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Yahoo Uses “Shambling Hordes” of Zombies to Teach Economic Theory

Zombies are the world’s most popular monsters right now. Yahoo is betting they can be used to teach adults basic economic theory.

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Although vampire partisans might debate it, zombies are likely the world’s most popular monster right now.
Zombie movies, television shows and books are big industries that
immerse the public in a dysfunctional environment filled with the
living dead. Now Yahoo is betting that zombies can be used to teach
adults basic economic theory.

Yahoo
Sandbox
, the internet giant’s research division, just released
the zombie-themed Shambling
Hordes
 for Halloween. The Flash-based game puts players into the roles of
warlords who control picturesque “shambling hordes” of zombies to capture
the castle of other users. The zombie hordes then, of
course, divide and multiply. In the process, basic elements of game
theory, classical economics and budget allocation are slipped in.

Programmers David Reiley and John
Morgan tied into a huge groundswell of zombie fascination for their
eduware. Fast Company recently
reported
on AMC’s new
The Walking Dead
television series. Cult-favorite book
World War Z
is being turned into a
Brad Pitt film
. Then there is everything from
28 Days
Later
to Shaun of the
Dead
to Zombieland.
Greater minds than ours have ruminated on the contemporary fascination on zombies; we don’t
know why, but zombies are just cool.

Reiley
has an extensive
background in economic theory
and Morgan, apart from his role as
a Yahoo research scientist, doubles
as an economics professor
. Shambling Hordes is one of Yahoo
Sandbox’s first edugames. Other prior projects include virtual
stock market Predictalot
, Flickr-based word
puzzle generator PhotoSoup
and the tech
wonk-oriented VideoTagGame
.

In the
case of Shambling Hordes, zombies are used as the medicine to slip in
genuine education about economic theory. The description provided by Yahoo is
rather simple:

“Build an army of zombies and battle other players
to claim your territories. Shambling Hordes is a game between two
players that takes place on a map of countries. Each player has a
home base where they can produce a number of zombies to form a team
in each round. The more zombies a player produces, the stronger their
army becomes. Players can challenge each other for control of a
territory through battle, in which they strategically distribute
their troops to beat their opponent. There is no random chance at all
in the outcome; Shambling Hordes is completely a game of skill.”

The game has an easy
learning curve; even without watching the tutorial, gamers can figure
out how to play within seconds. Shambling Hordes’ aesthetics owe much
to both the popular tower defense game Plants
vs. Zombies
and the host of Flash-based war strategy games.
Players come for the zombie wars and leave with hands-on
understanding of all the boring texts from college economics class.

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It is important to emphasize that
Shambling Hordes is located in Yahoo Sandbox and not in any of
Yahoo’s mass market gaming/entertainment portals. While the game is
primarily being aimed at the market of, well, technology bloggers and
internet researchers, Shambling Hordes could easily appeal to a
larger audience. The take-home lesson is simple: If you want to teach
economic theory to the public, just use horror movie trappings. It
works like a charm.