Humans vs. Zombies: UMass’ most dangerous game

By Sarah Gamard

(Caroline O'Connor/Daily Collegian)
(Caroline O’Connor/Daily Collegian)

If you weren’t a part of the Humans vs. Zombies craze that comes and goes from campus every semester, the whole concept could seem confusing. In fact, it may have been a little intimidating. Students took swarm of the campus in red bandanas around their heads (Zombies) and arms (Humans) complete with their weaponry of choice – Nerf guns, marshmallows and balled-up socks.

But HvZ is a game meant in good fun. It is run by the registered student organization Mass Games, a group that boasts its unique, intricate and inclusive nature on its current Facebook page. It’s most popular game is easily HvZ. The game itself is played all over the country and started in Goucher College in 2005. Since then, it has proliferated to hundreds of colleges across the United States.

UMass, for instance, began HvZ in 2007. Mollie Cook, president of Mass Games, said that while this past game had a substantial turnout, including 378 registered players, and over 200 active participants, the biggest turnout was circa 2008, with over 1,000 players. The game, she said, is no longer a novelty. Still, hundreds participate because it gives the average college student the adrenaline rush that can only be attained by live action role play games.

Along with the “nerdy, but cool factor,” said Cook, “It feels like you’re actually fighting for your life,” which creates a bond rare on or off a college campus. It’s pure fun, a factor in students’ lives that seems to ominously dwindle as adulthood comes closer. It’s a great way to make friends and challenge oneself physically and strategically. The website’s list of rules makes clear that games will continue “regardless of the weather and terrain.”

HvZ officer Scott Glendye (of the alias “Turtle”) reported that players, “create characters for themselves” and “get in costume” when they play. Rumor has it that some zombies even went as far into the hunt as using video cameras to track their prey. To some, HvZ is not just a game, but an art form.

Despite its complicated strategies and seemingly endless layers, the premise of HvZ is simple and all-too familiar – humans and zombies battle in a make-believe, post-apocalyptic world. Zombies bite humans, thus turning them into more zombies. Bites, along with other statistical information, are logged onto the website. Zombies cannot be killed, only “stunned” and thus rendered immobile for around five to 10 minutes during play. They die only if they do not bite a Human within 72 hours. Players must wear armbands and thus be active during the games throughout its duration, excluding special circumstances that override the game, like walking to an exam.

This year, while the humans fought bravely, the zombies won by a landslide. The final day included action all over campus – outside the Campus Center, Holdsworth Hall, the observatory by the Orchard Hill Residential Area, the front of the Fine Arts Center, the Southwest Residential Area, the basketball courts outside of Berkshire Dining Commons and finally, by McGuirk Stadium. Throughout the game, and especially that final day, the determined humans had by then dwindled in number from about 100 to around 20. Player David Ferreira reports some humans executing “suicide runs” to “buy [them] more time,” but the effort was futile. Glendye remembers the zombies “organizing charges” and “jumping out of trees and bushes” during the campus-wide manhunt. The final showdown was south of McGuirk. It was there, at 9:30 p.m. in the pitch darkness of the unlit Western Massachusetts night, that the zombies took one last charge at the humans. Some humans, like player Curtis Barnes and his friends, had only flashlights to fend against the blanketing blackness. Barnes remembers it as “a massive horde” of 200 or more zombies.

Player Justin Chi described “sickening cackles, ghoulish cries and fetid screams” among the participants. The humans, desperately outnumbered and out of ammo, were helpless.

“I looked at my buddy … and he shook his head at me,” Barnes said.

It was the end and they knew it. It was then, in the light of the flickering flashlight bulbs, the brave final words of Barnes’ friend rang, “Is this the real life?” and the zombies closed in and finished their feast.

Sarah Gamard can be reached at [email protected]