Undead prey on living in Humans vs. Zombies game at MU

Monday, October 10, 2011 | 9:53 p.m. CDT; updated 5:06 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, October 11, 2011
Matthieu Jeavons of Team Nyan Cat looks around for zombies during the Humans vs. Zombies game Monday near Jesse Hall. Jeavons, who is a student from France, said this was his first Humans vs. Zombies game.

*CORRECTION: Ryan Shiner's name was misspelled.

COLUMBIA — Ryan *Shiner sat on the grass near Jesse Hall on Monday, hunched over his laptop, his backpack resting on his legs.

The sophomore journalism student wore a blue bandana around his forehead. He and a group of 20 other bandana-clad friends were waiting for their "victims" to show up.

Rules of the game

Humans vs. Zombies rules are explained in detail on the game's website. The following are the bare essentials:

  • Zombies can kill a human player by tapping them on any part of the body. Each zombie needs to "feed" on a killed player every 48 hours in order to survive; if a zombie starves, it becomes "deceased" and is no longer a player in the game.
  • A human that is tagged becomes "zombified" and considered a zombie player for the remainder of the game.
  • Humans can defend themselves by stunning zombies with foam darts or socks; a stunned zombie cannot give chase or interact with the game for 10 minutes. 
  • Play is not allowed inside campus buildings, in parking garages or at Stankowski Field.
  • Players must visibly wear their bandana (around the head for zombies, around the arm for humans) at all times.

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"The goal," he said, smiling cheerfully, "is to kill all humans."

Shiner is one of nearly 500 participants in this fall's Humans vs. Zombies at Mizzou, which began Oct. 4 and will conclude Tuesday. The game is an extended version of moderated tag that has been played at MU every semester since spring 2009.

"We're all friends," said Shiner, referring to his fellow undead horde and prey alike. 

Shiner and fellow zombies laughed and chatted as they waited for human forces to arrive on Tuesday's day mission, swapping stories of their kills or talking reverently of respected players. The group sat together for more than an hour — hardly discussing anything except the game.

One zombie in the circle, MU student Jeff Mackie, proudly sported an identifying headband and Humans vs. Zombies T-shirt, personalized with "Brains" on the back. Beneath the lettering, Mackie tallies his kills in red sharpie — 14 total.

Zombies can kill a human player by tapping them on any part of the body. Humans can defend themselves by stunning zombies with foam darts or socks.

The amassed zombies listened as Mackie recounted the story of his favorite zombie attacks.

"There was some guys holed up in Rollins, and they outnumbered the zombies outside," he said, peppering his story with military jargon. "We were just circling to keep them pinned in." 

His group drew the humans outside with a diversion.

"The distraction allowed us to pincer them," he said. They ended up turning several humans into zombies.

"Ah man, that was my group," a listener groaned as he heard the story's conclusion.

There are no hard feelings between the two once-humans, though, and everyone continued to laugh.

The same camaraderie can be found on the human side.

"The first day I didn't talk to anyone, but you just have to put your full faith in the other humans," said Robert Henige, a freshman secondary education major.

This has been Henige's first campaign, and he is the only member of his squad left, a common state for humans late in the game. He said he met people he would never have talked to normally, and the campus seems smaller now. 

Nicholas Cappo, a freshman biology major, echoed Henige's sentiments. He really liked his squad because they always had his back, but they've become zombies. Cappo doesn't let his squad's fate get him down. He's bonded with the other humans left.

"Even people not playing will yell good luck or good job, or warn you if there's a zombie behind you," he said. "It's been a great experience." 

Humans vs. Zombies, nicknamed HvZ by its players, is played on many college campuses nationwide. For many, the game is a gateway to a new community.

Humans vs. Zombies head moderator Mike McClannahan said the game has been a lot of fun. "I've met a lot of my best friends in college through this game. And it's a lot more socially acceptable than you would think."

McClannahan, a junior information technology major, is responsible for organizing the events and coordinating the moderators who serves as referees.

Humans vs. Zombies is played continuously for an entire week. A human player is fair fodder for a zombie player at any time of the day and any outdoor place. Buildings are considered off limits to players to avoid interfering with classes or local businesses.

"You're pretty much in play the moment you step outside," Schiner said. "If a zombie sees you downtown, you just do your best to defend yourself."

Players take their dedication to the lifestyle seriously. Schiner said a running joke is that if a human takes a vacation to Florida in the middle of the game, and a zombie follows, the game is still on.

"People really like the paranoia," McClannahan said. 

McClannahan said this fall's competition is the largest yet at MU, with approximately 500 people playing. He encouraged anyone interested to go to the competition's website and participate in the spring.

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