It might sound odd to say that it was fanworks that got me into using a fitness app. Fan fiction and fan art are not the first thing that spring to mind when you think about fitness, even if plenty of fitness apps have dedicated communities. But fanworks are what got me into Zombies, Run!, and what kept me engaged during the long dark waits for the next season.
Zombies, Run! stands out because of its ability to serve both the fitness and fandom communities, allowing a level of crossover that is hard to find elsewhere. A thrilling narrative combined with a solid running app means it’s easy to find stories of people who were drawn in by the story finding themselves signing up for marathons, or hardcore runners suddenly feeling the need to share artwork of their own Runner 5.
You see this crossover in the Unoffical Zombies, Run! Facebook group. This fan-run community skews towards the fitness side of things; runners will find plenty of posts containing advice, people’s personal bests, and information about upcoming races. But it’s impossible to scroll through more than a few posts without stumbling across another side of fandom. Rubbing shoulders with a post about a runner’s first 5K will be someone asking whether a character from Zombies, Run! would approve of their running route. Underneath a happy photo of new running shoes, you’ll find someone’s post of ‘Notes Found on Abel Township’s Corkboard’. Artwork of characters, custom Zombies, Run! Playlists, themed medal holders – there’s a strong streak of creativity and engagement on display.
The fanworks-to-fitness ratio skews the other way when it comes to the other bastion of Zombies, Run! fandom: Tumblr. It’s hard to say exactly how much fanwork there is on Tumblr. The Unofficial Fanwork Archive which recorded everything from 2012 to 2016 has over 2500 links, so there could easily be over 4000 individual fanworks by now.
While most fanwork posts on the Facebook group tend to focus on a personal experience of being Runner 5, the Tumblr fandom delves into the world of Zombies, Run! in a different way. Runner 5 is still the most featured character in fanworks (inevitable with their status as the main ‘character’) but there is far more content starring the rest of the cast. For example, the characters who host Radio Abel – Jack and Eugene – each have nearly as many appearances in fanwork as Runner 5. There are plenty of fanworks which don’t include Runner 5 at all!
The fanworks cover a huge range of topics. You can see art that illustrates a scene from the app, or read about a world where Maxine and Sam are college students… or jaeger pilots in Pacific Rim. And far from being a solitary undertaking, the fandom has organised special events that have built a strong community and enduring friendships. For example, the Iron Zombies challenge, hosted on chat rooms, gave participants 90 minutes to create something based on a series of prompts, or to sit back and cheer on other people as they raced against the timer. Exchanges, such as the Secret Santa, are meticulously organised, with hours of work going into making sure participants are matched up.
Fandom’s creativity has not gone unnoticed! In the past, Six to Start have drawn from this talented pool – artist Kascha Sweeney drew fan art before becoming the company’s official artist, and a writer on Seasons 2-4, Andrea Klassen, wrote some exceptional Zombies, Run! Fan fiction.
And it isn’t restricted to fiction and art. The fantastic fan podcast, ‘Podcast Detected’, which I was involved with early on, has been running since 2014. It’s an eclectic mix of in-depth discussions, mission reviews, and the app’s place in a wider fandom community. Some episodes include interviews with fans, and with the cast and crew of the app itself. They’ve even recorded at a few special live events.
The NineWorlds Geekfest convention played host to Zombies, Run! panels for several years and featured writers, actors, and production staff. I have a special fondness for these since I was involved in organising them, just from love of the app. Attendees had the chance to hear stories from the soundbooth, the writers’ thoughts about what they’d like to do in future, and ask questions about the creation of the app. These and other meetups, such as the Zombies, Run! Live event in 2015, have provided a great opportunity for fans and creators to come together to celebrate the app and the fandom that they’ve created.
With so much on offer in the Zombies, Run! fan community, it’s easy to see why people keep coming back season after season. The winter blues can make it hard to even consider running at times, but the strong and creative community built up around Zombies, Run! is what keeps me waiting for the next time the gates of Abel Township are raised.
Here’s a list of places you can check out Zombies, Run! Fanworks:
- The Unofficial Zombies, Run! Facebook Group
- Archive of Zombies, Run! Fanworks
- Zombies, Run! on Archive Of Our Own
What are your favourite fanworks? Let us know on Twitter @zombiesrungame, or in the comments below!