Mass Games brings hundreds of students together in a massive battle between the living and not-so-dead

By Marie MacCune

(Collegian File Photo)
(Collegian File Photo)

Donning red bandanas to separate the living from the dead, hundreds of students take over campus each semester in a battle of Humans vs. Zombies. Most recently, players on both sides were hoping to win the favor of Norse gods as they fought for control of Asgard – at least according to the storyline of this semester’s game.

Mass Games, a University of Massachusetts Registered Student Organization, is responsible for organizing these games and more. Each Humans vs. Zombies game lasts about two weeks, with one game each semester.

According to Matthew Brown, a junior studying history and a Mass Games administrator, the organization was chartered in 2006 with an emphasis on running field games such as capture the flag. However, Humans vs. Zombies quickly became the primary focus by 2007.

“It gained so much popularity there wasn’t a need to run anything else,” he said.

Justin Chi, also a junior, serves as the group’s treasurer. Chi said the number of players varies between semesters with more in the fall.

“The largest I’ve seen, we had over 800 registered members play,” he said, recalling his freshman year. Chi added that spring games fluctuate between 300 to 400 members.

Mass Games administrators are responsible for establishing a storyline for each game, designing missions and facilitating the games both in the field and behind the scenes.

When asked what it takes to organize such a massive event, Harris Miller, an administrator majoring in Middle Eastern studies, needed only one word: “hours.”

Brown added, “While the game is running, we’re meeting every day making sure everything is in tip-top shape, making sure there’s no loopholes in the mission mechanics that would make the game not fun or unbalanced between the two teams.

“And we’re constantly in missions … which usually last two hours where the humans have to complete some objective and the zombies are trying to stop them,” he continued. “(As administrators) we generally go around as (non-playing characters), so we role play according to the storyline we’ve created.”

During the last game, administrators played the Norse gods whose favor the humans and zombies were vying for. As gods, the administrators had access to mechanics and weapons – sometimes Nerf guns, sometimes marshmallows and socks – that the two teams did not, therefore giving an advantage to whichever side had their favor.

Jason Cambra, a sophomore studying natural resource conservation and junior administrator, also emphasized the importance of advertising and costume and prop gathering.

In terms of how they got involved with Mass Games, both Cambra and Chi said the presence of Humans vs. Zombies games on campus actually played a role in their decision to attend UMass. Brown and Miller learned about the RSO once on campus.

All four cited the fun they’ve had as both players and administrators as their reason for staying involved once they joined.

Cambra described his favorite part of his Mass Games involvement as twofold.

“(When) helping run the game, its making it fun for other people, because I had a lot of fun with it my first three semesters,” he said. “And as a player, I’d say it’s doing the ridiculously showy stuff and completely expecting to not ‘live’ and then ‘living’ through it.”

Brown said that his favorite part as a player is the paranoia of being a human player.

“Looking around every corner, down every alleyway and out of every doorway getting out of class for a zombie that might be trying to tag you is really not comparable to much,” he said.

Chi said, “As a player (my favorite part) definitely has to be causing that paranoia … being able to come across random people that I had never met before and seeing them struck with fear, fleeing in terror just from seeing me is probably one of the most fun things I’ve ever done on campus.”

As an administrator, Chi said he enjoys witnessing these interactions come to life.

“Seeing players on the field, dozens of them at a time, having these encounters and being able to facilitate that is probably one of the best things I can do as an admin,” he said.

Miller focused on the bonds formed in the field, saying, “It’s about the community. You know, you play this game for two weeks and it’s not like all these hundreds of people are just people again. You see them around campus and you sit down and you eat with them and say hi. It’s nice to have friends everywhere.”

In the future, the group is looking forward to continuing Humans vs. Zombies while also branching out in the types of games they run.

According to Chi, they are looking to bring back capture the flag and other field games – what Mass Games played when it was first founded.

In fact, last weekend administrators ran games of capture the flag and Frisbee with attendance in the low twenties.

Mass Games predicts their numbers for these types of events will increase as field games become more of a regular occurrence.

Marie MacCune can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @MarieMacCune.