During March 4-9, streetlights ignite after dark at ASU, folks go about their business, and a not-so clandestine game disrupts the quiet ebbs of the night.
If these nocturnal students are lucky, they may witness NERF-wielding shadows dart around the Tempe campus. They may possibly collectively wonder…
For both sides, this is a normal day in their lives.
The locations and missions change from night to night, but these students are the titular humans in the semesterly Humans vs. Zombies tournament.
Gameplay isn’t cordoned off to one single area. Players have the whole of the main Tempe campus at their domain.
Besides the NERF guns cradled in their stiffened fists, orange armbands distinguish the humans from headband-wearing zombies.
As the last blue fades from the sky, the human players converge on the circular fountain in front of Old Main, receiving their orders for the night from their commander for the evening.
Elsewhere, “the zombies” await the phone call from an administrative player who informs them the games have begun.
Instructions vary, depending entirely on who won the previous day’s match.
On Thursday, after direction from business-finance sophomore James Sullivan, the dozen or so players splinter off into several teams and soon evaporate into the night.
Tonight, the missions are threefold: retrieve the last passcode to an underground bunker, recover the helicopter key from a zombie pilot and protect their home position at the fountain.
All plans represent methods of evasion from the zombies and ways to win the tournament.
To keep the game interesting — and maintain a constant level of paranoia — the zombie players “die” after 48 hours if they don’t tag a human opponent.
If the human players fall victim to a zombie attack, the clock resets itself.
While moderators follow the teams to certify games continue without problems, the site HvZ Source ensures honesty from all players when it comes to zombie tags.
Forced to wear their bandanas both night and day during the week’s competition, human players are always targets.
Let’s Stay Together
Sullivan leads a team to the fetch the ignition keys.
“We have to go out to Discovery [Hall], and find the pilot’s key, but we have to be careful because the guy [who is holding the keys] is kind of a shut-in,” Sullivan says to the team beforehand.
“So if he shoots us, do we die?” asks one team member.
“He’s not gonna shoot us,” he assuages.
“Is he gonna blow us up?”
“Something like that,” Sullivan replies. “Just watch out for landmines.”
Afterward he takes his troops on the long trek along Forest Mall. Then the team faces off against what’s standing between them and the zombie helicopter pilot’s key — a field of pingpong landmines — a mini-game.
While several players attempt to “disarm” the pingpong balls, their backup forces fend off attacks from several rushing zombies.
After pumping the zombie pilot’s guts full of foam darts and taking the key, they’re on the retreat through Cady Mall.
All are unprepared for the escalating situation soon to erupt.
At the intersection of walkways between Cady and Orange Mall, four zombies appear from behind a sign in front of the MU.
They don’t pounce, only stalk.
Another undead tails behind the trees that line the sidewalks next to Hayden Lawn. One more follows the group’s forward motions on the opposite side.
Everyone’s teeth are on edge. Enemies converge, someone appears to want to run.
Sensing that his group’s flight tendency might take hold, its leader attempts to snap them back to reality.
“Do not cry wolf, do not cry wolf!” Sullivan commands.
At the final intersection on the south side of Old Main, he urges his team to make a run for it in tight formation.
Now, the zombies pounce.
The brigade discharges its NERF guns en masse, emanating the sounds of popping corn.
But it’s all over.
What they don’t know is a handful of late players were converted to Team Zombie, reducing their odds.
On both sides, players pause to headcount the undead.
When it’s clear the human forces have dwindled in favor of the zombies, the humans run off and regroup.
Advantages like the kind that favor the zombies are always factored in gameplay when the group administrators, journalism junior Caitlin Kelley, computer systems engineering major Nick Keohane and physics junior Brian Lewis, assemble the plot of the tournament beforehand.
“The next mission depends on what happened during the one that preceded it,” Kelley says.
In nights previous, the zombie team converted about a dozen to their side, a number which, Kelley says, was higher than usual.
From the onset of the tournament, the undead netted players from the opposition to their forces in great volume. However, the conversion rate was still fairly low on Tuesday, when it seems players were mostly chasing their own shadows.
Freshmen Daniel Shuck and Adam White are running.
On this night, human players are retrieving parts to mend the broken helicopter.
They’re looking for a mechanic to facilitate these fixes, and they’ve detached from a division of the human team positioned near the Nelson Fine Arts Building.
Exposed to the terrors of the night, they continue their mission.
Next: a stop in the Farmer Building — another location where the elusive mechanic might be positioned.
Cautiously, they usher themselves into the shaded commons area of the building and ascend the stairs to the second floor, where they search the balcony.
Silent as kittens.
As the duo conduct their sweep for the absent mechanic, civilization carries on in classrooms nearby.
A few souls even snag chance glances of the two urban gamers passing the open classroom doors.
Each covers the other’s back, intent to get the jump on sneaky walkers, no doubt informed by “Call of Duty.”
Yet for all of the technique and dedicated method acting, their mission to find and chaperone the marooned “mechanic” goes bust.
Time to get out.
The both of them strategize their exit back to the rendezvous point at Old Main’s fountain, the home of the imaginary downed helicopter.
They decide upon the most surreptitious route possible: Down the pathway between Interdisciplinary and Moeur Buildings.
Aside from stopping to state their names, year and majors, talk is limited to exchanging information.
A slapstick comedic moment stalls them during the mad dash to the buildings. Various identification and credit cards from Shuck’s pockets spill onto the concrete.
Frantically, they scoop the cards up, which disappear back into his wallet, and continue on their way.
For the next five or so minutes, they weave through hushed walkways around Hayden Library and the Life Sciences structures, occasionally pausing at blind spots for nonexistent ambushes.
They escape unscathed. For now.
Life’s A Gas
It’s been about 25 minutes since the massacre at Old Main’s fountain.
The remaining human players (business junior John Park, mechanical engineering freshman T.J. Wuesthoff, aerospace engineering sophomore Jimmy Gomez, bio-chemistry junior Shawn Klemmetson, and White and Sullivan) converse with zombie high command by phone, and Friday’s storyline is quickly shifted to the present. They proceed to the outside of the campus art museum.
After a quick false start by the humans in the parking lot, a location off-limits for all gameplay, the two opposing forces finally meet outside the museum entrance with a decent undercurrent of foreboding.
The humans are up against overwhelming numbers of undead players — their own version of the climax at the Battle at Gettysburg. The vacuous concrete space in front of the art museum serves as a stand-in for Little Round Top.
Slaughter is imminent.
The zombies squash this feeble insurrection as soon it starts.
Yet, there are rumblings of more living.
Even though it’s fairly close to the cut-off time at 9 p.m., the almost-victorious zombies must wait it out.
Members converse. Their guard is lowered but not down.
9 p.m. nears and nothing happens.
Urban Gaming’s members openly admit that this regular battle of Zombies vs. Humans boils down to a drawn-out game of tag.
It’s a few minutes before the deadline when talk spreads to where the triumphant zombie team should depart after the game.
Someone thinks of Dunkin’ Donuts, which Keohane whole-heartedly approves.
And despite the humans losing, you get the feeling that perhaps somewhere these rag-tag human survivors would join their undead brethren for Long Johns if they could.
Reach the writer at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @TaylorFromPhx. Reach the videographer at email@example.com or via Twitter @luu_t_nguyen