ORONO, Maine — It was a dark, cold, windy night when about 175 University of Maine students were let loose on the campus mall as they tried to avoid the zombies stalking them.
It wasn’t a prank or a movie set, but a mass game of Humans vs. Zombies, which is similar to tag or assassin in which zombies try to tag humans in order to stay alive, and humans try to survive the horde of undead fellow students.
The game began at 6:06 p.m. Monday. Students gathered in a corner of the campus mall near Fogler Library and Alumni Hall, poised to run through a thin layer of snow, and bolted at the end of a countdown indicating the start of the game. Humans vs. Zombies ends at midnight Friday.
The game, which is the first of its kind in Orono, is meant as a campuswide bonding exercise, although the moderators are using it as a pledge project for the Alpha Delta service fraternity and an opportunity for charity. Students who signed up for the game donated about $100, which will go to the Good Shepherd Food-Bank in Brewer.
“I’m very pleased,” said junior Christopher Webber of Litchfield, who is moderating the game along with Evan Miliano of Swanville and Matthew Beaulieu of Northport, both sophomores. “It’s a good amount of money for the numbers [of participants].”
Humans vs. Zombies — HvZ, for those in the know — was invented in 2005 by two students at Goucher College in Maryland, according to the Web site humansvszombies.org. It has spread to dozens of college campuses, including Bates College in Lewiston, the Web site claims. Webber first heard of the game from a friend, Al Palmer of Litchfield, who played the game at Rochester Institute of Technology.
Most of the students start as humans, who were wearing yellow bands somewhere on their clothing. Two original zombies, who will wear red bands but were unknown to the rest of the field, were chosen to get the game started.
Zombies can convert humans with a firm grasp or tag. Once tagged, humans have an hour to convert to zombies and begin attacking other humans. Zombies must convert at least one human every 48 hours or they will wither and die.
Humans can stun zombies using a plastic toy gun with darts — most competitors chose Nerf guns — or balled-up socks. Zombies are stunned for 15 minutes, and cannot interfere with the human’s escape.
Top zombies and humans still alive at the end of the game will be eligible for prizes.
Lindsey Miller, a freshman environmental science major from Yarmouth, signed up with a group of friends, and discovered more acquaintances also had entered. Miller sees Humans vs. Zombies as a way to blow off steam before the end of the semester.
“I thought it would be fun, a good way to de-stress and relax before finals week,” said Miller, who was holding a yellow-and-orange Nerf gun with “Bye Bye Zombie” written on the side. “I looked at the rules and I thought, this looks really cool. I was worried that things might get out of hand, but if everybody plays cool and plays by the rules, it’ll be really fun.”
Although the game has grown in popularity, Humans vs. Zombies has its detractors because of the use of plastic guns, especially considering incidents such as the murders at Virginia Tech in 2007.
Webber met Monday night in Little Hall with most of the participating students before they were released, and cautioned the group to use common sense. Webber said UMaine chief of police Noel March is supporting the student game but cautioned students to be careful.
“[March] was very detailed on what I needed to know,” Webber said. “He thinks I’ve covered all the bases and we’re ready to go. He’ll have his officers be fair about it, they won’t get worried when they see someone shooting a [Nerf] gun.”
Students cannot play the game in academic buildings from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. or during any time when a building is being used for a class or club meeting. Buildings such as the Memorial Union and Fogler Library are off-limits, as are events such as campus tours, sports games, or when students are working campus jobs. Any plastic weapons brought into academic or administrative buildings or libraries must be completely concealed. Only the students who signed up are involved, so students not playing the game shouldn’t have to worry about being tagged or stalked.
Still, Webber cautioned students to practice common sense — men aren’t to go into women’s bathrooms, and vice versa. Dorm rooms are safe, but not dorm hallways.
Miller had a simple plan to survive the first few minutes of the game.
“As soon as we get out there, I’m going to run,” she said before going out into the dark, cold night. “I’m raring to go.”
For more information on the game or to donate, go to www.orono.hvzsource.com.