Brains! And Other Thoughts Involved in Creating and Playing Humans vz. Zombies

It’s always quite an eye-opening sight each semester to wake up one morning to a campus speckled with neon orange—whether it be the fluorescent arm and headbands donned by more than a tenth of the student population or the equally as bright Nerf guns and darts that dangle from their hands. Then there are always the select few decked out in camouflage clothing and ammo belts, fully prepared to march into battle. It can only mean one thing—Humans vs. Zombies (HvZ) is upon us. 

For head moderator Michael Lampron-York CM ’14, involvement in the game entails months of meticulous planning that extends far beyond the weeklong apocalypse, but his peers keep him motivated. 

“We have a truly amazing player base, and all of us love working with them and love being part of a game that they enjoy so much,” Lampron-York said. “I also do it for the mods. We have an incredibly talented and dedicated group of moderators and for me, working with people of this caliber is a reward of its own.” 

“When you wake up to the sound of the undead clawing at your door and sprint from class to class, dispensing foam vengeance the whole way, only then do you know what it is to be alive,” Lampron-York said, explaining the appeal of the game. “I love the smell of brains in the morning.”

According to the Claremont HvZ website, the game is a week-long simulated zombie apocalypse in which humans, identified by their orange armbands, defend themselves against zombies, alternatively identified by orange headbands, by tagging zombies either with a dart fired from a foam dart blaster or a thrown, balled-up sock. Over the course of a week, participants complete a series of carefully moderated missions and projects. With over 500 players, HvZ is one of the largest substance-free activities to take place at the Claremont Colleges. 

Enthusiastic participants, however, have their own definition of the game. When asked to sum up what HvZ meant to him, Graham Rowe PO ’16 said, “Run around like maniacs, shoot stuff, kill zombies.” He added, “I think it’s going to make walking between classes really exciting and interesting.”

The game, originally created in the fall of 2005 at Goucher College, had been widely popular across college campuses before making its way over to the 5Cs in the spring of 2010. The idea, initially brought up in discussion at Pitzer Student Talk, has since evolved to involve over 600 players and ten full-time moderators with the 5Cs boasting one of the highest participation rates in the country.

A week of constant thrill-inducing paranoia does not come without its own set of sacrifices; for students involved, simple everyday tasks such as walking to class or even going to the restroom in the zombie-infested hallways are strenuous endeavors that could very well mean their demise. So what is it exactly that drives students to enlist in this masochistic existence? 

“Everyone else in my sponsor group is doing it, and Nerf guns are really fun,” Lucia Ruan PO ’16 said. 

“I liked the concept of simulated survival. It’s weirdly life-affirming,” Alex Nolan PO ’16 said.

The game is changed a bit each year to allow for improved gameplay. Roughly four moderators are responsible for writing the story, and another five or six write the missions. This year, the actual gameplay, set in real time, remains essentially unchanged, but an epic story prop has been added: an all-black, electrically powered, aluminum monolith that stands eight feet tall on Harvey Mudd College’s campus.

The Claremont HvZ moderation team went to great lengths to design a rule set in conjunction with the administration to ensure that classes and non-players are not disrupted. Even for non-players, however, HvZ week is always an interesting one. 

“That shit cray. I almost got shot today,” Pamela Gonzalez PO ’16 said.

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