Zombie Types of Left 4 Dead: Mutation Explanations

Preface: Before the entry proper, some information. I mention in the About page that I wrote for a magazine. This was an article I wrote before the guy in charge canceled everything and imploded. Last I heard, no joke, he was living in the woods of BC, possibly fighting bears. 

The Left 4 Dead series is one of my absolute favorites. By playing these games, paying attention, and actually thinking a little, we get not only the visceral joy of shooting sick people, we also get the joy of seeing a superior alternate universe brought low. It’s the same joy people get from tabloids; the only thing better than seeing someone succeed is seeing that same person be brought down, not just to our levels, but further down. We create gods only to kill them later. And Left 4 Dead allows the gamer to participate in the murder, to a degree.

I wrote this article about a year ago for a magazine/website which went kaput before the article could be published. I still have rather conflicting feelings about it (“It was fun!” vs. “This magazine is terrible!”) but I never signed a contract or even made any sort of handshake deal regarding exclusivity. So, lucky you! Anyway, I’ve been a huge fan of zombies and their place in entertainment since I was quite young, the time of which hipsters refer to as “before they were cool.” Naturally, I found Left 4 Dead to be something worthwhile, and the idea of the varying mutations particularly captured my imagination, made only more interesting when the sequel was released. I thought I’d give a go at determining the reasons behind the mutations, even if they were originally only artistic flights of fancy.

Before I get into anything particularly scientific, I’d like to say that I am not very good at science. I passed Grade 12 Biology, generally considered the easy high school science, with a 54%. I also found out in this class that I had a fear of biology, especially after a paramecium, swear to God, looked at me. This experience chilled me to the bone. I blame an earlier head injury for the impaired scientific acumen. But I can sure sound like I know what I’m talking about, and thanks to the internet, I can probably make some decent points, or at the very least get you thinkin’!

The Common Horde:

These are the majority of the infected, and therefore, the least interesting. They prove that the world of Left 4 Dead is not our world, otherwise, the majority of the population would be Boomers (more on that later). Anyway, the infection is a mutated form of rabies, according to promotional materials from multiple sources, none of which I have actually seen, but the Left 4 Dead Wiki seems pretty sure of itself. One interesting bit of what is purely speculation on the part of the fans is that the virus only infects those without type “O” blood.  This would explain the small amount of survivors and the seeming immunity.  


As mentioned earlier, if the Left 4 Dead world reflected ours more normally, what with America’s obesity epidemic, there would be far more boomers scampering hither and fro. I believe that since this reality is not our own, the virus must react with the excess fat lipids in the obese. As all people have fat lipids, it must require an abundance of fat lipids to trigger the reaction. While it is true there is some excess bloating on the already large victims, as evidenced with the growths bursting through the surface layers of the skin, these victims were clearly already massive, as evidenced by their pants. This reaction involves the majority of the internal goo and organs, if not all of them, decomposing into liquids and gasses, as is what happens with normal decomposing bodies; coffins that have been sealed shut with a body inside WILL eventually burst. The compressed gas from the decomposition is the reason they have such a violent explosion when killed, as opposed to just a large pop and lots of oozing. The bile that they project is likely polluted with a variant strain of the infection that reacts with the skin or body heat of a survivor. This new reaction, as all players of the game know, then summons the common infected. Finally, as with the other uncommon infected, damage to the brain is lessened, as shown by their tactical approaches to dealings with the survivors.


My first instinct is to base my thinking on the name. I originally thought that if this was a different reality, possibly a healthier one, there’d be fewer smokers in addition to the reduced amount of the obese.  I had the idea that maybe the nicotine and other contaminants in the victim would react with the virus, mutating it as is seen. However, this doesn’t explain the height of the smoker. The smokers are mutated, but they are not made as tall as they are solely from the virus.  The evidence of this is, again, the clothes, which fit rather well. I now think that the virus reacts to higher than normal amount of pituitary whosiwhats in the victim’s blood or genes or whatever it is that would apply. This prompts the body to make the digestive system…spittable. The smoker is able to expel its innards and has enough control over them to constrict and drag the entangled unfortunate. The sequel makes this theory a bit more difficult to swallow, due to the presence of several tongues all over the body. I have heard of an alternative theory, again from fans, that when combined with the intestine speculation, may be the true answer.  This alternative theory is that the growths on the smoker’s face are a fungus, which might cause the growth of the extra tongues, and maybe even the primary tongue as well.  This fungus theory also would explain the smoke clouds (spores) released upon death.


Something I initially overlooked regarding the hunter is that it has the openings of its clothing taped shut. This is apparently done by those who practice parkour, in an attempt to reduce wind resistance.  I guess this would be important when jumping from roof to roof; too much wind and you don’t make the big jump, resulting in street pizza. This makes the hunter rather perplexing; with the lower brain functions of the infection, it seems very unlikely that a hunter would then seek out tape. Mother Nature doesn’t often take into account modern conveniences and inventions when evolving, naturally or forcibly. This would only leave the answer to this issue being that the clothes were taped down prior to infection. This again would help to put forth the idea of an alternate dimension that is healthier than ours, where parkour is much more popular in America than it is here and now, which it damn well should be since parkour is awesome. Anyway, the increased muscle mass in the legs is supplemented by the virus, creating the ability to pounce the great distances they do. I believe that this particular reaction may be due to muscle placement, adrenaline, and “an increase in lactic acid production, carbon dioxide output, rapid production and dissolution of ATP molecules, an increase in potassium,” as my friend Sarah explained to me.  Sarah finished Biology 12 at the top of her class, so I’m going to trust her.


The reasons for the spitter’s mutation are a little hazy for me. So far as I can tell this mutation only occurs in females with small guts and pigtails. There is nothing so far as I’m aware that would trigger this particular response in an infected individual, which makes me believe it may just be a seemingly random change, akin to an allergic reaction or a bad reaction to a flu shot. This mutation causes the spitter’s body to decrease the pH balance of the stomach acid, causing it to become more acidic.  The spitter then uses a heightened gag reflex to spit out balls of this acid through its highly eroded mouth.  Due to the fact that only the spit’s egress has any decay, the acid must have also been changed to react with the air around it, making it so the spitter doesn’t just instantly melt in upon itself.


I assume that due to the hunched nature of this type of infected, that some sort of spinal problem is the likely linchpin. The spine problem would be nothing like actual hunchbacks, but more like sciatica or some other sort of fairly common curvature of the spine, more or less unseen among the survivors. Muscle is amassed on the back, increasing the spinal curve and making their centre of balance more condensed, helping them in their attempts to steer their mount into danger after jumping on their backs. The hands and feet are also extended to aid in clinging to victims.


The most popular theory about chargers is that they are simply tanks that are only halfway through their mutation, or that some unknown occurrence during the change caused a complication.  I don’t think this is the case at all, due to the complete atrophy of one of the arms.  The fans have also put forth the theory that, due to the clothing, most chargers would have been farmers, explaining the bulking up of one arm; a farmer would only use one arm while cutting crops with a sickle.  This seems a little bit of a stretch to me, but it makes sense, so I will consider it truth.  The dominant arm is also armoured by scabs and tumours, and is used as a shield while charging survivors.


My thoughts on the tank are rather simple.  I believe that tanks were people who were using things like steroids.  The steroids and whatnot in the victim’s body cause a severe reaction, increasing muscle production to an absurd degree in the upper body.  The body is in such a hurry to create muscle, it even begins to absorb the head, with the lower jaw of a tank being almost completely encased in muscle. GTL, right?


The witches were, to me, one of the most difficult to pinpoint the particular mutations on.  Why the massive hatred of light and sound?  Why the attraction to the sugar mills?  Why the mood swings and the general apathy towards the uninfected that may be around her unless provoked?  I am rather proud of myself for figuring it out; witches were women with low blood sugar, or more technically called, hypoglycaemia.  The infection is a mutated form of rabies, which causes hydrophobia, making the infected unable to drink, even if they could get the gumption to do so.  The dehydration would cause a massive bad headache, so the witch would already be suffering from a headache.  The key symptoms that clicked for me with the diagnosis of hypoglycaemia are fatigue (her collapses in the dark), delirium, moodiness and crying in addition to headaches.  All of this combined, when taken into account with the attraction to the sugar mills in Left 4 Dead 2, to me, proves that witches were women with low blood sugar.

Thinking of all this, the world starts to make more sense, and the differences between worlds become that much more clear, making the experience that much more immersive. Looking back over what I’ve written, I feel I’ve done a fair job of describing this alternate world and their current pandemic.  Obviously, being an entry into the world of fiction, there will be people who disagree, and all power to them. Like Max Landis (or rather his father, John) says in his awesome video, ‘The Death and Return of Superman,’ “you kill a vampire anyway you want because vampires don’t fucking exist.” Same goes for zombies.

The series constructs a reality which was arguably better than ours that gets knocked down to being basically unlivable.  Obesity was less common, farmers still used scythes (awesome), and parkour had a fairly firm grip on the athletes of North America. Then, for seemingly no reason (always the best reason in a zombie film), everything goes to shit, and the majority of the world, presumably, flies into a rage. While the players clearly had nothing to do with why this world is dying, they are still a product of it. The uncommon infected could be seen, then, as a sign of hope for what could be called ‘the new society;’ they are the new ruling class, given abilities better suited to hunting their prey and navigating their world (they are all excellent climbers). The game takes the idea of the zombie (a human brought down, not just to death, but to a mockery of it) and puts it on a grander scale; a well-thought-out world.

Or maybe killing zombies is as timeless as fighting Nazis on the shores of Hoth.



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