A man in a banana suit, safari-clad moderators and hordes of students carrying Nerf Blasters met at 10 p.m. on the Georgia Southern University campus last week to play Humans vs Zombies. Notebook in hand, I observed the game unfold.
Before that night, I had heard of Humans vs Zombies, but had never seen or played the game. My close friend from another university proudly boasted battle wounds – rug burns – from a round played in her college library, but my knowledge ended with that: running around with Nerf Blasters on collegiate property.
Humans vs Zombies is a days-long game in which zombie players infect human players with a two-hand tag, Jim Walker, president of the GS Humans vs Zombies organization, said. Meanwhile, the humans must complete objectives and defend themselves with Nerf Blasters or balled-up socks, stunning the zombies.
“[Humans vs Zombies] is kind of like sharks and minnows on land, for a week,” Walker said.
When they met last week, they played Mission 0, the first mission in their “Run Like An Egyptian” themed game. Walker said people dressed as the gods Set, Anubis and Osiris would appear in later missions.
Although much of the gameplay happens during two-hour nighttime missions, Walker said the game continues throughout the day, including while the players walk to their classes.
“I managed to discover some really wacky ways to get around campus, because as you’re going to class, avoiding zombies, you look for alternate routes that are less traveled,” Walker said.
By the time a Humans vs Zombies game ends, the zombie horde either infects all the humans, or as few as one or two humans survive, Walker said.
The night was humid, left over from a brief rainstorm hours before. Cockroaches scuttled along the sidewalks, and frogs hopped around the grass and pine straw. Beyond the buzzing and chirping of the wildlife, all was quiet and still before the game began.
Holden Maynard, freshman writing and linguistics major, arrived early for the mission. It was his first time playing the game, and he said his strategy would be to wing it.
“[Humans vs Zombies] kind of stuck out from all the other clubs. Whereas everything else was the typical stuff — volleyball, soccer, football — this was so out-there and different, it just caught my attention,” Maynard said.
Moderators arrived dressed in safari costumes. The story for the night’s mission was one of treasure hunting and cursed tombs, matching the “Run Like An Egyptian” theme.
“It’s the storytelling that I like,” Becky Coon, a moderator holding a fake snake, said. “The moderator’s job is to make the storyline of the game, and that, I’m in love with. I love making films as well, telling stories and that kind of thing.”
About 50 players gathered at the I.T. Building patio, many wearing zombie-themed shirts and running shoes. One player wore a banana costume.
Walker explained the rules of the game to the players. He told them to return to the I.T. Building patio by midnight for a debriefing, and that if campus police officers wanted to speak to the players, they would need to set their Nerf Blasters on the ground.
When the game began, the human players dispersed in different directions, sticking together in groups. Moderators guarded gates to in-game treasure, for which players would need to find keys hidden around campus.
“You shall not pass,” moderator Charlotte Roberts said to players near the gate, located between the I.T. Building and the Interdisciplinary Building.
Roberts said she was “really scared” when she played for the first time during her freshman year, but then learned to enjoy the game, which is, she said, “like a [virtual reality] game for two weeks.”
Once the players scattered in several directions, the area was quiet again, save for the sporadic, frightened shouts that echoed around campus.
Although I tried to make my presence known before the game began – I introduced myself to several players and carried my pen and notebook openly – I still created disturbances while I walked around campus. A freshman student, who I had met earlier that night, screamed and fired his Nerf Blaster at me when I turned a corner. A group of players cocked their Nerf Blasters toward me, eyeing me carefully, until I told them I wasn’t playing. Moments later, the group was chased down the Pedestrium by a zombie horde.
By the end of the mission, Walker counted 14 players who had been turned into zombies. One player found five pieces of treasure, earning a special privilege in the game.
Walker, who became president of the organization after serving as a moderator of the game, said he began playing during his freshman year at GS.
“That first game really got me hooked,” Walker said. “I really enjoyed the fellowship and meeting people. [Humans vs Zombies] attracts a whole bunch on people to it, and you can make a lot of friends there.”
Despite the Nerf dart, two mosquito bites and dirty shoes I endured that night, I left with a new understanding of a game I previously understood as a simple Nerf fight.
The Humans vs Zombies “Run Like An Egyptian” game’s final mission is scheduled for Sept. 14 at 8 p.m. More information about the GS Humans vs Zombies organization can be found on their website.