Campus game thirsts for brains… and safety


 by Amanda Hutchinson and Candace King

On a rainy Saturday morning, a collection of students, armed to the teeth with Nerf weaponry, huddles under an overhang, waiting for instructions. A warning from one of their leaders echoes through their minds: “Humans, days like this are an advantage to zombies. Darts don’t fly great in rain. Zombies do.”

Played in over fifty campuses across the country and 10 universities internationally, Humans vs. Zombies is a tag-based, campus game in which humans protect themselves from the tagging zombies with Nerf weaponry and balled-up socks. As the game grows in popularity, in-game safety has become a priority, and players and administrations are working together to prevent issues in the future.

Safety wasn’t a concern until more people got involved and the game became more widespread, said Joe Sklover, who helped create the game at Goucher College in 2005.  He and his friends had to work with the school’s public safety department to discuss acceptable behavior and the new rule set, including notifying the entire campus by email about their game for awareness.

“This is something that every HvZ club deals with,” Sklover said. “When people play the game, they’re playing like real zombies are chasing them and they really do disregard their safety. Our rule changes from year to year have primarily dealt with safety concerns.”

The Ithaca College club hasn’t seen any major injuries in the last three years, but twisted ankles and falls do happen, as well as crossfire. Junior Taylor Rescignano said she has been hit by a stray dart coming out of the fitness center, most likely because she was wearing a headband, which was the “mark of the zombie” for the game. The player apologized, and after she spoke to a friend in the club, zombies were required to wear a headband and armband to distinguish between club members and bystanders.

“I’m not really mad about it, just mostly confused,” Rescignano said. “I think they changed [the rule] because so many people got hit.”

Cornell University created an HvZ club in 2006, but the administration shut it down after two semesters. Ithaca Week received no response from the university after multiple attempts at contact, but Dustin Franco, who started the club again in 2011, said the administration was not in favor of having “toy guns” on campus.

“There were definitely some hesitation from the Cornell administration because they did not want people to be using Nerf guns, so we brought it back with a ‘socks-only’ [game],” Franco said.

Cornell’s HvZ group disintegrated again after Franco graduated in 2013, but he said it was due to a void in leadership rather than an administrative conflict.

In comparison, HvZ has been a success at the Rochester Institute of Technology, where more than 900 players participated in their last round earlier this semester. Club president and RIT senior Katie Tigue said their missions run from 9pm to 11pm from Friday night to Sunday night.

“People running around at 9 o’clock at night with Nerf guns could be a little intimidating. Also, accidents do happen when you’re running around in the dark,” Tigue said. “That could be really stressful.”

Tigue attributes their safety successes to their relationship with the school’s public safety department, including meetings every other day during rounds. She also said the RIT campus is conveniently set up for the game as well: in comparison to Cornell, RIT is surrounded by a forest with no major roads through campus and enough space in the academic area to avoid the dorms altogether.

IC club president and senior Ezra Chamberlain said a lot of safety issues, and ultimately the game’s success, come down to players knowing their own limits as well as those of the game and campus.

“Don’t be stupid,” Chamberlain said. “If you know the rocks are wet, don’t run down the really steep rocks. Know yourself. If you know you have asthma, bring your inhaler with you. It’s totally fine to take yourself out of the game if you have an asthma attack. We rather you recover and play more, than get hurt seriously from something.”


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