Autumn. Mid day. The familiar scent of the wet autumn leaves mixed with the wet bricks of Court Street in Athens Ohio. They say that scent is one of the most strongly tied to memory, and based on the fact that I anxiously found myself looking over my shoulder, I could see why. It hadn't started yet, but already, I felt naked without my gun. I was accompanied by two people. One, being a friend whom I had come to both trust and fear. The other was just a friend of hers that I didn't know too well. I envied her easygoing demeanor in this most auspicious day.
"So how did you two meet?" Her friend asked.
"I was stalking him and his squad one time. They weren't paying attention, so I slipped between them, and killed half of them." She chimed.
"Oh yeah! That happened right in that alley across the street! Scared the hell out of us! So I shot her, and tried to regroup everyone that was left, but they took off in random directions!" I added excitedly.
"Didn't you die soon after?"
"Yes, but it was after the mission took place. I was actually on the way back to the place I was staying, but the squad you took out earlier assaulted me. I took out the six infront of me, but then one of them busted out of the trash and nommed me. I actually died right over there."
The two of us laughed, swapping exaggerated stories of gun fights, tense showdowns, narrowly surviving, and being left for dead by our own teams, only to hunt them later as undead brain hunters. I stopped when I noticed her friend giving us a perplexed look. My laughter subsided as I allowed her a chance to get a word in.
"What in the hell are you two talking about?"
"Oh, its a weeklong survival game called Humans vs Zombies. Basically most of the players start off with nerf blasters and bandanas around their arms as humans, while a small handful of players start off as zombies and try to sneak up to human players to infect them with a tag, and turn them to zombies." I explained.
You see... HVZ is nothing, if not a live action generator for out of context stories and experiences that stay with you for the rest of your days.
If you want the casual pitch, HVZ is a game of tag where you could run around a campus and shoot total strangers with bandanas on their head using nerf guns, who are trying to sneak up and grab the dudes with nerf guns and bandanas on their arms. But I always felt like the casual pitch never really gave the game justice. Humans vs Zombies is a game of situational awareness, paranoia, and strategizing, and learning how to trust, how to stand your ground, when you should embrace that fight or flight panic, or channel it in a cool manner and fight your way out of a situation without making a mistake. As a human, you only have one life. And you need to use that life, along with any foam darts, sock balls, and fellow human survivors at your disposal to try to make it to the final day, and hopefully complete the final objective. Surviving long enough will lead to you having to scalage former battle fields and recover whatever you can use, as all of which dwindle, and you find yourself increasingly alone. But if you get tagged, as stated, you can't come back as a human. You go back to wherever you are staying, put that heavy nerf gear away, empty all those emergency darts in your pocket, then untie that bandana from your arm, and tie it around your forehead instead. Now, you need to learn a new skillset. The sharp perception that may have carried you through many battles and harry situations is honed. The stress of looking over your shoulder every five seconds has subsided. And the very things that once caused you to jump and spray foam in a direction, like one of the many mutant squirrels of Athens jumping into a pile of leaves, now cause you to chuckle. Your job now is to hunt your fellow man and grow the horde. Thinning their ranks to add to your own. Whether you accomplish this through stealth, or whether you horde up with your fellow zombies and try to overwhelm a group with sheer numbers in a charge, that's up to you. And if you get shot? You go inactive for a bit. Go grab a frosty at Wendies and wait it out. No sweat, you may get them next time.
Whatever the case, this game has taught me a lot about my capabilities. Both as a human and a zombie, I've learned how to notice when someone is shadowing me, how to loose them in an alleyway or behind a building and get as far from them as possible without them noticing, and how to disguise my body language so that I can minimize being spotted. I learned how to hold my ground when 60+ screaming people come charging across a field at me, and how to remain cool under pressure, while panic ensues through out the ranks and the humans take a heavy loss. I can keep track of the battlefield around me. At least three directions at once. (Any more than that, and I get overwhelmed.) And I could coordinate with people whom I've played with to check corners, or go stealthy with just a single exchange of glances. You learn real world stealth skills don't just come in the form of sneaking and peaking around corners, but rather looking down at your cellphone as you inconspicuously walk up to a group. And I've kinda scared some of the people in larp when my brother and I tactically coordinated ourselves to move through the battle field and take out enemies that were well beyond our level. Moving in near perfect sync to pop out at both sides. Weaving through the enemy ranks to exploit openings, while instinctively filling weak spots in our own formations. If you want an idea of what its like to be on the field, allow me to introduce you to Tk 1138's amazing video. He's a fellow vet, and has done an incredible job at capturing the action of Endwar 2017, a national event in my home field.
In the coming future, I will tell you the stories of my 10+ years of experience with the game. The solid friendships its helped me to form, and the useful abilities cultivated after high stress situations demanded the most out of me to survive by the skin of my teeth. However, it isn't just my story that I will be telling, but that of the Strike Team Tempest. Its a story I've told before, however, one that I plan to elaborate on with details that never made it into my first telling. Stay tuned, friends. You'll get the full second hand experience of what its like throw yourself into a garbage bin while a pack of pursuing zombies meander past your hiding spot, or to duck down in ankle deep water whilst they trudge above your head, knowing that if any should look down, everything you did up till that point will all be for nothing.