I don’t own a Nerf gun. Sorry, Nerf blaster. I think I might have had one when I was small, but the darts were probably lost within a week or two and it eventually floated out on a garage sale pile.
I regretted not holding on to that particular toy as I walked cautiously from my dorm room to the Ridgeway Dining Hall, balled up socks in hand, orange bandana tied to my left arm, eyes darting toward every rustling bush. It was only day one and I knew that there were unlikely to be any “zombies” lurking on the Ridge at 7:30 a.m., but the anxiety was inescapable.
I’m a total outsider to this game. I’ve watched a few episodes of “The Walking Dead,” but I don’t own any camouflage clothing, not to mention the dart-firing artillery that most people have. I’m not a gamer and I don’t know anything about strategy in a situation where monsters wait around every corner. The only attribute I bring to the table is that I’m an athlete. I represent Western as a distance runner, so I hoped that the ability to leave zombies in the dust would help. I was a baseball player in high school, so I hoped I would be able to throw a balled up sock with precision.
I had images in my head of sprinting away from packs of shouting, rabid people with orange strung across their heads, looking back as they steadily faded away, exhausted. I imagined winging sock balls at attackers and nailing them in the torso. I’m sure thoughts of such epic moments are what bring a lot of people into the game. But it never goes the way you picture it. I walked in fear, jumping from building to building, avoiding a lone zombie here and there. These one-on-one encounters were awkward, especially when the zombie attempted to make conversation or come up with a threatening line straight out of a bad SyFy channel movie. Having not watched very many of those movies, I rarely had a good comeback. I just ran.
Day one, Wednesday, was a lonely first day. I didn’t band together with any other humans. I saw a couple of the organized, pseudo-military groups moving through strange parts of campus in formation, speaking to each other by code names. I wouldn’t do them any good because I was so thoroughly unarmed, so I continued my stealthy strategy.
I lasted until Friday afternoon. The end did not involve any dramatic glory. There was no chase. I was walking along the front side of the Communications building, staying close to the doors, about to make the jump to the Environmental Sciences building. But I didn’t look around the corner. She basically bumped into me, a devious smile curling under that orange headband. I was, needless to say, disappointed. If I was to go down, it should have been truly hopeless. I should have been cornered by twenty zombies, out of rolled up socks, bravely resigned to my fate. Instead, I stumbled into someone on accident and just like that, my humanity was gone. She was laughing. I dutifully handed over my card and transferred the bandana from my arm to my head.
I was humbled by the game. Those who are into it take it to a different level. The controversy around it is warranted. I can understand why campus veterans would rather that people didn’t wear military uniforms while brandishing plastic artillery. I understand too the professor who refused to teach during HvZ.
These seven days are a different sort of reality for the people who truly participate. That alternate reality is a reflection of a conglomeration of video games, movies and books that are a reflection of our popular culture. Any reflections will be controversial. All that I know now is that it’s as addicting as it is stressful. However weak my effort was, I caught a glimpse into a different world. And I’ve got a lot to learn in order to survive the next zombie apocalypse.