While the phrase, “the walking dead,” has been applied to Tech students for years, until recently, it was never applied literally. A few years ago, however, the arrival of the popular game Humans vs. Zombies (HvZ)changed that. Every semester, for one week, the dead walk, the living fight for their lives and the struggle for survival begins again. And the cause of this is not midterms.
Thanks to their bright yellow bandanas, the game’s players are easily identifiable around campus, and small-scale scuffles are a common sight. What many students do not see, however, is the structure behind the game. Much work has to happen for the game to begin and to continue, and the game’s administrators, who are identified by their checkered bandanas, put several hours of work into running the event before the game even begins.
“The admin team is responsible for designing the game rules, story and missions, acquiring and distributing bandannas, advertising the game, settling disputes that come up over the course of the game and generally making sure everything runs smoothly,” said Stephen Helmy, an HvZ admin this semester and a second-year CEE major.
Even ignoring the logistics of the entire week, the admins are still at the heart of the game.
“We’re involved in every tiny little detail, from the stuff we’ve made up weeks in advance to the tiny details we throw into missions for [fun]. We do everything from [writing] the story-line to dealing with the authorities to running missions,” said Stephanie Greear, one of the founders of HvZ at Tech and a second-year IAML major.
Though the most visible parts of HvZ are the random encounters, chases and scuffles around campus, an important part of the game that a non-participating student does not see is the overall story arc of the week.
The week is meant to model the first few days of a hypothetical zombie apocalypse, starting with the initial confusion of what exactly was going on. The first day, the original zombie, who is referred to by players as the “OZ,” goes around dressed as a human, though he still can tag human players.
Though the inclusion of the OZ is mainly a mechanical element—ensuring that the game starts with enough zombies to make things interesting—there is also a story element to it.
“The concept is…based on not everyone realizing that there are zombies forming yet. So a person would see a lurching, bloody person and ask, ‘Oh my, are you ok?’ and then get nommed as well,” said Micah Cleveland, one of the founders of HvZ at Tech and a second-year CS major.
Other story components are the missions that the admins host throughout the week.
Typically, these involve the humans trying to gain knowledge or some survival edge over the zombies, such as escorting the OZ to a research facility, or getting onto the last helicopter out of the city, and the zombies trying to foil the attempt, primarily by eating humans.
“The best missions are when everyone has fun, the zombies get a bunch of tags…and you get to act goofy with your new friends,” Greear said.
The admins all have their favorite missions.
Helmly’s favorite was the “Sign the Census” mission.
“We had a big sheet of butcher paper laid out outside. It was a competition to see which side, humans or zombies, could get the most signatures on the paper…It was a relatively straightforward mission, but it was out in a open in play area, so several good battles took place over it,” Helmly said.
Greear and Cleveland, however, preferred the “Virgin Sacrifice” mission.
“We had one person who both sides were fighting over, trying to get them to [get] to a certain point. Each side had to have three people encircling the ‘virgin’ in order to move her, or she’d run back to her starting point. It made for some interesting battles for both sides, including an ambush that got quite a few unsuspecting humans killed,” Cleveland said.
Though admins mostly work within Tech’s campus to get each game organized, intercollegiate collaboration does take place.
According to Cleveland, the admins mostly just swap ideas with other colleges that participate in HvZ, but they have been planning to do some type of mission in collaboration with another campus for a while.
“Truman is known for using another college in one of their storylines, and we’re hoping to use one of our admin’s connections with them to do the same in a future game,” Greear said.