Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Reflections of a Third-Year 'Humans vs. Zombies' Survivor

A properly formed firing line. Photo courtesy of HvZ Athens.
I have been fighting the good fight, resisting the onslaught of the living dead on Ohio University's Athens campus, for three years. I have played over eight games, counting the fall and spring games, invitationals, and  even a winter game. I have stood the line against shambling (and not-so-shambling) hordes of zombies hungry for a tug of my bandanna. I went from pathetic, scared-shitless noob to captaining my own strike team of hardened, grizzled veterans. When the zeds besieged us in front of Fort Ellis in the winter of '12, during final night, I stood with over a half-dozen other survivors on the left staircase -- I remember distinctly when our flanks were breached and zombies poured across the defenses, the hasty, haphazard retreat to the tower. I have died many times, risen as a member of the walking dead, and proceeded to die and resurrect countless times after that

Through it all, I've made friends in the foxholes, stolid companions in the midst of a war for our very humanity. I've seen those friends turn, our brotherhood tested when undeath took hold, and I've been on the other side, a bandanna-hungry demon, prowling and stalking my hapless human prey. These memories, these friendships, and lessons learned (oftentimes, by the skin of our own hides) are what HvZ is all about.

If you're going out there and playing HvZ in Athens tonight, let a "pro" (I use the term loosely; there are countless others with far more experience than I) share some of tips to aid you in your survival (and fun!) out there.

Photo courtesy of HvZ Athens.
Lesson #1: Always watch your back.

Whether you're going out there with a group or by yourself, always know who or what is behind you. Designate someone, if you're in a group, to rearguard -- and make damn sure they are doing their job. Nothing looks sweeter to a hunting zed than a group of humans wandering around like chickens for the slaughter with nobody watching behind. You'll likely lose about half your group in a situation like that.

If you prefer the whole lone wolf act, you better be pretty confident with watching your back solo. My advice? If you prefer not to run with a big group, run with another lone wolf -- sticking to pairs lets you move quick and quiet, plus you can cover each other's backs. The advantage to running in smaller teams is that if you're lucky, you might be able to skirt past patrolling zed groups without them noticing -- unless you're packing enough heat on your person that you're pretty much shouting, "HEY, ZOMBIES! I'M HERE! COME AT ME!" If that's your intent, then all power to you, mate.

Yeah, that's me in the pink bandanna, smiling about something. Photo courtesy of HvZ Athens.
Lesson #2: A sock bomb in the hand is worth two in the bush.

I know I shoehorned that proverb in there pretty hard, but the point is, keep a sock bomb handy. You never know when your gun might jam or if your clip runs out mid-battle. Unless you're the quickest hand in the West and can draw a Maverick and fire in less than two seconds, nothing is going to save your ass quicker than a sock bomb in your off-hand. Even if you're gripping a Raider, you can keep a sock bomb between the fingers of your hand holding the pumping grip. If your gun jams and a zed is about to leap on your face, you'll be glad you had it handy.

Lesson #3: If a horde is charging you, form a firing line. And hold your damn ground!

A horde of screaming zed (or, in many cases, singing or chanting, or any combinations of vocalization) can be a terrible sight indeed. It's a natural response to a large group stampeding in your direction to run. It's that "fight or flight" impulse -- but, trust me and trust the guys (and girls) out there bellowing our lungs out -- running is exactly what the zeds want you to do. A firing line, like a phalanx or a pike square, is only as effective as the morale and discipline of the members within it. If a portion of the line breaks and runs, the rest of the line is compromised. In other words, hold your damn ground because your fellow survivors are counting on you. I don't care if you're down to half a clip, or all you got is a Maverick -- if we need a firing line, we need a firing line. Do not retreat unless in an ordered one. Fun fact about war from the Classical period to the early modern period: More soldiers die during a rout than during the actual battle. And even more died from dysentery too, but that shouldn't be a problem out there unless you start drinking water from rain puddles.

This is one of my Bears. His name is Jeff.
Photo courtesy of HvZ Athens.
Lesson #4: Listen to the moderators.

This should honestly be a no-brainer. But if the mods have their glowsticks on and are yelling about something, you should probably pay attention. It could be anything from specific details for the mission (like special respawns or objectives) or, hopefully not, someone might have been injured. Just pay attention if it looks like someone is saying something important. It'll save us time later when we should be looking for the mission objective instead of sitting around chatting.

Also, since this goes hand-in-hand with listening to the moderators, please respect them too. They do everything they can to ensure that we all get to play an enjoyable game. Please don't whine and complain to them during a mission about how you were unfairly tagged or that "this mission is gay." First of all, you shouldn't be using the word "gay" like that; it's offensive and makes you sound like an uncouth twelve-year-old (no offense to the twelve-year-olds out there who play the game, many of whom are intelligent, courteous individuals). But unless you've spent hours (days, even) of your life planning a campus-wide, week-long HvZ game, you really don't have any place to be complaining. If you think you can do better, volunteer to be a contributor.

Lesson #5: "Rule Zero" and have fun!

At every meeting prior to a game, the moderators go over the most important rule of the game: Don't Be a Dick. I like to think of it in terms of "have as much fun as you can as long as you don't intrude on someone else's ability to have fun." Follow Rule Zero. Remember, if you're a human, zombies are players too, and vice versa. They are playing this game, because like you, they have fun doing so. Don't do anything that would make it less fun for them. Now, this doesn't mean "run slower so the zeds can catch you," but it does mean "don't take of your bandanna so you can go between classes safely." Unless you're carrying some expensive equipment or a project, you should be playing 24/7. HvZ is twice the fun if you play 24/7. That paranoia between classes, your gaze darting to the necks or heads of passer-bys to check if they're zeds, is part of the game! If you see team members rolling around campus without their bandannas on in the bright of day, ask them why they're not playing 24/7. Nobody's a vampire, guys -- we play in the day just like we do at night. 

And if you're worried what our wonderful college peers might think, don't be. We're all playing a pretend game of the zombie apocalypse because it's fun; we are shooting each other with Nerf darts, which I might add are intended for kids age 9+. We might be dressing up in pseudo-military camo and spray-paint our guns, but, guys, they are toys. Of course we look ridiculous! That's the whole point.

Look at these two ridiculous-looking guys.
Photo courtesy of Jate Nott.
Don't let what non-players think affect how you play a game that you find fun. In fact, if curious bystanders ask what's going on, take a minute (and have someone stand guard while you do so) and explain the game to them. Be friendly. Think of yourself as an ambassador of the game. How people perceive this game is affected by the players that they meet. 

Another thing to keep in mind while you're having fun is that not everybody has fun the same way. Maybe you enjoy the gung-ho approach, talk in military jargon over your walkies, and mod your guns 'til they look like weapons from a sci-fi TV show (Oh, wait...), but there might be some more casual players out there in T-shirts armed with nothing but sock bombs. Don't treat them like second-class players, and if you are one of those T-shirted casuals, don't be a dick to the people who like to play dress-up. Everyone has fun in HvZ their own way. Don't be judgmental. Part of the fun for me when I go out is the character I pseudo-roleplay. Now, I don't go around introducing myself by another name, but my particular HvZ character is an eclectic combination of W40K Imperial Guardsman and WW2-era German soldier (Hey, the Nazis were evil, but their uniforms were sharp!). In his helmet, he even keeps a photo of "his girl back home," just like how the dudes from Band of Brothers would have had. It's my way of adding a bit of fun to the cold and rainy nights when you're patrolling and you don't even see a single zed.

This might only have been halfway helpful, but a half is better than none, hey? See you out there, ladies and gentlemen. Keep fighting the good fight!

Remember the awesome that was this? Photo courtesy of HvZ Athens.

No comments:

Post a Comment