Thursday, January 27, 2011

Humans vs. Zombies tag game under fire at UW

by OWEN LEI / KING 5 News
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Posted on January 26, 2011 at 5:50 PM

SEATTLE -- Like the same-name genre of movies and video games -- and much like zombies themselves -- a specialized game of tag is spreading across the country.
But at the University of Washington, Humans Versus Zombies Tag is coming under fire from certain faculty and administrators.
"I had an encounter with a student dressed in combat fatigues, carrying a dark (toy) rifle strapped over his shoulder, and perched in the window of the fourth floor stairwell of Thomson Hall," said Professor Mary Callahan in an e-mail.
Citing the tragedy in Tucson, Callahan stated, "I don't doubt that this game has its social, sporting and strategic appeal, but I believe it should be played elsewhere... I don't like walking around campus amongst make-believe assassins sneaking around with toy guns, looking to take out targets."
But organizers of the "HVZT," which is a registered student group on campus, said that student was not playing correctly, and if identified, would have been kicked out.
"He was still essentially playing the game while in an indoor area, and that is absolutely against our rules," said Sean Mack, game overseer.
So what is Humans Versus Zombies?  Essentially, it's a modified version of tag that lasts five days.  UW students play it one week each quarter, starting with a one or two "zombies."
If you're a zombie, your goal is to tag as many humans as possible, which turns them into zombies.
If you're a human, your goal is just to survive the week.  You can, however, "stun" your pursuers for 15 minutes with foam weapons or rolled-up socks, according to the rules.
Players said the appeal of the game is that it turns your walk to class into a veritable fight for your life.
"It overlays sort of this alternate reality on top of your everyday humdrum campus life," Mack said.
The game has seen tremendous growth at UW since it began in 2009.  Last fall, more than 900 students and two faculty members took part in the game.  During the game two weeks ago, Mack said they still saw more than 400 people register despite the winter quarter.
"The game itself is an ice breaker for a lot of social interaction in that way," Mack said.
But office manager Beverly Winner-Coates also spotted the student perched in the stairwell, and said he did not look like a kid at play.
"He was bent forward, dressed in fatigues, and looking out the window like he was looking, seeing who he could shoot, is the impression we all had," she said.
Winner-Coates supports a push from some UW faculty to ban Humans versus Zombies.
"I don't like getting scared in the middle of the workplace feeling threatened," she said.
But game organizers said a ban goes too far in punishing a group that already has strict rules against inside play.  Academic buildings, dorms, bathrooms, inside a car -- essentially, anywhere indoors -- are off limits to players, according to the club rules. Once indoors, players are supposed to resume their normal, student actions.
Players distinguish themselves from non-players by wearing bright orange or green bandannas.  Zombies wear bandannas on their heads while humans wear them on the arm.
And the types of weapons students are allowed to carry are limited to bright-colored Nerf- or Nerf-like "blasters," said Mack. "The general theme of all those is that they use very sort of bright, vibrant color schemes to distinguish themselves from any firearm."
Mack said the group is in talks with student life leaders about how they can better publicize their activities before people are surprised by the "zombie hordes."  They are also discussing what equipment they will be able to use.  In a worst case scenario, Mack said, they would ban the foam guns in place of rolled-up socks.

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