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Humans Versus Zombies creeps into UW campus life

February 2nd, 2012 · No Comments

By Sean Duncan
UW News Lab

The UW campus has been invaded by zombies.

Just ask two young men, walking back-to-back cautiously with Nerf guns drawn, trying to survive the apocalypse. I’ve never met them but they ask me where I’m headed and offer to escort me to class. I share their fears, but since I’m almost at my destination I decline their offer.

Freshman Sarah Wai, and other humans strategize in an open classroom minutes before a mission.

We are playing Humans Versus Zombies Tag (HvZt).

“It just adds a whole bunch of excitement … and you also get to meet like a ton of people you’d never ever meet in your life,” said Daniel Barrack, a UW student who has played HvZt “about five times.”

According to the website, the game was invented at Goucher College in 2005. It has infectiously spread to 650 colleges and universities. The game came to the UW in 2008.

Almost every player starts out as a human and wears an orange bandana on the arm. If a human is tagged by any of the few zombies, he or she will become a zombie too and move the bandana to his or her head. Zombies must convert one human every 48 hours to avoid starvation, so the zombie side grows as time goes on.

Humans can use Nerf darts and socks to stun a zombie for 15 minutes, but most humans survive by keeping a low profile and sneaking to class using strange routes that allow them to go undetected by the zombie groups.

Barrack explains: “I actually discovered a whole portion of the campus I didn’t even know existed.”

The popularity of the game has spread; even faculty members’ kids can be seen sporting the orange bandana during Zombies week.

Humans stand in a line in Red Square after a midweek mission. Since they succeeded, fifteen humans will be selected at random to have immunity from normally-unstoppable "superzombies."

Justin Fernando, an overseer of the game, said: “It’s mostly supposed to be just students but if you’re a part of the UW community you can play too,” noting that he knows of five faculty members who play.

Thomas Greene is an officer of HvZt, which is the second rank of the HvZt planning group, just below overseer. “I think we’ve had a few people who’ve graduated who keep playing,” he said, “but I’m not sure.”

Players participate in missions to prevent the other side from winning perks such as immunity or extra lives for humans or quicker recovery times for stunned zombies. Humans who complete the final mission on Friday evening are survivors. Missions generally involve humans protecting an area or transporting a “scientist.” Their main challenge is the hordes of zombies that show up to tag them.

The game is played once a quarter, lasts about a week and is played all over Seattle, but most of the action is on campus. The latest game happened Jan. 23 through 27.

Fernando said: “We change the game up like every quarter, so the missions are never really the same.”

The game has evolved in its few years at the UW. For example, there are perks for zombies who tag 10 humans; they get green bandanas, are called superzombies, and they can’t be stunned. This school year the overseers shortened the human-to-zombie transformation time, so that tagged humans can start playing as zombies soon after being tagged.

“We keep changing the rules to try to make it better,” Greene explained.

Outside criticism has also changed the game. For example, some people felt that the Nerf guns could be confused for real guns at night, so overseers changed the rules so that the game is suspended from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m.

A group of zombies stand guard outside, hoping to tag humans when they leave the Allen Center. The game will be paused at 6 p.m., so the humans will most likely wait to leave until then.

“We’ve definitely changed the rules to make faculty feel better repeatedly,” Greene said.

Before winter quarter, some players avoided zombies by walking through parking garages and loading docks, but this quarter these areas were declared no-play zones by request of UW Transportation, according to Fernando.

“We do whatever the school tells us to do because we want to keep the game going for as long as we can,” Fernando said.

Because of sensitivity to gun violence related to school shootings, Nerf guns have been banned at some schools, including the University of Colorado. In those situations, the HvZt players tend to play the game with just socks.

“We don’t want that to ever happen [at the UW],” Fernando said.

The reason Barrack kept playing the game was because he wanted to survive the whole week. After he achieved that last spring, he thought he would be done playing, but he discovered that there was more to the game.

“You could go out trying to help other humans by targeting zombies,” Barrack said. “You can also like go on the other side and just die on the first day so you can be a zombie and explore the other aspect of the game.”

Fernando had a similar statement: “As long as I’m playing the game I’m having fun. I don’t really care which side I’m on.” He added, “I knew a whole bunch of the like hardcore players were all going to go human, so I was like, ‘the zombies are going to need help,’ so I just went zombie. I’m one of the superzombies right now.”

The humans and zombies peacefully share post-mission stories. Humans are not tagable and are not allowed to use their nerf guns if they are touching an open door or are inside a building.

Human or zombie, the enthusiastic people at the HvZt sign-up tables in Red Square have a common well-wishing statement. “Happy Hunting.”

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Zombies wait patiently outside for humans to leave.