Rise of the Resistance: A Tale of Extreme Tag
“We’re never truly safe, and since we’re not safe, let’s have fun.”
- Chris Weed, creator of Humans versus Zombies
Adrenaline, fear, and that wonderful high a person gets from having dangerous fun, exhilaration or euphoria you suppose, courses through your veins, giving speed to your pounding feet. You are running for your life, or at least that is what it feels like, being chased by a member of the mobile deceased. Yes, a Zombie. A nerf blaster beats against your back to the rhythm of your tennis shoes smacking the ground and a cool breeze chills the tiny bead of sweat that had started running down your face. You are very nearly tunnel–visioned on the path before you, on escape, on the patter of feet behind you; are they speeding up? However, you still hear the toll of the bells from the library, really just a projection from a speaker system, but it’s nice to pretend there are real bells, right? The chimes indicate that it just turned seven- p.m. that is; only thirty minutes until cease–fire, then you’ll be safe. A smile crosses your face; you can make it, they will not catch you today.
History and Rules
This scene would be a typical occurrence for a member of the massively popular game, Humans versus Zombies. This intricate game of tag, often shortened to HvZ, was first invented at Goucher College in Baltimore, Maryland in 2005, but has spread to every continent (excluding Antarctica of course) thanks to their wonderful website, Humansversuszombies.com. According to this website, Humans versus Zombies is played at over 650 colleges/universities around the world, including our very own Georgia Southern University. Not only is this game played at colleges, but also high schools, military bases, and in very special cases, public libraries.
Humans vs. Zombies is a campus organization with one main event. This event is a week or two long survival game with two teams, namely, Humans and Zombies. Most of the organizations’ meetings and events happen during this game. Players are distinguished from other college students by the bandanas they wear, and teams are partitioned by the position of the bandana. Humans wear the bandana on their arms, while Zombies wear the bandana around their head. The event usually occurs once every semester, but in some cases, it happens twice. The goals for the teams are rather common sense: Humans survive as long as they can and Zombies try to convert as many Humans as possible. The game ends with the final mission, where all the remaining Humans try to reach the “safe house.”
Every other night or so, the players participate in “missions”. During the missions, the Humans and Zombies each have their own objectives and there is usually a theme. The objectives are usually securing “resources” from around campus or securing a “habitable spot” or a “safe–zone.” Often times, the Zombies’ objective is merely to stop the Humans from reaching their objective. A mission is usually one or two hours and if the team completes their mission they usually gain an advantage, such as an additional safe–zone.
A safe zone is a place where a Human can stay and not have to worry about being tagged by a Zombie. However, safe zones can be double-edged swords because Zombies are allowed to horde outside of these places, making it hard to escape from, the minute the Human leaves the safe zone. For any Humans versus Zombies game (excluding the special case of the libraries) the interior of buildings and right beneath awnings are safe zones. At Georgia Southern, the rotunda between Foy and the Russell Union is the special safe zone for Humans.
The rotunda is the often considered the home base for the Humans and a safe spot, but only as long as they can stop the Zombies from invading. Usually when the Humans complete their first mission, the rotunda becomes theirs; however, if the Zombies also complete their mission, they gain the ability to take back the rotunda and cause it to lose its safe zone status.
In order for the Zombies to take the rotunda back, several conditions must be met. A certain number of Zombies must be in the rotunda, one for each pillar that holds up the rotunda. Each Zombie must press their hands against a column, as if pushing it down. When each pillar is being pressed against, at least one more Zombie must run into the middle of the rotunda. However, if a single Human is in the rotunda during any of this, the Zombies cannot take the base. If the Zombies manage to complete all the conditions without any Humans stopping them, then the safe zone becomes instead, a danger zone, and the Humans lose their base. It should be noted that losing their base does not cause the game to be over; Humans can still survive without the Rotunda.
It’s A Trap
Still running, still smiling, you take a quick glance behind you, to make sure that only the one Zombie followed you. You are pretty sure it is just the one; you only hear two sets of running feet: yours and his. A quick glance confirms that. The other two Zombies must have stayed back at Lakeside, Georgia Southern’s secondary Dining Hall. You roll your eyes at your own absurdity, if you had not craved that quesadilla, you never would have gotten into the situation in the first place.
For any student on the campus with a dining plan, Lakeside is the preferable place to eat. Its lovely view of the two small lakes of the Georgia Southern campus provides a nice place to sit and contemplate while eating your meal. The building stands out among the others around it, with its large glass windows, UFO-shaped top, and clean, new look. The building was only recently constructed, and when it was, they only created one main exit. Normally, this would not be a problem, but for people playing Humans versus Zombies, it causes this building to become a death trap.
This “state of the art” building on Georgia Southern’s campus boasts a whopping two stories. It was constructed with a grand total of one main exit, two staircases, and two fire exits. The changes in types of seating, from tables to booths, and the modern architecture, with all of its open spaces, yet seemingly separate zones, provides plenty of hiding places for Zombies and Humans alike.
The large windows that make up many of the walls of the building and the wide entrance, provide ideal look–out spots for Humans to spot and keep an eye out for Zombies. However, as this is the more popular of the dining commons and has only one exit that is easy to ambush, Zombies tend to horde around it.
However, Lakeside is not the only so–called “death trap” on campus. The Dining Commons, formerly known as Landrum, is one of the other major trap areas, if not the worst of the death zones.
Landrum, officially known as the Dining Commons, sits next to the University Bookstore and directly across from Georgia Southern’s newest Residence Hall, Centennial Place. This newly reconstructed building not only contains the majority of the food on campus, split into at least twelve different food/ beverage stations, but the Campus Post Office and Card Station as well. The front of the building has plenty of natural light due to the row of large (nearly floor to ceiling) windows which continues about halfway around the right side. The rest of the building however, often seems a bit darker with the majority of the light being artificial.
This building has two exits, the main one with four double glass doors, three of which lead to the main walkway of campus and the fourth to a small walkway that runs the length of the building, to the road leading out of campus. The secondary exit is next to the Post Office, by the back left of the building. This also leads to the main pathway. Because of the way these pathways were created, the Zombies can horde, in a way that it creates a choke point. The trap is especially effective if there are many people out on the pedestrian, as there were the day I first became interested in Humans versus Zombies.
The Origins of Interest
It is parent weekend at Georgia Southern and as I look out the windows of Landrum, I am captivated with fascination. There is a multitude of parents and small children roaming in hordes outside the dining hall enjoying the festivities and activities carefully planned by the college; the crowds are so thick, one has to weave and wade just to get to the street, and the music and inflatables are both loud in their own way. However, this is not what so carefully holds my attention. Unbeknownst to many, especially the sea of families, there is a stealthy undercurrent in the festivities which had become obvious to me. What gave it away was the bandanas; I knew their significance. Students wandering seemingly idly through the currents of families, some gathering in groups, others stopping in what appeared to be random places, but to the watchful eye, it was clear that they were taking positions, covering exits, and that something big was about to begin. Turning my gaze from the outside world and into the dining hall, I could see the other side of the war. More bandanas in small groups scattered throughout the hall stealthily removing weapons (nerf™ guns and socks) are covertly analyzing the bandanas outside for escape routes. It was a secret war, filled with stealth and teamwork, and I was drawn to it. One of the bandanas inside decided to take his chances, make a run for it, but the groups outside were prepared, and before he could get far, he was captured and turned.
Few made it out alive that day, or at least, that is how they tell it. It is all a big game, but to them, it is as real as, say, homework. That moment, that hilarious dinner during parent weekend, was when my interests in this club, Humans versus Zombies, was piqued. I had friends in it who professed their love and admiration for the game, as well as how awesome it was, but I never really understood, until I saw just how serious it was to them. This game, this club, seemed to change these people from students, into warriors and survivors, and most often, Zombies. HvZ, as they call it, had so much strategy, so much passion, and so much life in its players, that it was hard for me not to be enamored with it. The players were so involved and the game was taken so seriously. As Laura Wexler said in her article, Commando Performance,“To play a game as immersive and fantastical as Zombies is to give oneself over completely and utterly, despite how silly it looks, despite what others might think”(3).
My interests in this group are mostly intellectual. It is the psychological aspects and the strategies that interests me. The Zombies have to strategize to effectively capture the Humans and as I watched, I noticed many rather complex strategies being put in play, besides the brute run and catch them. The Humans, however, seemed to embody more of the psychological aspects that I found interesting, the hyper–awareness, the stress of surviving. The game seems so real to the two groups, that it fascinates me, and I wanted to know why and how. It seemed to me like the students were players in a video game, one that just happened to be taking place in real life.
Straight From the Zombie’s Mouth
My views on the game were rather elementary and one–sided. I knew what I saw and that was it. My view of the game needed to be broadened and I wanted to understand more about its intricacies, so I talked to my friend Sean, who is (what I view as) a typical player in Humans versus Zombies. Sean has been playing Humans versus Zombies for two semesters, and was pleased when I asked him for information.
“I love [Humans versus Zombies] for the thrill of being hunted. It adds excitement to the average menial day-to-day routines of going to class,” Sean said, as he ran his fingers through his hair. According to Sean, it is much harder being a human than a Zombie, because Humans eventually lose the advantage.“The hunter becomes the hunted,” Sean said with a smirk.
Sean is part of a group with his hall mates. They signed a pact to assist each other throughout the game, whether they are alive, or a member of the “mobile deceased.” Apparently, many people make pacts together, however, these groups do not always hold true as the game goes on, and Zombies can end up betraying Humans.
Sean’s preparation for Humans versus Zombies began the moment he stepped on campus, and will continue on until the last day of his last game. And Sean does not plan on leaving Humans versus Zombies any time soon. He is always thinking of tactics or places to hide on campus while walking around, such as determining the best way to lose a Zombie using the math/physics/biology building, which has approximately thirteen exits.
“When else can you play with nerf guns on campus and shoot people with foam darts?” was his smiling reply to my insinuating that he might leave the group.
Sean has noticed mental differences among the player and his friends, and even himself while playing the game, but he counts this as part of the fun.“During the game, there is a sense of paranoia, yet it has a greater effect on some people than others,” he said, giving a friend of his, who was in the room with us at the time, a very pointed look. The friend, another Humans versus Zombies player, gave a shrug and a little half–smile that seemed to say,“Sorry, I can’t help it.”
Sean and his friends, who were laughing and joking at his responses the whole time, love the group and view the game as the most fun they have had in a semester. They enjoy the game itself, but also the freedom it brings, and the ability to carry around weapons, even if it’s just a toy blaster and socks.
“Simply put, it feels amazing. There is something satisfying about being able to conceal a weapon and carry it with you everywhere; you feel at least slightly safer,” Sean said.
These sentiments, of freedom and safety, power and escaping reality, seemed to be a reccurring theme among the people I interviewed. This game seems, to me, like a video game brought to life; they follow the rules, run the routes, complete the objectives, and try to survive, and like a video game, it seems to invite obsessive play. And the biggest questions seems to be, as Laura Wexler put it,“What is the balance between security and freedom? And it prompts another fascinating question: What can a group of young people learn about one another — and themselves — by running around campus with Nerf guns for days on end?”(2).
Many people could see this as a bad thing, that the game is a “world of childhood and simulation” that represents a “widespread cultural regression”(Busk, McGinn 2). They are afraid that this generation of people are trapped within their imaginations, fed by the virtual worlds of video games and popular media, and have been trained to not grow up and face the world, and they view Humans versus Zombies as a symbol of these fears.
However, the majority of people seem to agree that this game is good to have. Oftentimes, outsiders to Humans versus Zombies see this intricate tag, this return to childish games, as the players being able to have a childhood they might not have been able to have, being able to play outside and let their imaginations run wild.
“Humans vs. Zombies seems like a metaphor for a much larger and quite real battle that could be called the Real World vs. the Virtual World… not only was it as if a video game had gone live on our campus and specifically in my own classroom, my students had come to life, too. The Zombie–epidemic survivor glared at the Zombie. The Zombie glared back, daringly. An air of excitement filled the room, and after class ended, I imagined them hurdling across campus, real wind on their real skins. And I chalked up a small victory for the Real World”(Baggot 2).
My sentiments on this game seem to lie with Mrs. Baggot. I believe that this game is not about forgetting the world and ignoring our problems, it is about facing them and preparing to withstand the troubles that real life will throw. It seems to be a way of not just coping with the curve balls life throws, but making a home run out of them. Although video games and similar “obsessions” may have ill effects on people, or as Busk and McGinn believe, be a form of regression, I believe that having this game is a good thing. Some people play for the feeling of freedom, some for escape – both reasons that are very common among video gamers and avid readers, and many people may seem to think of these reasons as being negative. However, as an avid reader and beginner video gamer myself, I disagree with the opinion that these reasons are negative. As J.R.R Tolkien said,““Fantasy is escapist, and that is its glory. If a soldier is imprisoned by the enemy, don’t we consider it his duty to escape?...If we value the freedom of mind and soul, if we’re partisans of liberty, then it’s our plain duty to escape, and to take as many people with us as we can!”
Baggott, Julianna.“Tag for the Gamer Generation.” Boston Globe 16 03 2010, Web. 08 Mar. 2014
Busk , Larry, and Mark McGinn.“Why You Shouldn’t Play Humans versus Zombies.” Journal [Webster University] 18 09 2012, Web. 08 Mar. 2014.
Maxistentialism.Humans vs Zombies. Gnarwhal Studios, n.d. Web. 11 Mar. 2014. <humansvszombies.org>
Spurlin, Sean, Personal Interview, 19 Mar. 2014
Wexler, Laura.“Commando Performance.” Washington Post 13 04 2008, Web. 08 Mar. 2014.