! is its quality. The voice-acting is top-notch, brimming with personality; and the world-building is exemplary. There’s a minigame in which you can build your own Abel within the app, and components are unlocked as you complete more episodes. My only complaint is that instead of affecting your environment, you are merely running a linear path toward completion, with both good and bad happening regardless of your actions. The story is compelling, however, and when the immortal Professor Van Ark is addressing you directly, you find yourself running a little more quickly. 

If the point is to motivate an otherwise decidedly unmotivated person to get up and get active, Zombies, Run! has been a raging success for me personally. Compared to the last season of The Walking Dead, the drama in Abel Township is Shakespearean. F

Please don’t yell at Chris O’Neal from your vehicle while he is running. Follow him on Instagram @atchrisoneal.