By Donald Hutchins, Staff Writer
“A few bad eggs”, as described by game moderators, sparked campus-wide response to this year’s first session of Humans vs. Zombies. Because of a few students, concerns of broken rules, distraction from academics, and public safety, emails quickly began piling up in faculty inboxes and on social media.The elaborate game of campus-wide Nerf tag began on Friday, October 23rd, and was postponed by Tuesday the 27th after several faculty requests had moderators announcing daily amendments to game rules and regulations– causing stress and tension between players, moderators, and faculty, alike.
Some concerns raised included the use of two-way radio communication, anxious military jargon and strategies, tactical vests and fatigues in academic settings and in areas active with non-players. It was noted that a few players engaged in areas designated as “no-play” zones, such as residence and academic halls– though moderators addressed them as violation of game rules and banned subsequent offenders.
For those who aren’t aware, Humans vs. Zombies is a six-day game of campus-wide tag; involving two teams competing for “survival”. The “humans” objective is to stay that way for as long as possible; completing moderator-arranged “missions”. Humans are allowed sock flails and “grenades”– a sock rolled into a ball– and eventually Nerf blasters to stun zombies– rendering them unable to tag humans for a designated time-period. The goal of the “zombies” is to tag as many humans as possible, turning them into zombies, until there is one or none left.
The game has had plenty of controversy in its eight-year run at UMF; especially last year, after a faculty member mistook a player for an active shooter and called local police. The faculty member was unaware of the game’s existence, and the student was seen from behind– wearing a vest and camouflage. Authorities arrived and were informed by Public Safety that it was a game; which was promptly cancelled by moderators for safety concerns– aiding in the prevention of a possible tragedy.
This is a chance to have an important dialogue on the impact of gun violence in the United States. With America’s gun violence epidemic reaching campuses recently, the possibility of similar actions in our community must be considered. Celeste Branham, VP, recently noted that while a shooting at UMF is unlikely, “we must always be prepared for such an eventuality.” So it’s understandable that faculty are vigilant in expressing safety concerns. Some faculty and student members were unaware of the game, and thus became uncomfortable when seeing it played out in front of them. These are real concerns, and will be addressed in a discussion between students, players, and faculty before next semester’s game.
However, there is a line dividing caution and paranoia; and both sides were expressed in relation to HvZ this past week. While some folks were concerned about possible PTSD triggers for observers, others were outlining scenarios where a shooter infiltrated gameplay with painted real guns and intent to cause chaos. Brock Caton, Head of Public Safety, said recently that active shooter incidents are unpredictable, though he does feel UMF is less at risk. “Keeping this in mind”, he explained. “The university and other first responders train on this area when we can and revise our respective emergency plans/procedures to always be prepared if one does occur.”
Though a shooting can happen anytime and anywhere, it’s important to remember that procedures are in place for response; and that acting on perceived-risk scenarios may address perceived problems– but can create unforeseen new problems. Being overcautious can often hinder appropriate action in situations like these– and may actually destabilize a minor issue, making it more unsafe than before. As an HvZ participant, I feel the swarm of commentary from worried faculty caused persistent tension, stress, and miscommunication between officials and students– leaving them just as stressed and concerned as the staff– which could have unintentionally heightened the madness in question.
While it’s necessary to maintain a safe campus environment, it is also necessary to distinguish the difference between a real issue and merely a perceived threat. All parties involved in the recent debacle had different understandings of the situation, which acted as a basis for emotional outbursts and rash decision-making that led to widespread misunderstanding. HvZ has been a semesterly activity at UMF since 2007, with little interference from campus officials until recent years. According to a Moderator email, President Kate Foster worked with Brian Ufford to tweak the rules in a way that worked for everyone involved so gameplay could resume the night after it was postponed.
With violence sensationalized in the media, it’s easy to become overbearing in asserting preliminary action when concerned with risks. But I’d say to everyone what my dad told me after the Aurora movie theater shooting. He asked if I wanted to go see Batman the day after the incident and my response was a paranoid “no”. He replied, “why not?! Are you gonna let the shooter win?” His point was that you can’t let tragedies outline how our society works, and how we live our lives. If we get worked up about all the dangerous possibilities in this brave new world of ours, we’re simply letting those who seek to harm win.