The Zombie Game Diet: a Tale of Grilled Cheese & Cola

grilled cheese ZombieThere are zombies in my house.

Not actual zombies, mind you, but the blood-less kind on computers screens deftly out-maneuvered by my resident teens and tween. It may seem strange, but I’ve come to enjoy the presence of these video-game zombies in my living room, as well as all the nonsensical hilarity such entertainment brings with it.

As I sat–placidly hemming a set of linen dinner napkins–last night, I happened to overhear a string of sentences emanating from a corner of our living room.

“Do you have any more grilled cheese sandwiches?”, my sixteen-year-old son asked of his younger sister.

“Nope,” Eleven replied. “But, I have four bottles of cola.”

My interest was piqued. Casually, I rolled my chair over and made inquires about the variety of zombie-game foodstuffs that the average survivor might come across in that cartoon-ish realm. While searching the dark corridors of an abandoned structure, my son assured me that a remarkable number of the fatty, dairy-rich sandwiches could be found strewn about the otherwise ruinous landscape.

My theory that they fell from the sky was met with scorn.

“No, they just spawn,” Sixteen informed me. “Like the bandages and ammo. But, sometimes you can get food from animals. See, I just killed this wolf and I got… venison.”

My son’s puzzled expression mirrored my own at this very strange turn of events. Eleven had her own theory.

“Maybe the wolf ate the deer,” said she, “and then, when you killed the wolf, you got what it ate.”

It sounded plausible, but none of us fancied the idea of eating deer already consumed by a predator (Sixteen has, after all, been studying bacteria in Biology) but more than that, we all doubted that said meat would be quite as whole post-chewing as it appeared in the character’s inventory. There was a unanimous feeling of gratitude among all present that the wolf had not eaten any fellow survivors.

As my children’s gaming counterparts plodded from one empty village after another, they found no end of candy bars, sandwiches and sodas, water bottles and sports drinks among the piles of brick and wood, seeded with the odd can of beans… or SPAM.

“Mom,” Eleven said. “What’s SPAM?”

“Compressed pig parts, I think,” I told her. “I’ve never had to eat it.” (Personally, I may prefer the previously-gnawed venison to SPAM, but I digress.)

The limited sustenance aside, the abstract nature of the zombie game continued, highlighted by the nearly-endless ‘slots in a given character’s inventory, a phenomena apparently ‘balanced out’ by the completely random order by which objects are found.

“Huh,” Sixteen wondered aloud. “How did I end up with $1,000, binoculars and a bedroom window in my hand?” I wondered that as well, but it seemed a happy problem to have.

Eventually, I penetrated the point of this game: to gather as many items with which to make and strengthen both bases and vehicles, with the aim of going even farther afield in search of more consumables. “Infected” items were to be avoided, a parting gift from slain zombies of yore.

True to the game’s name, the half-dead (un-dead?) creatures roamed the land, popping up now and again–favoring shadow corners to the point of tedium–and dressed in the most fashionable attire, complete with pricey rips and ‘distressing’ once . complete with their own funny noise… like a cat trying to imitate a bear by gargling Epsom salts.

Try as they might to invoke fear, the characters would have none of it, and for good reason. The zombie were easily dealt with by the swift smite of a stick, or a precious bullet from one of the abundant firearms laying in the corners of nearly every dark room. In a fun twist of irony, the rifles and handguns were often located in a entirely different area of the map than their particular type of ammunition. The only real zombie threat  was in large numbers.

“A zombie got me,” Eleven lamented. “But, don’t worry… I didn’t have anything on me but some money and a pair of pants.” Her character re-spawned and the game continued.

As I sewed, I made a mental note to have another talk with the youngest about the concept of Death and its inherent reality… one of many such talks I’ve had with my kids over the years. I was comforted by the notion that they enjoy playing these rather harmless game with each other, comfortable to play with earshot of Mom. I listened them laugh uproariously as their fictional helicopter glitched through a building and came to rest, half-buried in the ground.

“At least no one can steal it now,” Sixteen said, with immense satisfaction. Eleven agreed. They hurriedly picked up their scattered treasures from the wreckage: a golf club, a can of tomato soup, plate armor, a blimp (yes the Hindenburg kind) and a pair of socks.

This zombie virus must be infectious… for now I, too, crave grilled cheese and cola.

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The War for Our Time: Video VS Print

knight-joust-smaller

We’ve all done it… clicked on a YouTube video to watch some news clip or interesting how-to and looked up to find 2 hours have vanished. It seems more American consumers than ever are spending their free time browsing the Internet and watching online videos. Many an hour of missing writing can be laid squarely on my own fingers clicking on the well-worn buttons of my marble mouse.

I find it interesting that some publishing research firms continue to put out statistical reports that display rather rosy forecasts for the book industry, indicating anything from ‘the majority of Americans are reading more print books’ to the idea that ‘more young people are reading books–in any form—than did so in recent years’.

The wording of such reports seems simultaneously uplifting, hopeful and insistent… indeed, to the point where it awoke a frank feeling of suspicion in me last week. There was no comparison in the statistics of the time spent reading verses the time spent online watching videos, online shopping, news watching, movies, internet browsing… a.k.a. not reading books.

As an eBook author, I am very interested in whether online consumers are doing less reading and more YouTubing/Facebooking/Amazoning/Googling (not discounting other sites) whether for entertainment or educational reasons. I set upon a week-long quest to find as much data–on that subject–as I could.

Unfortunately for the book industry–and entertainment authors in general–I found several sets of rather alarming statistics about video consumption, for free.

According to a 2015 article from Psychology Today, the average consumer with an Internet connection watches roughly 206 videos per month (a number which might be arguably higher for 2016) while a Pew Research report states that 73% of Americans read “a book per year”… as in one (1) book, per year.

The science behind these kind of numbers largely boils down to efficiency: the brain processes video 60,000 times faster than it processes text. Video has another seemingly unfair advantage over text, being it is far more adept at connecting with human emotions than the ‘work’ or reading.

“When we read something,” Liraz Margalit, Ph.D. wrote in this article “we are actively involved in processing the information in front us. Our cognitive processors are working hard. But while reading is all about thinking, video is better at getting us to feel.”

This emotional connection—per some studies–is proven to lead to higher awareness and conversion.

According to their website, YouTube reaches more 18-34 and 18-49 year-olds than any cable network in the U.S.

  • In 2015 two-thirds of Americans owned & used a smartphone
  • According to their site, more than half of YouTube views come from mobile devices

·      In Jan. 2016, Facebook announced users watch 00 million hours of video a day

·      In Feb. 2016, Google CEO, Sundar Pichai, reminded investors that YouTube’s audience watches hundreds of millions of hours of video daily

Since 2012, YouTube has measured its performance in terms of “hours watched,” not video views. As of 2016, Facebook now also refers to the “hours watched” metric, which is good considering Facebook counts a video “view” as a minimum of 3 seconds, verse YouTube’s minimum of 30.

Consumers seem to prefer video, too. According to Cisco Forecast, video will represent 69% of all consumer-based Internet traffic by 2017; this is expected to rise to 80% by 2019. Another study from Business Insider estimates that video advertising will account for 41% of total desktop display-related spending in 2020 in the US.

Digital marking firm Invodo says this on its website: “Marketers who use video grow revenue 49% faster than non-video users.” (Aberdeen via Vidyard, 2015)

My own consumer-driven experiences online seem to back up the video data: as an Amazon customer, I’ve noted a marked increase in videos being added to various consumer products–like women’s fashion–showing a model genteelly sashaying around in front of a white backdrop; that particular kind of video, however, gums up my processor speed, forcing me to click on a static image. Processor speeds aside, the idea itself has merit; it is kind of nice to see how a dress looks on a real person, verses a mannequin (if one can get past the ideal proportions of either display method) and I have purchased camera equipment based on the promotional video showing its capabilities.

Tying this in with internet consumerism, the entertainment aspect of writing these days seems more tied to video representation, with growing numbers of authors using sleek, movie-like ‘book trailers’ to hock their printed wares.

Even though it seems odd to reply on video to sell books, digital or print, it’s easy to see why authors have leaped into the video fray with statistics like these:

·      Readers are 64% more likely to purchase your book if they see a book trailer that effectively promotes your book. (Source: ComScore)

·      Authors who use book trailer video in email campaigns can experience Open Rates [increases] from 19% to 300%! (Source: Forrester Research)

·      92% of mobile video viewers share videos with others. (Source: Invodo)

·      Unbounce reports that using videos on landing pages raises conversion rates by up to 80%

But, apparently just posting a free video on YouTube or Facebook isn’t good enough to garner book sales anymore. One must seek out where their potential customers are hanging out online (data that is not free) and buy pricey ad-space for their video on said pages/sites to appeal directly to browsing consumer, competing with a glut of other writers/businesses/news outlets wanting the same space(s).

The irony of writing this piece is not lost on me. I post it knowing–full well–that it will not be read nearly as many times as a 6-second funny cat video will be seen on Vine but that merely makes the data I posted here all the more relevant.

This data has taught me one thing over the last year: all per-conceived ideas about marketing must eventually must concede to the facts. Earlier this year, our book company morphed itself from print only to including visual media, starting a photography & photojournalism business that has garnered worldwide attention.

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L. R. Styles is an author with Belator Books and a photographer for Belator Media

The Waltz

dancing_20052_mdA few, simple notes dance

Atop a bed of chords

How well each layer pairs

How moved am I to hear

Though my energy be gone

Though my tired limbs be stayed

I wish nothing more than

To rise and join the dance

The music–in me–stirs

Its notes pour in like balm

Oh, it fills the cracks in me

Oh, my soul sings harmony

Once more I play the song

Once more I sway and sing

Happiness within me grows

Loneliness never stirs


L. R. Styles is an author with Belator Books