Nerf guns and sock balls: Humans vs. Zombies takes over the 5Cs

Olivia Watkins HM ’19 and Lydia Sylla HM ’19 proudly launch this year’s Humans vs. Zombies game. (Ian Poveda • The Student Life)

Humans vs. Zombies is a biannual phenomenon at the 5Cs, and this semester the zombie apocalypse began Feb. 19. When students in bandanas start sprinting between classes with balls of socks, everyone knows — it’s game on.

It looks fun, but for the ignorant, or cautiously curious, there are questions. What is it? How do you play? And how do you win?

The Game

Humans vs. Zombies began at Goucher College in 2005. It is an interactive campus game in which an imagined zombie infection spreads through the participants. This semester, more than 100 people are playing at the 5Cs, which often boast one of the highest participation rates in the country.

Everyone is a human in the beginning, except for one or two zombies assigned by the HvZ mods (omnipotent game moderators). Zombies tag humans to convert them, and humans are allowed to carry weapons that temporarily stun a zombie in defense.

Throughout the game, there are missions where teams of humans can compete in battles to stun a zombie boss. The stated goal is to survive as long as possible, but “at the end of the day, the zombies always win,” veteran HvZ player Lydia Sylla HM ’19 wrote in an email to TSL.

The Setup

Humans vs Zombies is a four-day event taking place Feb. 19 to 23. Players who signed up early had a chance to attend a “mini-game” to feel out the competition. While it is too late to sign up for the current game, those who are interested can monitor the game’s progress through the game’s sophisticated tracking website.

The Play

HvZ players are identified by their colored bandanas. Humans wear bandanas on their arms, while zombies wear bandanas on their foreheads. A stunned zombie wears its bandana around its neck. The game is generally played 24/7 all over the 5Cs, but there are designated safe zones and times where play is suspended. All indoor buildings are safe, and other safe zones are marked off with blue tape. There is also a safe period from 8 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. when all play is suspended.

A human’s objective is to stay alive. To do this, one can shoot nerf guns or throw balled socks to stun zombies. The trick to being a human is having good ammo, running quickly or camping out in your room for four whole days.

“I prefer being a human because I get a chance to use my modded blasters, which I put a lot of time into,” Joe Nunez HM ’19 wrote in an email to TSL. “I’m also a pretty terrible zombie, because I have a pretty big frame and therefore make a big target.”

The zombies’ job is to tag humans, with the preferred method of attack being an ambush.

I play as a zombie, so I’m personally a fan of any well-executed ambush,” Sylla wrote. “A good ambush is probably based in an area with a lot of nice corners that humans have to traverse —  ideally multiple zombies would work together. But honestly, ambushes can take any form.”

Gavin Yancey HM ’19 and Joe Nunez HM ’19 stick together for protection during this semester’s Humans vs. Zombies game. (Chris Nardi • The Student Life)

There are also missions, which are part of the game narrative written by the HvZ mods. They function as mini-games within the larger HvZ game, and usually include a super-zombie, or some kind of puzzle. The moderators and players of HvZ are passionate about their craft, and they work hard to make sure the game is fun and engaging for everyone.

“We started prepping over winter break, and we’ve been working on it ever since,” wrote Olivia Watkins HM ’19, a moderator for this spring’s game. “Every semester we design unique day and night missions for every day of game week, along with a handful of puzzle quests and a story theme for everything.”

The End Game

A successful game of HvZ is ultimately what the players make of it.

“Winning HvZ is something everyone defines for themself,” she wrote. “I define winning as having fun playing, so in my mind I’ve won every game.”

This is the defining attitude around the game — Humans vs. Zombies is about the experience, the chance to meet other people from the 5Cs and the opportunity to play an active, substance-free game with peers.

I particularly like playing human since I love the paranoia of never knowing when an ambush of zombies will pop out from behind a bush and gobble my brains,” Watkins wrote. “I also get pretty invested the story behind it — it’s exciting getting to pretend for a week that we’re all defending humanity from the apocalypse.”

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