There’s a war going on at the University right now. Look around, and it’s hard to miss. Members of either side sport a bright-yellow bandanna, and most carry Nerf blasters with them at all times.
Humans vs. Zombies is a week-long game similar to tag. It started Monday, May 23, at 12:01 a.m. and will continue until Sunday, May 29. Players start off as humans and defend themselves against zombies with Nerf blasters or rolled-up sock balls, but if they are tagged by a zombie, they will become one within an hour. The actual game started in 2005 at Goucher College and has since been played all over the world. Until this week, Eugene had not been one of those places to experience the game.
Freshman Christian Erichsen is one of three moderators and started the University’s Humans vs. Zombies game because he wanted to play, but there wasn’t a group yet. He teamed up with Joe Stepp and Tanner Baldus, and together they have been working on the game since February. The group is unofficial and mostly unfunded, so players don’t have to be students at the University to participate. The only funding they received was a $100 grant from the Service Learning Program for the bandannas all players wear, either on their arms or legs if they are human, or on their heads if they are zombies.
Although they are following the standard weeklong game, they added the element of playing for charity. Players get sponsors, who agree to pay a certain amount of money for their time in the game as a human. The money will be donated to the Red Cross to help the Japanese tsunami relief effort.
“Even though an event like that has left the news cycle, and so donations are probably starting to trickle, there’s still very much a strong need for international support,” Erichsen said. “Things like that just don’t end just because the news gets bored with it. We felt it was still an important thing to do.”
The first thing they wanted to do in their planning was notify administration to alleviate any potential confusion that might accompany students walking around campus with toy weapons. Initially they worried that getting permission from the school would be a challenge, but when they met with Dean of Students Paul Shang, they were surprised to find that it wasn’t.
“We were very, very worried about it. We prepared these big, grandiose letters detailing why it was a good thing, why it wouldn’t be a problem,” Erichsen said. “And then when I actually sat down with Dr. Paul Shang, he just laughed and thought it was the coolest thing ever.”
The next step in planning the game was finding players. During the ASUO Street Faire, Erichsen and Baldus handed out fliers, put up posters and talked to anybody interested, all while in zombie makeup.
“You do something like that and people get interested. It’s like free street theater,” Erichsen said. “It’s like, ‘Why is there a guy dressed as a zombie walking down the Street Faire, carrying Nerf blasters? I want to find out more about that.’ To the right kind of mind, that stuff is like a candle for a moth.”
Their work paid off, and as of Monday afternoon Erichsen estimated that the game had about 100 players. One is Rodger Gamblin, a linguistics major. He said the game spices up his school day, and his weapon of choice is a Nerf Maverick. He’s already warded off several zombies, and he has a strategy to ensure he stays human for the whole week.
“I keep my head on a swivel. I’m always on the look-out,” Gamblin said. “I was asked if I wanted to be an original zombie, and I said no. I’m in it to win it.”
Also on the look-out are University students who are not playing. To those who hadn’t heard about Humans vs. Zombies before the game started Monday, what they saw on campus was a surprise.
“My first impression of the game was, ‘These guys are dorks,’” art history major Zaynab Irish said. “However, after finding out that this is fundraising money to help people in Japan, I’ve considerably warmed up to the idea.”
In addition to fighting each other between classes, players are also encouraged to attend evening missions, which might include escorting a nonplayer across campus or patrolling the campus. The missions, and the game in general, get players working together with a common objective, and they also work as an opportunity for players to meet each other.
“It takes 100 people and puts them in a kind of under-pressure scenario where they’re working, and they have to team up with other players,” Erichsen said. “You can’t play this game as solo player; you’re going to team up, and you’re going to meet people you would not otherwise meet.”
The event planners to make the game a biannual tradition on campus. Though they might have shorter games in between, they plan to keep the regular game at its standard weeklong length.
“It really gives you the zombie apocalypse experience,” Erichsen said. “You still have to go to all your classes; you still have to eat; you still have to worry about sleeping. You can’t just run on one burst of energy; you have to kind of plan your week out. It’s a really interesting test, and it’s just fun.”