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Commentary: Ohio State faces ‘Infection’ of humans versus zombies competition

Janelle Cooper / Lantern photographer

Students stalking students. Guns proliferating on campus. Running away from shoot outs between gangs. Is this a new crime wave? No.

The high-cardio, biannual game of “humans” stunning “zombies” and zombies killing humans is in full play at Ohio State. I’ve been a human twice, a zombie twice and a specialized shield-zombie, or a part of the zombie defense, once. I’ve been shot dozens of times. And it’s the most fun I’ve had in months.

Humans versus Zombies, or “Infection” as termed by the OSU Urban Gaming Club, is a week-long game of chase and high excitement as humans defend campus against an ever-growing zombie horde. Humans stun zombies with socks and Nerf gun darts, while zombies kill or turn humans into zombies by tagging them with hands or foam pool noodles. Humans wear armbands and active zombies wear headbands, while stunned zombies wear neck bands. An orange band means the human played “hardcore mode,” using only balled-up socks to stun zombies, unlike the green-banded humans’ Nerf blasters. Moderators, who make sure the game is balanced or played fairly, wear purple bands, game organizers wear yellow bands and special characters played by the organizers wear white bands.

The game kicked off Tuesday with an introductory press conference by Mayor Gloria Büttski (a special character played by an organizer). Büttski declared rumors of a new disease sweeping Europe, the East Coast and California were only rumors and no reason for alarm. She said local police would be cooperating with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and FBI. Büttski did not anticipate any need to evacuate the city or call in military support.

But upon returning to my dorm after 11 p.m. Wednesday and checking the game’s website, I found that Büttski was dead. The zombie horde had grown precipitously, aided by a small number of “original zombies” that disguised themselves with the armband of a human.

Thursday brought more paranoia as zombies continued to convert humans into zombies, increasing the chances that humans like myself would be scarfed up by zombies on their way to class. Some humans move in hordes, some sprint from building to building and some try to blend in with the crowds. I was tagged by a lone zombie on the way to a class Thursday evening, which infected me with the zombie plague and brought me into the zombie horde. Thursday night left less than 30 humans uninfected, down from a starting count of 487. There was no hope for the humans.

Friday I actually participated in the game, wearing my zombie headband until I got a text at 11:30 p.m. from a human friend saying that the organizers were resetting the game because so few humans were left. They didn’t think that there would be enough humans to keep the game going until this Wednesday.

Back on with the armband.

As the day trickled on, I saw only a couple of zombies roaming the streets before classes. A pair of humans decked out with Nerf guns and socks escorted me 200 feet from a dining hall to my dorm, despite no zombies being in sight. Friday afternoon brought confidence to the humans.

Friday night was a different matter. My squad of humans met up with the rest of the humans at the RPAC to receive our mission briefing. Water bottles were hidden in locations around campus, and the humans had to bring the bottles to the north side of Ohio Stadium.

We jogged off to North Commons, passing a zombie with a cell phone. We found two of the four water bottles hidden in the area between North Commons and Norton Hall before the zombies arrived.

Called in by that zombie with the cell phone, a small horde of around a dozen zombies accompanied by a brood mother arrived. We could easily stun the zombies, but the brood mother has the ability to revive the zombies faster than their normal respawn time.

The zombies followed us, finally charging us en masse and killing at least two members of the human team, including yours truly.

As a member of the horde, it became my goal to infect humans, converting them to the side of the homicidal brain-eaters. A simple tag with the palm of the hand was all it took to transmit the zombie plague.

We headed across the stadium parking lot, accompanied by a brood mother. One zombie ran off, got shot and returned, starting the mommy’s respawn timer. In three minutes she would revive any stunned zombies in her vicinity. With 40 seconds left, we charged the mass of humans in front of the stadium. A line of more than 30 humans opened fire, raining darts and socks on the attacking mass of zombies. Dozens of darts hit us, but not before zombies killed two humans.

We retreated to the tender care of the brood mother, played by a game organizer. We respawned.

We then received the help of a King Noodler, which is a zombie with several noodles attached to him, and the brood mother and a moderator bestowed red snow saucers as shields to two other zombies and I. Some time later, the brood mother, hooked in to the moderator walkie-talkie network, told us the night mission was over. We turned in our shields and noodle arms and ran off to hunt humans before they all disappeared into their dorms.

Playing as a human, you have one life. As a zombie, you have infinite lives. You’re dead, so how can you die? The paranoia of living as a human is exhilarating, but the thrill of the chase and being at the top of the food chain make being a zombie one of the best parts of this game.

There was no gameplay Saturday because of the home football game, but Sunday was open play. It continues until late Wednesday night’s finale. About 447 humans were alive and 40 zombies were undead, according to the game’s website Sunday night.

Will the humans survive? Will the zombies eat all the brains? Only time will tell.

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