In the first two games, the survival or death of a civilian may alter the player's route through a chapter. Saving enough civilians at the end of a chapter grants life bonuses; if all are rescued, a secret room filled with life and point bonuses is entered prior to the final boss.
With humanity's collapse in The House of the Dead III, 4, and Special, civilians are absent. Instead, III features "Rescue Events" where a player must save his or her partner from zombies. Doing so grants a life bonus; successfully completing all "Rescue Events" opens a secret room with collectibles in the final stage.
In the original game, civilians are DBR Corporation researchers who worked for Dr. Roy Curien. Many left him because of his inhumane experiments and obsession with curing his terminally-ill son. Curien went mad, unleashing his test subjects upon remaining team members.
Researchers in peril are found throughout the first three chapters. If rescued, some give security cards to unlock different areas of Curien's mansion and laboratory.
The sequel involves the residents of Venice, Italy who are trapped in head of DBR Caleb Goldman's outbreak. Children, adults, and the elderly are encountered in the first five chapters.
The residents of Bayou City, Louisiana serve as civilians in Overkill.
The spin-off features only one civilian: Yoko, a girl who can be rescued from zombies in the first chapter. Her boyfriend was killed by the undead. Regardless if she lives or dies, Yoko yields a collectible fIoppy disc; if saved, she explains that it was given to her by "a man with golden eyes".
Yoko's fate determines the game's ending. If rescued, she is shown in the same warehouse she was found in, waiting impatiently for ZED to pay her. If killed, Yoko is depicted feeding on something -- presumably as a zombie -- and the screen cuts to black as she turns her head toward the camera.
- In SEGA Superstars Tennis, a House of the Dead-themed minigame involves killing zombies with tennis balls to clear the path for civilians.
- The House of the Dead 2 is currently the only game in the franchise to include children as civilians.