The fanatic first-years are sure to surround Frank, and crossing the fishbowl into Frary is tantamount to pinning a giant target to your chest. Your only hope tonight of getting dinner is to skulk into the safe-zone at Smith Campus Center by way of the Rains Fitness Center and to hide at the Coop Fountain. You navigate the foliage by Big Bridges, and all appears secure, when a sudden torrent of Nerf gunfire whizzes past you and sends you diving into the bushes for shelter. After a few breathless, suspenseful moments, you see the vile creatures: dozens of them with outstretched arms and bandannas tied around the forehead, shambling straight for you. You decide to make a run for it, but the enemies are commencing a pincer movement to isolate you. It’s over. Sentience recedes from you, and a bestial craving for human flesh wrests control of your senses.
No, it’s not a PTSD-induced fever dream: it’s Humans vs. Zombies (HvZ), the weeklong fight against the undead in which hundreds of students participate every semester at the 5Cs. From Tuesday to Saturday of last week, our stately academic bubble ushered in a charming snapshot of life after the nuclear holocaust.
I have heard legitimate grievances against HvZ, many of which I share. I agree, for instance, that the game’s rabid fans often fail to discriminate between other players and those of us trying to walk to lab without obtaining shrapnel injuries from a fusillade of socks, or that the players who make debilitating adjustments to their daily lives—forcing themselves to sleep in academic buildings and subsist on potato chips and Coke from vending machines for a week—tread the dangerously fine line between dedication and obsession. I did not enjoy my first and last attempt at the game a year ago; the constant combination of hair-raising paranoia and morbid fear that I endured was, strangely, not something I am eager to revisit.
Yet, despite these qualms, I find something undeniably endearing about HvZ, something that constitutes an integral part of my experience as a Claremont student. The game is an incongruously juvenile presence at these institutions. I do not think U.S. News and World Report factors HvZ participation into its school rankings. For five days, however, the players appear to detach themselves from the artificial maturity and affected propriety to which we top-tier students are so prone.
At the risk of sounding like the typical entitled college student with a Peter Pan complex, I think most of us at the 5Cs could stand to embrace a little more childishness in our lives. I do not mean by this that we should shy away from adult responsibilities or look upon the future with dread. In our effort to earn credibility by adopting mature attitudes and habits, however, we should avoid severing contact with our childhood selves, losing touch with the imaginative and inquisitive beings of the past who cultivated all our incipient interests and desires in the first place. College students occupy the awkward space between adolescence and adulthood. We retain our emotional bond with the meaningful but often foolish and unsophisticated tendencies which have defined us, but we believe that the archetypal grownup is a creature who must forgo the frivolous rebellions and fantasies of childhood in the quest to earn credibility among his or her peers.
The popularity of HvZ is convincing evidence that we can never entirely rid ourselves of the appetite for fanciful, childlike wonder that dictated our formative experiences. We can become experts at crafting watermarked cover letters and discussing 18th-century philosophy, but we miss out on the optimal liberal arts experience if we try to abandon the whimsy of childhood. Even if we resist the allure of HvZ, we still may succumb to the infantile idiocy of Foam or the comforting nostalgia of intramural Quidditch. Perhaps one day we will all learn to reconcile the stodgy and staid necessities of adult life with our natural affinity for the childish and fantastic, but until then, I am happy we have the freedom to eat each other’s brains.