Why I’m Uncomfortable with HvZ

It appears as though it’s another successful HvZ season, as anyone walking through the 5Cs this week could be aware of. As one who avidly frequents the SCC, it’s hard not to notice the hordes of zombies and their elusive human counterparts roaming around. I’ve seen a few of these seasons come and go, and recently I’ve noticed that my reaction has shifted from excited interest to amused indifference to unnerved discomfort. 

The 5Cs are filled with engaged and driven people, so it’s no surprise that people approach Humans vs. Zombies with the same vigor they do anything else. But it’s a little weird to me to see that kind of energy invested in something that involves guns, and surprisingly big ones, where people join up in gangs to shoot at other people. I know it’s a game, and I know the point is that you’re shooting at “zombies.” But these zombies look and behave a lot like fellow students, and the sight of other students so seriously engaged in hunting them down is, frankly, pretty bizarre.

A lot of people are probably familiar with the Stanford prison experiment of 1971, where a researcher recruited college students to participate in a prison simulation; some people were randomly assigned as guards, some as prisoners. Effectively what they found was that any role, however arbitrary, goes to your head. To some degree, you become the role you’re playing, even if it’s “just a game.” It seems to me that the same danger of this role-playing, or method acting, applies to the militaristic attitude that Humans vs. Zombies elicits. It’s disconcerting to see how seriously people act out the roles of fighting in a squad, and how comfortably they parade around with semi-automatic orange guns in their hands. 

Admittedly, I’m kind of at the fringe of the cultural mentality about guns. Most videogames that feature any violence less cartoonish than Super Smash Brothers freak me out (and even the Falcon Punch leaves me shaking), and the last Tarantino movie made me question whether I’m capable of seeing the next one. I’m aware that most people have the capacity to treat these kinds of entertainments as perfectly harmless, which they are, but even that strikes me as a privileged Claremont luxury that perhaps we shouldn’t be so proud about. We treat the occurrence of a yelling, gun-clad gang bursting into a room as an innocuous joke, which seems like a gross demonstration of how sheltered the liberal arts college environment can be.  

At the same time, I’m proud of how progressive my college student body is, and I’m comfortable that many people share the convictions that I do about reducing gun violence. So I’m not claiming any direct link between playing with guns and school catastrophes, armed robberies or domestic tragedies, nor am I presuming anything about those who are playing HvZ this year. Still, it seems a little naïve to glorify the use of guns and then turn around to ask where all these gun incidents are coming from. I guess I’m uncomfortable with the irony, seemingly unnoticed, of fluorescently armed groups of students marching into the Coop Fountain while headlines of Taliban assaults, gun control, and Sandy Hook flash across the screen in the same room.

I’m not advocating for Humans vs. Zombies to be shut down or discontinued, because I think that would be a fairly radical approach. The idea of a well organized, week long, campus-wide game seems like pretty much the perfect thing to be happening in an engaged college atmosphere, but perhaps those games don’t have to involve such enormous guns. For a game that’s ostensibly about strategy, determination and constant vigilance, carrying around several absurdly large guns seems like an excuse to play with fake weapons and act in a gang mentality. Perhaps it’s time for a discussion about what Humans vs. Zombies is really about, and what it actually should be about.

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