At 11:56 p.m. on a Monday, a group of 50 or so students decked out in tactical vests and (holstered) Nerf blasters stand in front of the Reitz, all wearing neon orange bandanas on their arms as they stand in a loose circle. A tall man stands in the middle of the circle. He shouts about glory and fighting the undead. And, after every line, the bandana-clad circle responds with the rousing cry of “Brothers all!”
The clock hits midnight. A game moderator, with a blue bandana, stands up on a low wall. She taps a little orange button on HVZsource.com that she’s had pulled up and waiting for the past five minutes. “The game has begun!” she calls out.The bandana-clad humans immediately scatter, pelting each other with balled-up socks as they do.
The semester’s game of Humans vs. Zombies has officially begun.
What is Humans vs. Zombies?
Humans vs. Zombies, or HVZ, is a 5-day game of Nerf war and tag that occurs within the boundaries of UF’s main campus. Humans wear an orange bandana on their arm; zombies wear an orange bandana on their heads. Zombies try to tag humans with their hands and humans try to shoot zombies with Nerf blasters or hit them with balled-up socks. If a zombie successfully tags a human, the human puts away their blaster, puts their bandana on their head and joins the horde. If a human successfully shoots the zombie before being tagged, the zombie is stunned and cannot tag humans for the next five minutes. Every day humans and zombies get missions and objectives to complete that help further the game’s storyline.
At the midnight mission that began the game, the humans scattered and threw socks for fear of an Original Zombie, or OZ–a zombie disguised as a human who begins the zombie apocalypse. However, give it a few days, and the horde grows, leading to the game becoming harder and harder to survive.
When did the apocalypse hit UF?
- Alex Marques, a senior and the special projects manager of Gators HVZ, got into the club through a mini mission (a stand-alone mission that occurs for a few hours one day). Marques loved the people involved and felt like he had a distinct role in the game. “This game is competitive and it brings out some intense natures in people. People will try really hard in this very silly game, but you also see the true humanity in people,” Marques said.
- For junior Kathryn Burns, a current moderator for HVZ, the Quidditch team pulled her into HVZ. She stayed because she loves getting to run around with nerf blasters. “It’s not often that you can do this, especially once you’re considered a ‘grownup,’” Burns said.
- A.J. Cunningham, a current HVZ moderator, heard about HVZ before he attended UF. His first week on campus, he saw human vs zombies advertising in Turlington Plaza. Instead of putting in headphones and fleeing the fliers, Cunningham approached. “I walked up to it and said, ‘Give me a flier, yes, this is what I want to do,’” Cunningham said. “I kind of freaked out the people advertising, actually.”
Pick a Side
“Believe it or not, I like the paranoia,” Marques said. “I believe that humans can be very tactically minded and sometimes they need to be because it’s survival, you know? Being able to learn from experiences and become a leader to keep people alive, it’s an enormous sense of responsibility, but when it works its the greatest sense of accomplishment.”
“With zeds it’s just so much more freeing to just run after people to scare people a lot, and I feel like I’m a lot better at it too,” Adam Behar, a player, said. And Behar isn’t alone (of course he isn’t–he’s part of the horde). “I prefer the zombie side because it’s the more fun side,” Burns said. “Humans are always panicking about ‘ermygerd what if I get tagged’ while the zeds have fun and get to know each other without the paranoia.”
“When I’m surviving as a human, I’m like, ‘This is the way to play.’ I mean that is the whole point of the game is to enjoy the anxiety and the thrill of everything,” Prasanth Shyamsundar, a player, said. “But then you turn into a zombie and you’re like, ‘This is the way to play the game, forget stories, I just want to tag people.’ So I don’t have a preference.”
“I like to play human for at least a couple of days to test out any new guns and things that I’ve gotten,” Cunningham said. “But it’s also really nice to play zombie because then you don’t have to carry guns, you don’t have to be encumbered by all of that gear, and setting ambushes is fun. I’ve hidden in trash cans. I’ve hidden in bushes. I’ve hidden under cars. I’ve tried to hide under bridges and got yelled at for it.”
Moderators work on setting up, running and cleaning up the missions. They enforce the game rules and mediate conflict resolutions as needed. “Taking what it looks like on paper and watching it come to life, seeing how the players react to the mechanics that we make and the characters that we make and the twists that we put in the story,” Cunningham said. When it comes to modding the game, Burns said that the player’s reactions are what she focuses on. “The most important thing is the player reaction,” Burns said. “Whether good or bad, how the players perceive the game is how it will be remembered.”
Favorite human vs zombies Memories
1. “I’m pretty sure we showed up to an escort mission with about 10 to 12 of us and everything worked flawlessly where Mateo, myself and Nick each took a team of people,” Marques said. “Nick blitzed the horde, Mateo held down the fort, and I rallied the troops and did the escort. It was wonderful. It was an exhilarating experience.”
2. “Humans were defending a base of sorts,” Behar said. “We had to break it down, and what happened is we had a three-pronged attack cause–I was part of the zed group–we had a three-pronged attack going into that base. The first two groups charged in and died. The third group, where I was at, we charged in from the right side. All of our group died and there I was, one v. twoing two humans. I stayed alive about two minutes dodging a whole magazine clip full [of darts] and then dying to the back up. It was fun. I got the nickname Neo.”
3. “There was a very militant squad who had hand signals and everything,” Cunningham said. “They had the most fire power, the best guns, everything, and their leaders were named Bove and Leighann. They had been playing HVZ for years, and this was that same game, my very first game playing. They were coming around a corner with the large group of humans and I was laying down behind a half wall. I bolted up, charged into the middle of the humans and tagged five of them at the same time–including Bove and Leighann–who were widely regarded as the best players at the time. And I didn’t realize the significance of this until the very end of the game when at the post-game meeting they gave me an award for being the best new player for killing the best two players in HVZ in my very first game.”
4. “I was a first-time mod and ended up being one of the specials,” Burns said. “We had blacked out one of the buildings lights and made it a super creepy haunted house style walk-through for the players. Humans enter and I come out of a creaky doorway in a wheelchair while backlit. I stand up from the wheelchair, stumble towards the humans and end up chasing them through the building, leave the building and circle around to cut of their exit route and scare them, and ended up chasing them out of a side exit into the waiting zombie horde.”
5. “The first time I survived until Friday night, that’s when the paranoia hit,” Shyamsundar said. “Not in a bad way, but that’s when you actually freak out getting to a mission.”
Advice to New Players
1. “This is more for humans: always have a buddy, don’t be overly stressed, but be very alert,” Marques said. “A little paranoia is a good thing. As a zombie, don’t be afraid. Be fearless. Just go for it.”
2. “You have to commit to it,” Behar said. “Because if you’re a human, you have to commit every time and check every corner, have to be super paranoid about what you’re doing, always conscious of how many shots you’ve fired, how many magazines you’ve got left, whether you see any darts or socks you could pick up in case you need some last minute ammo. For zombies it’s a lot of the same–always commit to the charges, always commit to the tag, never give up anything if you don’t have to.”
3. “Have their ears out for all the tips coming from all the different people,” Shyamsundar said. “Be aware of these things so that your knowledge of the game improves quickly,” Shyamsundar said.
4. “Talk to as many people as you can because that’s how you make friends and that’s how you learn the game,” Cunningham said. “Make sure you always interact with the characters with the storyline because it makes the game so much better to actually know what’s going on. And buy a decent blaster and plenty of ammo.”
5. “Panicking and trying to outrun the zombies will kill you,” Burns said. “For zombies, when a charge is called that means you actually charge. A group of people hanging back doesn’t help the zombies as much as you think it will.”
In the end of humans vs zombies…
There’s a traditional post-human vs zombies gathering. No matter if you’re a human, a zombie or a mod, we all end up in the same place–sitting at a ridiculous number of tables all pushed together in a Steak ’n’ Shake eating, talking and enjoying the company of the Human vs Zombie community (or engaging in an HVZ meme war. That happens, too).