Not Your Average Zombie

Students Suit Up for Annual Alternative Athletics Activity

On any average school day, music technology major Kevin Forté goes to class, eats lunch in the dining hall with his friends, and spends a few hours working as a clerk in the mailroom. It’s a schedule he’s kept since freshman year in 2011, with increasing responsibility and more advanced coursework. He makes time for extracurricular activities too. He tinkers with computers and guitars. And for one week of the year, he transforms into a warrior, identifiable by the running shoes, Nerf rifle, and bright-colored arm band.

The game is called Humans versus Zombies, or HvZ for short. 

The rules are simple enough. The game lasts a week and all but one or two people start on Team Human. Should a human be tagged by a zombie, they mutate and become part of Team Zombie. Humans arm themselves with Nerf weapons. Blasting a zombie will stun him for 15 minutes, which is just enough time to run. As a human, survive the week. If you’re a zombie, conquer the campus. Either way, keep going to classes. HvZ is an extracurricular activity. 

Academic halls, residence halls and the cafeteria are safe zones. No shooting and no tagging. Everywhere else is fair game.

Kevin Forté is a human among zombies (left to right) Kayla Russell, Jimmy Villatoro, Ian Phillips (hand) and Chantae Shor, with zombie makeup by junior drama major Ashley Wilson (not pictured). The story on Humans versus Zombies is captured by junior mass communication and anthropology major Cory A. Thompson. (Photo by Luke Bukoski)Forté quickly learned this new campus landscape during his first year, establishing a hideout near Brown Hall.Nearby, zombies had trapped six humans. One zombie saw the pack of humans heading for a meal. News travels fast on a college campus. 

“Suddenly there were five or six zombies hiding by every door and more in the bushes waiting to jump people,” Forté recalled. “The humans inside were waiting for hours for someone to bail them out.” 

Forté and his friends took on the mission. 

“It was almost like we were part of a SWAT team,” Forté said. “We stormed the parking deck and stunned the zombies waiting there before they knew what was happening.”

Then, chaos erupted.

The humans are safe inside the shelter of the university union. According to HvZ facilitator and sociology major Jackson Gantt, the humans are always safe­—and that’s the point.

“I want it to be fun,” Gantt said. “I appreciate the excitement of being a human and walking outside wondering, ‘Am I going to be tagged?’ but I’m not going for a scary or paranoid vibe. At the end of the week I want people to think, ‘Wow, that was a really fun time.’” 

The activity is sponsored by a club called the UNC Asheville Alternative Athletics Association or A4 for short. Each year, students take time out of their schedule to participate in HvZ. 

For some, the game gives them a different character or reveals a different side of their character.

“Kevin is thoughtful and introspective—someone who doesn’t say a whole lot unless he has something to say,” observed Jude Weinberg, associate director of music technology. “But in one class, he made a video styled as a horror movie—old-school black and white with a turntable. It was very creative. He took things a step further in electronics class. He built his own interface while most people were taking stuff out of the box.”

Three years and three games after the parking deck raid, Forté has traded his rifle for a moderator’s megaphone. He’s managing the mailroom. He’s spent time working as a resident assistant and has moved from playing with audio equipment to building it. Even though he lives off campus, he says he can’t stay away from Humans versus Zombies. He might even play again this semester. 

“As a moderator, I got to meet every single player instead of just the ones in my circle of protection,” Forté said. “But either way, you meet a lot of people and make a lot of friends through HvZ. You have to strategize and collaborate with everyone. If you are on someone’s team and they are your teammate then you have to like them, at least for a little while. That is, if you want to survive.”