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Sunday, February 28, 2021

Rush to the cure

 

Team Red member Libby Chapman confronts a zombie in the basement of Wilson Library as her team looks for a hostage Saturday, April 30. // Photo by Connor Jalbert
Team Red member Libby Chapman confronts a zombie in the basement of Wilson Library as her team looks for a hostage Saturday, April 30. // Photo by Connor Jalbert

Wilson Library. Once a place of knowledge and discovery, now a refugee camp for survivors weathering the zombie apocalypse. One team has gone ahead to try to find a cure, but they have been captured by the Revenant, a rogue team hell-bent on unleashing the virus on a global level.

Your mission: extraction.

Your means: as many Nerf blasters as you can manage to carry.

Your target: anything that breathes, and everything that doesn’t, too.

This is the premise for the fifth annual Humans vs. Zombies Building Clear event on Saturday, April 30.  Similar to the Humans vs. Zombies standoffs that happen every year on campus: players move cautiously in orange handkerchiefs. Some are decked out in Nerf gear and tactical equipment. Others are viciously in search of their next victim. The game plays like a robust version of tag.

Team Red navigated through Wilson Library first, testing the building clear event Saturday, April 30. // Photo by Connor Jalbert
Team Red navigated through Wilson Library first, testing the building clear event Saturday, April 30. // Photo by Connor Jalbert

The narrative that unfolds over the course of the event is part of what makes the experience so unique. Senior and HvZ president Corey Godfrey said. The level of immersion players experience is an important aspect of the HvZ mission, Godfrey said.

“For the 20 minutes people are running through building clear, we want them to feel like there’s no school, there’s no bills to pay, no exams to study for.” Godfrey said. “It’s just me, my friends or these people I just met, and we’re all going to have each other’s backs, try our best to get our way through and say that we survived.”

What sets this event apart from the typical HvZ campaign? Instead of aiming to survive for an entire week, players navigate through a labyrinth of obstacles and ambushes set up by HvZ staff, all while trying to accomplish a main objective. In this case, rescuing a hostage taken by a team of veteran HvZ players.

“I like to think of it as an interactive haunted house,” Godfrey said. “It’s a video game; come play.”

Founded in 2009 by alumnus Jonathan Gellar, a game in Wilson Library was just a creative notion. Now, there are over 100 participants in this event alone.

Players start out in the lobby outside of Zoe’s Bookside Bagels and navigate over the skybridge into Haggard Hall. There, as the first move in the game, they find a survivor urging players to quickly amputate his arm before the zombie infection spreads. The players are given their first of many figurative choices: do we help him, or do we finish him off?

“No matter who you are in the apocalypse, you’ve got to keep one thing in mind: as long as you have a steady mind, you’ll make it through the night,” freshman Lorenzo Perella said.

Two zombies fell to team Red after they pushed their way through Wilson Library Saturday, April 30. // Photo by Connor Jalbert
Two zombies fell to team Red after they pushed their way through Wilson Library Saturday, April 30. // Photo by Connor Jalbert

Perella understands the mindset needed to make these tough calls. Giving into fear might mean players execute the survivor then and there, seeing his potential transformation as a threat.

“It essentially happens the way you would expect the zombie apocalypse to happen: it starts with a select few and spreads from there,” senior and HvZ Secretary Hallie Ervin said.

Other players may remain more willing to help out, and are rewarded with a guide who can help them navigate part of the course. This is just one of many examples of the choose-your-own-adventure style narrative of the building clear, Perella said.

After moving to the top floor of Haggard Hall, the teams run into a camp filled with fading refugees. The camps are littered with debris, and the survivors show signs of deep wounds. They beg for mercy, and some teams grant them just that. Other teams take a more cautious route and put the survivors in the ground. “It looks just like a scene out of The Walking Dead,” junior Tyler McGrath said.

Moving into the planetarium, a voice warns them of the rogue team, Revenant, and their plot to spread the zombie virus around the world. The teams are told to quickly go back across the skybridge and into the lab on the other side of the library. The teams must pass through the camps once more.

The teams move through no problem.

As for the merciful teams, their decision has come back to bite them, literally.

Once through the skybridge, players are tasked with constructing a cure in a lab behind Zoe’s, all the while their team is fending off hordes of zombies. A new element is added into the game at this point: zombies take more than one dart to go down, and special zombies can revive their fallen undead comrades. This is where having a strong team dynamic and well thought-out strategy comes in handy.

“We’ve been kicking around the idea of having a team for a while now,” freshman Jack Eury said. “We have our automatic blasters in the front and back and we have our middle group for securing objectives. I hope we can all stay alive.”

This combination of preparation and self-assurance is undoubtedly required for surviving the night. Junior Julie Lewis described the spirit necessary to succeed in this event. Departing from the normal attire of camo, bandoliers and war paint, Lewis stormed the course in a blue dress and heels. “Why not be different? I know that I’m capable in heels,” Lewis said.

A Revenant member waits for team Red to enter in the Harry Potter room in Wilson Library Saturday, April 30. // Photo by Connor Jalbert
A Revenant member waits for team Red to enter in the Harry Potter room in Wilson Library Saturday, April 30. // Photo by Connor Jalbert

But even the most jovial of players can get lost in the eeriness of the course. Descending into the archives, players are forced to navigate through narrow corridors, encased in a web of screams and darkness.

“You forget that you’re not actually being attacked by zombies,” sophomore Scott St. Clair said.

After finding safe passage through the archives, the team moves into the final room, ready to take on Revenant in a battle to save the last remaining survivor of the original team, subsequently stopping the virus from spreading with only five minutes to spare.

Given its reputation as being one of the staple Western landmarks, the Harry Potter room serves as a fitting battleground for the deathmatch.

Veteran staff members make up the antagonist team, serving as a challenging boss battle for even the most experienced of players. HvZ founder Jonathan Geller was on one of the first teams to defeat the Revenant with an impressive 30 seconds left in the match. “I love seeing how well the staff has done. I get to be kind of like a proud parent.”

Back when Geller and his friends in Nash Hall founded HvZ, they always dreamed of doing something on this scale.

“We would jokingly say ‘and one day we’ll do Wilson Library’ because that was the prize in the sky that was unobtainable and barely out of reach no matter what,” Geller said.

Much like the undead that roam the course, Geller said HvZ is a “game that never dies.” So next time you see a pack of orange handkerchiefs running your way, know that an even larger horde isn’t too far behind them.

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