By Roy Rob
It’s 9:23 a.m., but the clocks are all flashing, displaying 1:37 a.m., as if your dorm experienced a power outage. Your roommate is nowhere to be found. Discarded papers litter the hallway floors and furniture – desks, chairs and tables have been turned over or barricaded against the door. You make your way out onto a deserted North Street and look around. Thoughts begin flashing through your head: “What happened?! Am I alone? Where is everyone?” It’s a Monday morning but there certainly is no class in session today. Suddenly, a pack of bloodthirsty zombies appears out of nowhere. They start to lurch toward you, dragging their broken limbs and groaning as they fix their lifeless eyes on their next meal – you.
Sounds like something out of a horror film, right? It’s as if George Romero, “Grandfather of the Zombies,” directed one of his films right here at Fitchburg State. But if the zombie uprising were real, what would you do? Would you try to run away? Or would you stay and fight these flesh-eaters? A group of Fitchburg State students knew just what they would do, and they even got to put their skills to the test.
Humans vs. Zombies (HvZ) is a game of moderated tag played at schools, camps, neighborhoods, military bases, and conventions across the world. Human players must remain vigilant and defend themselves with socks and dart blasters to avoid being tagged by a growing zombie horde.
The game was established in 2005 at Goucher College in Baltimore, Md. It has gained recognition and press coverage from the New York Times, the Washington Post, NPR, the Associated Press, and other media outlets.
The objective of the game is simple: Zombies have begun to rise from the dead and humans must protect themselves to avoid being turned into zombies themselves. Gameplay rules are pretty universal but may be tweaked to fit what a university or school deems appropriate. Choice of weapons includes balled-up socks, marshmallows, and foam-dart guns.
Following the Virginia Tech shootings in 2007 many schools banned the game completely, or banned the use of Nerf guns, limiting players to the use of marshmallows and balled-up socks only. But that didn’t stop a group of Fitchburg State students and their professor in a zombie-themed Writing I class.
“As the class was studying zombies as a cultural phenomenon, it seemed important to have an HVZ game that we could analyze for its social function. I suppose it was fun for some of the students, as well,” said Frank Mabee, a Fitchburg State English Studies professor. He said the first game at FSU took place on Oct. 22, 2009, and had about 78 active participants. “The game was an informal effort, which was part of the point to banning Nerf guns and having a lot of safe spaces on campus,” Mabee said. “It wasn’t entirely unofficial, as the game received sanction under the Falcon Players’ “Zombie Week” activities, so there was a general awareness that the game was happening on campus.”
“Basically there was one original zombie and the rest of us started as humans,” Beresh said. “A zombie would tag a human to ‘eat’ them, and then the human would turn into a zombie,” she explains. “Zombies could track their kills by taking an ID number that humans carried with them, then logging it on the website we set up.”
The website was a forum where participants could record their “kills” and keep track of who was still in the game and who was not. However, the website seems not to be online anymore. “If zombies didn’t eat every … 48 hours, they were out,” Beresh said. “And humans could protect themselves by stunning zombies with rolled-up socks or marshmallows. Anywhere outside was fair game to play, but indoors were safe, so we would travel through the tunnels to stay safe. It was a lot of fun and I really wish we kept it going, but people sort of lost interest.”
Fitchburg State sophomore John Lafirira attempted to bring HvZ back to the campus one year, but it didn’t work out, so the campus once again remains HvZless … for now. For anyone interested in starting up their own game, the rules and guidelines can be found on the official Humans vs. Zombies website, at http://humansvszombies.org/rules.
Official rules and guidelines for Fitchburg State’s version of HvZ can be found at http://wiki.humansvszombies.org/index.php/Fitchburg_State_Rules_(Spring_2009).