Week of the living dead

Zombies invade Chico State

“Original zombie” John Pozzi (right), an applied computer graphics lecturer at Chico State, is guarded closely by his crew of undead cohorts.

“Original zombie” John Pozzi (right), an applied computer graphics lecturer at Chico State, is guarded closely by his crew of undead cohorts.

Photo By Stacey kennelly

Horror film director George Romero started it, and Chico State student Will Owen is helping keep it alive.

The zombie craze, that is.

“We’re gonna have people being chased across campus between classes,” Owen said. “And squadrons of people, groups of wannabe paramilitary sock-throwing commandoes, who are hunting zombies.”

Owen, a senior computer-graphics major and zombie enthusiast, was referring to Humans vs. Zombies—known by insiders as “HvZ”—a weeklong game of tag in which humans defend themselves from infection by zombies. The game started at midnight Monday (Oct. 26) on the Chico State campus and will end when the clock strikes Halloween.

A couple of students from Goucher College on the East Coast started HvZ in 2005, and Owen said the game has been rising in popularity on campuses throughout the nation since Comedy Central’s Stephen Colbert called zombies the “No. 1 threat to America.” The fake pundit featured the game during an episode of The Colbert Report, telling students to stop trivializing the threat of the undead by playing “fake zombies.”

At Chico State—where the game is being played for the first time this year—Owen said some of the more “hardcore” players are sporting official HvZ T-shirts while others are shambling around campus fully costumed.

“So we’re going full-out role playing,” he said. “It’s gone beyond just a game of tag.”

The craze with the undead has been slipping in and out of popularity in the decades since Romero began making horror films about the zombie apocalypse, such as 1968’s Night of the Living Dead. In recent years, the obsession has been fueled by movies such as Dawn of the Dead, Shaun of the Dead and 28 Days Later.

Owen, who got hooked on zombies in the fifth grade by playing the game Resident Evil on PlayStation, learned about HvZ this time last year, and decided Chico State needed to get in on the fun. That’s when he started organizing the first trial game with other computer graphics students around the O’Connell Technology Center. Soon the “art kids” in Ayres Hall got word and wanted in, and without Owen even knowing it, an entire floor from Whitney Hall joined in on the cause.

“That’s just where it started with us,” he said of the game’s 180 participants. “On other campuses, the game goes through all cliques, all interests.”

Owen worked with campus administration to get the go-ahead, which wasn’t an easy task. Getting approval required a lot of footwork with the Student Activities Office, Risk Management and University Police.

To appease administrators, Owen instituted a liability and safety waiver participants were required to sign before playing. He made it a rule that students can’t play on campus between 6:30 p.m. and 7 a.m. in response to safety concerns from campus police, and he promised that participants would use socks to stun zombies instead of Nerf guns, which are commonly used on other campuses.

A few weeks prior to the event, Owen set up meetings to give participants the rules, including the ins and outs of defending themselves from a zombie takeover. The crash-course was also for those who signed up as part of “original zombie” pool.

The premise of the game is pretty simple: Zombies, who are marked by headbands, infect their human victims (only those who wear armbands to signify their participation) by physically tagging them between classes on or off campus. The only defense against the undead is to hit them with socks, thereby stunning them for 15 minutes.

Once tagged, humans hand over an identification number to the zombies, who have three hours to change their victim’s status from “human” to “zombie” by entering the ID into the HvZ Web site (Chico.HvZsource.com) for all other game-players to see—and watch out for. Their roles, of course, switch from defending themselves to tagging at least one human (“feasting on a corpse”) every 48 hours for survival.

Owen played in the trial game, but as moderator for the first official game, he has to sit out. At the end of the five-day gaming period, either zombies or humans will walk away with bragging rights.

HvZ may sound like all fun and games, but there’s a surprisingly academic side to all this zombie-play.

“This game really encourages team-building, communication and leadership,” Owen said. “It’s an alternative to drinking and partying and other activities that haven’t been so good to the image of Chico.

“It’s just a way for people to stop taking life so seriously,” he added. “It’s a chance to become a little kid again.”