Once per semester, students across Western Michigan University’s campus will be running away from one another as if they were flesh-eating, undead corpses.
“It’s just loads of fun to just blow off steam, and just actually relax and have some fun. Some legal fun,” says WMU student Brandon Kammer.
Kammer is one of eleven council members in WMU Zombies versus Humans, which draws hundreds of participants each semester. The game was first created in 2005 by students at Goucher College in Maryland. The game is played at many schools across the country, though some have been shut down due to sensitivity to gun violence following the 2007 school shooting at Virginia Tech, but WMU student Cheniah ThunderEagle said Kalamazoo has never had a problem.
“In layman’s terms, it’s a complicated version of tag," she says. "Zombies just have to tag a human on the body somewhere, and then humans turn into a zombie and they join the zombies. The way humans are defined is they get to use NERF blasters or other off-brand toy guns that shoot darts. They defend themselves with those. Usually they shoot a zombie with a dart, and they’re out for fifteen minutes. The game runs for about seven days. It’s just who can survive, how long can the humans last, and slowly the zombie horde just gets bigger, and bigger, and bigger.”
ThunderEagle, who cites her passion for horror films and video games as her inspiration to get involved, says there are several reason why students play ZvH.
“It’s active, we have a lot of friends, we’ve made a lot of friends in it, so getting to see those people. It’s just an opportunity to get out and do something different. And also the whole horror aspect is another reason why people play," says ThunderEagle. "That kind of fear of, yeah there’s people pretending to be zombies, but it’s actually still scary out there because you’re walking around in the dark and you don’t know who’s lurking behind the corners. So it’s just a great experience.”
The game takes place across Western’s entire central campus, but players are not allowed to play inside any buildings. The game lasts a full week. Players wear armbands to show they’re on the human team, while zombie players wear headbands. Players can simply remove their armband or headband to exit the game and attend their classes. Some players even sport a commando look with guns draped across their backs and war paint on their faces. Zombie players often wear make-up to enhance their look. Aside from just surviving the game, players can also accomplish missions, which give rewards to their team.
“Missions are designed to make the humans actually have to think, have the humans come out and interact," Kammer says. "Because truly, humans are going to die, so we’ve got to motivate them to give them a reward for all their friends that die.”
Rewards can be things like 'tank-shoulders,' which are basically shoulders pads that humans wear so a zombie has to place both palms on the shoulder pads to tag them. Players may also be rewarded currency, which zombies can use to buy their way back onto the human team. Missions are completed based on storylines created by council members such as transporting an injured human to a safe zone.
“It’s just a way to keep players interested during the week, and to keep things going and to keep things interesting,” says ThunderEagle.
The game is free to play and anyone over 18 is welcome.