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By Matthew Marinello
From the pages of a Z-day survivor’s journal: Three days in….most of the humans died last night, and now a horde of zombies, thirty strong, are stalking the grounds…five of them are milling around just outside my door.
Here’s the thing: I have a midterm exam in fifteen minutes. I cannot go out the front (that would be suicide) and I cannot miss the test (yes, I considered it). Since my dorm is located on the first floor, I decide to shimmy out the window – the drop down is not an issue.
Immediately as my feet touch the ground I am met with a bone-chilling cry, the zombies had spotted me and their shouts of “BRAAAIIINNNSSSS” sent me sprinting. To my horror, the initial cries are answered in the distance, and more calls for BRAAAIIINNNSSSS echo back. I’ve only seconds left to live. One lunges in my direction, I dispatch him with a single-shot Nerf pistol, and abandon the dart (there’s no time!). I whirl my sock flail like a helicopter blade, mowing down the scum in front of me, but more arrive and I am soon surrounded. The circle tightened. I can see their eyes now, bright and wide, ready for the kill…it’s the middle of the day on a Wednesday, and passer-bys avert their eyes, not wanting to witness the impending massacre…the lead zombie shakes his head and grins. Suddenly, I LUNGE, stun the zombie closest to me and make a break through the gap. Outstretched arms miss me by mere inches. I arrive at my midterm on time and out of breath. The week is only half-way over…”
The plague sweeping college campuses, and what Steven Colbert has dubbed the number-one threat to America, is a type of live action role-playing game, “Humans vs. Zombies” (HvZ for short). For those unfamiliar with the term, live action role-playing (LARP or LARPing) is a form of role-playing game in which its participants literally act out their character’s actions, much in the sense of theater improvisation. Mythical and Medieval themes have generally been attributed to LARPing, but in the instance (pun intended) of HvZ, the players enact a zombie emergence.
All forms of role-playing games have certain rules, and HvZ is no different. The details vary from place to place, but according to the HvZ coordinator for the University of Virginia, Nicholas Vercruysse, the basic structure remains thus: “HvZ is essentially a giant game of freeze tag, except instead of freezing, you turn into a zombie and have to feed on the brains of the living. Humans cannot kill zombies, but the zombies can starve. Humans can also stun zombies with Nerf guns, balled up socks, or any melee weaponry that does not hurt. This is probably the most important rule –anything you use to stun a zombie cannot hurt them. These are real people after all, even if they are playing zombies.”
A way to distinguish between humans and zombies, and a method for the humans to stun the zombies is all that’s required to play the game. However, the participants rarely, if ever, play to the minimum. In true LARP fashion, the people involved do not jus t “play” a game, they immerse themselves in an experience–acting out their characters (which is either their own zombified self, or last-shred-of-humanity self) and constructing elaborate costumes. Players’ attire often transcends the simple bandanna device, uniforms have been employed by both sides; zombies adorn tattered clothes spattered with false blood, and humans utilize gear found at various army surplus stores. The mind set of each respective character changes as well. This is a very interesting point about HvZ: while it is not required to “get into character,” it is highly advantageous for one (especially if aligned with the living) to do so. Some have gone so far as to research military strategy and tactics, and implement a structured chain of command within the ranks of the human survivors. One group of humans at Goucher College (where the HvZ phenomenon originally began) sectioned off into special squadrons for ease of mobility and safety, and even laid a grid over an aerial view of the campus to further aid strategy.
In light of an ocean of zombie pop-media ranging from books (World War Z) to movies ("28 Days Later") to video games (Left 4 Dead), it is the opportunity to imagine oneself in the midst of a zombie apocalypse which draws many to the game. As a player from Goucher College put it, “There’s no other way for me to pretend to be a commando anymore.” For like minded individuals here in Richmond, you are in luck! There is a Virginia Commonwealth University affiliated HvZ program, headed by Goad (The Great) Gatsby, which hosts a game bi-yearly (usually in the fall and spring). For more information check out the facebook page “VCU: Z-Day;” more general information regarding HvZ can also be found on the official website, HumansVsZombies.org.