Friends for the end of the world: UMass students take on Humans vs. Zombies

By Alex Frail

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A group of survivors huddle together in the lobby of Hampshire, a once great dining hall before the turn. Marked by their red armbands, these humans are among the last of their kind. They’re waiting for Chad Bruce to arrive – a bold leader of the scorched, post-apocalyptic world. They thumb the edges of their guns and dart quick glances around the lobby. A pack of the undead in the courtyard stares them down.

Earlier today, Bruce sent out a message: he wants 25 zombies dead by his hand. Perhaps he’s seeking revenge for a lost loved one, or maybe Bruce’s mission is for sport. No matter the reason, he is coming for blood.

Araz Havan/Daily Collegian

 

The sun, now a red ball sinking in the sky, tosses shadows across the courtyard as more zombies inch toward the survivors. A quick breeze snakes between the towers looming overhead. The undead close in.

Since its inception in 2007, Humans vs. Zombies has allowed students to engage in enjoyable and organized role-playing missions like the one above from Oct. 20. For some, it’s more than a game; for two weeks, it’s a way of life and a way to meet new friends.

The game, which held this year’s fall competition from Oct. 14 to 26, is a campus-wide event that invites students of all ages to play. The game pits “humans,” or students with red bandanas around their arms, against “zombies,” students with red bandanas around their heads. Zombies try to “bite” humans by tagging them, which turns that human into a zombie.

As zombies close in for a snack, humans can use Nerf guns to defend themselves. They can also use rolled up socks or marshmallows to hit and stun zombies, disabling their “biting” for several minutes.

Roi Hill-Cohen, a senior and the treasurer of MassGames, and Chris Kimball, a senior and the president of MassGames, are among the administrators for Humans vs. Zombies. Together, they plan missions for the players and post these missions on the game’s website.

“Every game is a story, and each mission is an advancement of that story,” says Kimball, who plays the character of Chad Bruce during Southwest missions. Depending on who succeeds – humans or zombies – a mission will send the story in a different direction.

As this story proceeds, players compete for vaccine or food drops that can help their side survive the apocalypse.

These competitions culminate in the Final Mission. The remaining humans compete against zombies to determine the game’s outcome. According to UMass Wiki, Fall 2008’s final mission forced humans to activate a “nuclear meltdown” before reaching a safe room.

Most humans survived that ordeal, but other final missions like Spring 2008 saw a zombie victory.

Whether day or night, the game never pauses, so players must always be on alert. Humans are safe only indoors; anywhere outdoors is feeding ground for zombies. Hill-Cohen says that most of the zombie “attacks” occur outside of dining halls.

He describes a scene from Friday, Oct. 18: “The humans abandoned the mission and got stuck in Brett. They camped out there for four hours and the zombies waited outside. But after the four hours, the humans somehow escaped.”

And in times like the siege of Brett, players get a chance to know each other more. “You get to know a person a lot when you’re trapped with them for hours,” laughs Hill-Cohen.

Most students express adoration for the connections that the game gives them. Many players will eat dinner with each other following a mission.

The game offers unforgettable moments to its participants. Kimball describes “a marshmallow tank” made from a baggage cart to take down hordes of the undead. Kimball recalls, “We had at least 10 parents come up to us and tell us, ‘That was the most amazing thing we’ve ever seen!’”

Even when the intense missions finish, humans aren’t safe. Says sophomore Patrick O’Loughlin, leader of the Government, a human team, “Now that we’re done, we have to get home.”

Dante Ciliberti and Sean Moore began HvZ at UMass in 2007 after a failed attempt the year before. According to UMass Wiki, over a thousand students joined that game. Six years later, it shows no sign of losing steam.

Humans vs. Zombies is an active extracurricular for enthusiastic students and offers many opportunities to make friends and memories at no charge. Students can sign up for the spring edition next semester at umasshvz.com.

As Kimball says, “It makes every day a little more interesting.”

Several survivors have fallen victim to the zombie plague since Bruce began his mission, but the remaining humans hang close to their leader. He guides them around the front of John Quincy Adams, gun trained on charging undead. The darts fly. They hit their mark, and Bruce has his 25th prize of the day.

Cheers echo around the quad between the great towers. But happiness in the apocalypse is short lived; the commotion has caused a hungry pack of the undead to descend upon Southwest. The cries of joy turn to cries of fear.

The survivors, working together with their companions, carve their way out of certain death and hope to find shelter from the storm. If only they can make it out alive.
Alex Frail can be reached at [email protected].