Video by Kaitlin Owens; Article by Ryan Powers
Check out the above newscast of the zombie invasion of Athens!
As zombie hordes ravaged the lands of Athens, Ohio, Beta Fish Magazine braved an interview with the man responsible for it all. The date was Friday, Oct. 18.
Most people start the game as humans while there is a small group of zombies. The game is played continuously for a week, meaning that humans must fight off zombies even as they are walking to class. Additionally, there are multiple organized missions that players must endure.
Two games a year are put on in Athens – one for each semester.
Athens HvZ was founded in 2007 and has grown since.
“I think the first game, there was only thirty or so people playing,” Bullington said. “And this game, we have an unofficial account of around 200 people.”
This growth in membership is in spite of challenges to create a welcoming environment for new players in the past.
“In the past, we realized that our veteran players weren’t really as welcoming to that,” Bullington said. “But so far this game they’ve been doing a great job.”
New players were taken into a separate room during the opening meeting, allowing Bullington to address the veterans directly about this specific issue, lest membership drop again. “Last game we were really worried about it, because we only had probably 15 or 20 new people,” he said.
Regardless of previous challenges, Bullington said he finds hope in that HvZ is continuing to grow. “This game, probably two-thirds of our opening meeting was new players,” he said.
Hostility toward new players in the past can be attributed to “noob mistakes,” some of which Bullington detailed. “So what I would consider a ‘noob mistake,’ would be, during the day, you are walking around and aren’t just consistently checking around you for zombies as a human,” he said.
He elaborated on night play mistakes as opposed to day play.
“The night play is a lot different, because both sides really group up and there is big numbers on both sides,” Bullington said. “One of the things that new players will make the mistake of doing is running from small groups of zombies when, if they stand and hold their ground, they’ll have a lot more success that way than by running.”
In the past, veterans have scolded new players for not “holding the line” when a group of zombies charged them. This sort of activity is what Bullington addressed the veterans about during the opening meeting. He stressed the importance of welcoming new players in order to ensure the longevity of HvZ.
“We just want to try to make the new players feel as welcome as possible, because there’s fifteen people in the mod group total, and most, if not all of them, are going to be gone after this year,” Bullington said.
The “mod group” is the group of moderators who oversee and organize the game.
“There’s going to be probably less than five of us (in the mod group after next year), myself probably not included,” he said. “The new players are our future players and our future moderators, and if they lose interest in the game, we won’t have anyone.”
HvZ benefits the players’ lives in multiple ways, according to Bullington. One benefit that he cited was the exercise, but he elaborated on how HvZ can be a learning experience as well.
“As far as the whole learning experience goes, you learn what works best for you in this game,” Bullington said.
Bullington said he has changed his strategy as he’s learned how the game works. For example, he said he carries around balled-up socks in his pockets to throw at zombies during the day rather than wear several Nerf guns. “The players who do that often do not even get noticed by zombies during the day,” he said.
There are also benefits to be had that extend beyond HvZ gameplay, including forged friendships.
“People who are really introverted, over the course of playing this game, make a lot of friends that share a lot of similar things with them,” Bullington said. “They’ll become a lot more outspoken in general.”
It is easy to make friends in HvZ, regardless of one’s interests, according to Bullington.
“There’s not really a specific type of person who plays this game,” he said. “Obviously, we’re all somewhat geeky or nerdy or whatever. But there’s also a few people, who in high school, you would consider ‘jocks,’ out here playing. This game is limited to nobody.”
With an event that is successful among many different types of people and age groups – middle and high school students often join – one can imagine the amount of planning that must go into it. “We usually start planning for the game about three months in advance,” Bullington said.
There are many factors to consider when planning HvZ.
“The things we have to worry about are: Are the players going to enjoy this game?” Bullington described. He listed game balance, clarity of missions and practicality as considerations when planning the game.
Once the plans are put into action, the game takes an even larger drain on the moderators’ time.
“A lot of the missions will keep the moderators out well past midnight sometimes,” Bullington said. He cited one specific mission that kept moderators and players outside until the sunrise last year.
Many things do not go according to plan. “Right now, one thing that I’m most concerned about is the number of zombies right,” Bullington said. “The number is what we would expect by the end of tomorrow night.”
When discrepancies in the plan occur, the moderator team makes adjustments. Bullington regarded OU’s HvZ as one of the best in keeping balance.
“I’ve been to several other schools’ invitationals,” Bullington said. “I’ve been to Penn State, I’ve been to Purdue. Some of our players have been to Bowling Green, and one in Berea College. But one thing that I’ve noticed that we do better than basically anywhere else is keep a proper balance.”
Bullington explained how OU’s branch of HvZ is able to keep a steady balance throughout the game.
“What we do in the case of having too many humans or too many zombies,” he explained, “is we’ll just adjust how many respawns the zombies get, or how difficult the route for the humans to go through is.”
He went on to explain the process of deciphering how many humans and zombies there are at any given moment.
“We basically have to gather info from all of the eyes of all of the mods that we have around campus and kind of just estimate the numbers, because we never really know,” Bullington said. “Since we don’t actually have a strict registration process, we never know hard numbers of how many are on both sides.”
“It will never go as according to plan, ever,” He added. “That’s just how this game works. We just have to adjust on the fly, and we have to make split second decisions sometimes.”
Considering that the game is based “120 percent on the honor system,” according to Bullington, one might be concerned about cheating. Bullington addressed that concern.
“The way we always describe it at the opening meetings is, ‘if you feel the need to cheat in a fake zombie apocalypse, then you should probably sit down and reevaluate your priorities,’” he said.
Finally, Bullington described how it feels during gameplay, both as a human and as a zombie.
“With the humans, it really breaks up the monotony of going to class every day because we play a twenty-four hour, seven days a week game,” he said. “So, basically, if you’re outside, you should be playing.”
Bullington noted before continuing that the only exceptions are for people carrying heavy, expensive equipment.
Anxiety and paranoia are two feelings associated with human gameplay during HvZ.
“(Playing as a human) gives you a certain anxiety, but it’s not like a negative anxiety,” he said. “For me, anyway, it’s fun to be paranoid all day, every day. A lot of players will plan out of the way routes so they don’t have to walk through areas like Morton Hill and College Green, areas where there’s a lot of players.”
Organizing teamwork and role-playing are two other factors that Bullington cited as making gameplay fun for humans.
Zombies have their fair share of fun, too.
“Whenever you turn into a zombie, all of that stress is just gone, and it’s great,” Bullington said. “Every single person that the zombie horde gets, they welcome them in. They’ll chant stuff like ‘One of us! One of us!’”
Another part of the fun for zombies is the sense of accomplishment felt upon zombifying someone else.
“It’s always a good feeling,” Bullington said. “It is extremely hard to get tags on a human, and when you actually do, it really feels like an accomplishment.”
Although it is an extremely fun game, Bullington noted that “both sides have their ups and downs,” and noted the frustration often felt by zombies because of the level of difficulty in zombifying humans.
“People will feel like they’re not actually doing anything, so they don’t have fun, but that’s not really the point of HvZ,” Bullington said. “HvZ is whatever you want to make of it.”
He quoted another member of the moderator group who captured this notion: “’There’s no way to lose Humans versus Zombies except for when you decide you have lost,’” he said.
Athens HvZ ensures that everyone turns into a zombie by the end of the game, making it so that everyone ends up “on the same team,” as Bullington put it.
That team is growing. The zombie horde is multiplying. Athens HvZ’s spring invitational will include other colleges from as far away as North Carolina.
The prospect of hundreds of zombies with the sole goal of infecting and eating other humans may scare some people and excite others. Beta Fish Magazine says, Braaaainssss!