Major in HVZ


By Rachel Simons

Photo courtesy of OzAdr1an.

Though astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson has proven that a real zombie apocalypse is physiologically impossible, you can still participate in a pretend one.

It’s no surprise that pop culture’s obsession with the undead causes many people to ask what exactly would happen in the case of a zombie pandemic. The result? Humans vs Zombies (HVZ), a live-action role play (LARP) game, is sweeping across college campuses throughout the world.

Most people think that LARPing is largely focused on fantasy based quests in the style of Dungeon and Dragons where players use cardboard and foam weapons. HVZ has similar game play mechanics, but also a few changes to streamline involvement.

It‘s easy for any college student to start a HVZ group. The way that it works is that there are two (obvious) factions: the humans and the zombies. While the humans always start out strong in numbers, the Original Zombie (OZ) creeps among them, slowly infecting individuals to help the virus spread.

To identify themselves as players, humans must wear either an arm or leg band while zombies sport a headband. The OZ remains unmarked, masquerading as an innocent non-player who can can easily start infecting victims.

To infect a human, zombies must hand tag them and receive their HVZ ID card. To stave off the zombie invasion, humans can stun the undead using Nerf gun darts, socks, or marshmallows, but each hit only lasts 15 minutes. If zombies don’t “feed” in 48 hours, they die out. Whichever side has the most players at the end wins.

The rules always remain the same, but the potential for different scenarios and storylines is endless. Players have to fend for themselves during the day to get to class and meals outside (but the inside spaces of campus buildings are considered safe neutral zones). Humans and zombies participate in “missions” during the evening and on weekends to develop the plot and get participants to play together in large groups.

Usually, missions consist of the humans having to retrieve an item or non-player character and safely travel to a specified location in the hopes of finding a cure for zombie-ism. Naturally, the zombies will attempt to foil the humans and eat their brains.

On average, campus wide games will last a week or two, but there can also be intense one-day games that are filled with missions and continue nonstop from dawn until dusk. Penn State annually hosts one of the latter, called the Penn State HVZ Invitational, which includes college teams from across the country and boasts an average of about 200 players each year.

“You make a lot of new friends during the sessions,” comments Rachel Schiff, an HVZ player from SUNY New Paltz. “I have asthma, so being a zombie isn’t the most fun thing in the world, but it’s still really awesome being able to terrify someone just by wearing an orange headband. It’s a good reason to have a heart attack while walking to class.”

Unlike other collegiate clubs or sports teams, HVZ doesn’t make players try out to get in or go through a process to move up among the ranks. Everybody is welcome regardless of age, year, or athletic ability. Besides the group moderators who organize the games and make sure everyone is playing safe and fairly, there aren’t even executive positions. The main goal of all HVZ clubs is really to just have fun.

“Although I needed to remember to bring my inhaler more, I wasn’t pushed to overexert myself or anything like that. Everyone was really supportive,” adds Schiff.

Whether you’re a writer and want to help come up with mission scenarios, or an engineer who is skilled at modifying Nerf guns or making blow dart shooters out of PVC pipe, players are encouraged to find their favorite aspect of HVZ and get as involved as they want to.

Yes, HVZ may not be the coolest or most understood “sport,” but there is no other game where you can charge in to battle and see if you really would survive the zombie apocalypse. That phantasmal premise sounds a lot more interesting than just kicking a ball back and forth.