The New Running Game Where 'Zombies' Chase You

Feb 19, 2012
Originally published on February 20, 2012 11:03 am

The new iPhone app called "Zombies, RUN!" is not your standard running game.

It's designed to encourage folks, such as say, video gamers, who aren't usually associated with exercise to take up running.

British writer Naomi Alderman, who is a gamer herself as well as an Orange-award winning novelist, came up with the idea for "Zombies, RUN!" while in a class for amateur runners she tells weekends on All Things Considered guest host Mary-Louise Kelly.

"The start of the course they said to us, "Why do you want to learn how to run?" and one woman said, "I want to be able to out run the zombie hoarde," Alderman explains. "Then I thought, 'Ahh, this would be a good idea for a game.'"

In 2011, Alderman teamed up with the games studio Six to Start in London to brainstorm around the idea. They launched a Kickstarter page in September to gain support for their project. Their original goal was $12,500 but by the time the fundraising ended they'd raised $72,627 making it the biggest video game project on Kickstarter in 2011. "Zombies, RUN!" will be available for download February 27th.

The premise of "Zombies, RUN!" is simple: you are "Runner 5" set out on a mission to collect supplies and accomplish different objectives in a post-apocalyptic world. The app takes you through 13 audio missions, all which feature an ongoing story that you are an active part of and that involves the occasional zombie chase.

And what happens if the zombies catch you?

"The first time they catch you it's just gonna say "The zombie has caught you," but after a number of times that they catch you then you have failed this mission and you have to start the mission again which means more running so, you know, good for your heart," Alderman says, laughing.

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I have just walked outside the main NPR headquarters building, and we're in downtown D.C. It is a bright, clear day. I've just laced up my sneakers because I'm about to get chased by zombies. All right. Now, this is a new game. We're going to test it out here. And I've got a button here, start mission. All right. Here we go.

NAOMI ALDERMAN: So you'll see the township as we look around. Not much more than a few fences to keep the zoms out.

KELLY: All right. So I'm not sure which is going to be the bigger danger here: getting caught by the zombies or the traffic that's heading my way from that (unintelligible). Let's pick it up.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Listen, if you're alive, if there's anyone alive...

KELLY: Oh, yeah. I'm alive.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: ...this is Sam Yeow(ph) from Able township. You've come down in a nest of hostiles.

KELLY: Hostiles.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Unintelligible) They're coming. There are 30 - oh, no, 40.

KELLY: Oh, dear. That does not sound good.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Your next path is towards the tower.

KELLY: The tower.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: You should be able to see that from where you are.

KELLY: I see a safeway.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: If you are right there, just run.

KELLY: I see Chipotle.


KELLY: Right. I'm running. I'm running. I'm running.


KELLY: So happily, I did manage to outrun the zombies - that time - and live to tell the tale. It is all part of a new running game called "Zombies, RUN!" and it's designed to encourage folks to exercise. The game is the brainchild of British writer Naomi Alderman, and she says the idea came to her when she signed up for a class for amateur runners.

ALDERMAN: The start of the course, they said to us, why do you want to learn how to run? And one woman said, I want to be able to outrun the zombie horde. Then I thought, ah, this would be a good idea for a game.

KELLY: Well, I got a little bit of a taste of it this morning. I was doing laps around the NPR building. And I was very focused on not getting caught by the zombies, but I gather I was also supposed to be on some sort of mission collecting things. Explain to us how this game works.

ALDERMAN: So the idea is you are one of five. You come from a small base, the last shivering remnant of humanity. You have to go out running, or you can do it by walking - we want to be open to people of all fitness levels - you have to go out to collect supplies for your base.

So as you're going, it goes, bing, you've got some toilet paper. Bing, you've got some bottled water. And when you get back home on your phone, you'll see, OK, you picked up seven batteries, allot them to a difference place in the base. So that gives every run that feeling of, I'm doing something important. I'm growing my base.

There's also an ongoing story where at some point somebody will say to you, runner five, runner five, there's a child stuck in no man's land. Run, run, run to get there before the zombies come. (Makes noise)

KELLY: So these are all these voices that I was hearing as I was running, giving me specific instructions and speed up and slow down. And I have to admit, I mean, you know, it gets you moving. I think I managed to complete level one.


KELLY: But if you stick with it, you're going to go through various levels and keep getting different assignments, but they're all going to involve trying to get away from the zombies. Is that right?

ALDERMAN: They are.

KELLY: Now, one thing I was worried about was, yeah, I'm running my fastest, but I don't know if these zombies are sub-six minute milers or what.


ALDERMAN: They're hunting with the speed of zombies. Basically, we have something that is called hardcore mode, where if you switch it on, then, yeah, the zombies are going to chase you, but you can also turn off hardcore mode. And then there's also a different story.

KELLY: Yeah, I was definitely not in hardcore mode.


KELLY: I was in still need my coffee mode.

ALDERMAN: Excellent.

KELLY: I was a bit worried before I went out and actually did it how you do a game just through a narrative. Now, you know, no images that you're looking at here.

ALDERMAN: Yeah. That was very important to us because there are other sort of running games that might, like, put some kind of monster in your path, but you have to be looking at the screen in order to see it. And we're just like, this is not safe. So that was where we started. We started with the idea that we wanted to do something where it was all audio.

And I would say also, if you have the hardcore mode on where zombies are going to catch you, we very strongly advise you not to do it in traffic.

KELLY: Not to do it. That was my fatal error, near-fatal error, I should say...


KELLY: I was out testing it. Now, I did manage not to get caught by the zombies. Tell me exactly what happens if they catch you.

ALDERMAN: Well, the first time they catch you, it's just going to say, the zombie has caught you. But after a number of times they catch you, then you have failed this mission. You have to start the mission again...

KELLY: Oh, dear.

ALDERMAN: ...which means more running, so it's good for your heart.


KELLY: Which is the whole point here anyway, so there you go.

ALDERMAN: Well, exactly.

KELLY: That's writer Naomi Alderman. She writes a weekly column on games and technology for the Guardian newspaper, and she created the new game "Zombies, RUN!" The app is out for the iPhone February 27th. Naomi, thanks for a great workout.

ALDERMAN: Great talking to you.


WEDNESDAY 13: (Singing) I walked with a zombie. I walked with a zombie. I walked with a zombie last night. I walked with a zombie. I walked... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.