Even in Foam and Plastic, Gun Violence Does Not Belong at 5Cs

Do you know who Lucero Alcaraz, Treven Taylor Anspach, Rebecka Ann Carnes, Quinn Glen Cooper, Kim Saltmarsh Dietz, Lucas Eibel, Jason Dale Johnson, Lawrence Levin and Sarena Dawn Moore are?

Last Friday, Oct. 1, Charles Harper-Mercer shot and killed each of them at Umpqua Community College in Oregon before turning the gun on himself. According to shootingtracker.com, which defines a mass shooting as an event in which “four or more people are shot in a spree… likely without a cooling off period,” Umpqua is #294 for this year. (For reference, Dylann Roof’s racially motivated rampage in a Charleston, SC church this summer was #152.)

Presidential candidate Jeb Bush went so far as to respond to last week’s tragedy by declaring that “stuff happens.” I wonder if these headlines and traumas have become so commonplace that Bush’s sentiment is an accurate depiction of our society’s collective exhaustion over gun violence. Moreover, I wonder how it affects the way we carry ourselves on our own college campuses, the very places where we hope to live securely without fearing the terror experienced at Umpqua Community College.

This week, the biannual role-playing game Humans vs. Zombies, or HvZ, has brought the imagery of gun violence to the 5Cs. The game, conceived as a fantasy zombie apocalypse, seems harmless at first glance. In fact, I've always noted how much fun participants seem to be having and the camaraderie that develops as a result. I certainly respect the desire to create a fantasy environment here; we could all use an escape from the stressful reality of studying in Claremont.

The official webpage for HvZ Claremont states that “the game involves both ‘human’ and ‘zombie’ players,” the latter of which “attempt to tag humans” while said humans “defend themselves against zombies by tagging zombies either with a dart fired from a foam dart blaster or a thrown balled-up sock.” The website goes on to say that “all foam dart blasters are brightly colored and do not resemble actual firearms.”

I am confident that students, staff, faculty, and other Claremont community members would not confuse an HvZ dart blaster for an actual weapon. But how might people for whom gunfire and mob violence are anything but fantasy perceive the frantic brandishing or firing of dart blasters and chaotic scurrying of student mobs on 'special missions'?

The motions of the game reenact and trivialize the lived experiences, traumas and realities of other individuals. It is downright harmful to assume that all members of our community buy into the fantasy world of HvZ without considering the imagery and symbolism at hand, especially when the game becomes an unavoidable part of campus life for an entire week. We can choose to participate in HvZ, but we cannot choose whether or not to encounter it, unless we lock ourselves in our rooms.

It is a privilege to be able to ignore, if only temporarily, the threat of gun violence in this country. Millions of Americans go about their lives with the near-constant threat of falling victim to a shooing. I know I am writing this with a significant amount of privilege myself. My whiteness has not exposed me to racially biased violence; my socioeconomic status has allowed me to live in communities that are relatively safe. And even these privileges have not protected others from gunfire.

I must reiterate that the problem of HvZ is not that it will directly induce others to commit acts of violence. I certainly do not want to side with the likes of the NRA and declare that various forms of play and media, such as video games, are totally to blame for gun violence in America; such correlations have been found to be dubious. South Korea and the Netherlands spend up to twice as much per capita on video games than the United States, where gun-related homicide occurs at a rate more than ten times higher than in those countries.

I know the intentions of HvZ are friendly and innocent. I know it is fantasy. But gun violence is not a fantasy. It is not a game. It is real, violent, destructive and traumatizing. Normalizing this behavior in the context of a role-playing game cheapens human life and delegitimizes the lived experiences of our peers.

If statistics are any reliable indicator, last week’s shooting in Oregon will not be the last this year, maybe not the last on a college campus. As HvZ week comes to a close, we must take a look at the lines between fantasy and reality. Humans vs. Zombies may be more human than we are willing to admit.

Benjamin Cohen PO '16 is double-majoring in international relations and Russian and Eastern European studies.

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