'Humans vs. zombies' game involving hundreds halted on SEMO campus after complaints of toy weapons

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Matthew Hileman became a zombie Thursday afternoon when he was cornered by a pack of the living dead.

"My Nerf gun malfunctioned," he said.

At 4:50 p.m. he became human again by orders from Southeast Missouri State University.

University officials halted a campuswide game Thursday after students expressed concern about its nature. Students took on the role of zombies in the taglike game Humans versus Zombies, a student-organized event that started Wednesday.

All but one student began the game as a human. Humans were designated by a bandanna worn on their arm and zombies wore a bandanna on their head. Humans used Nerf guns and sock balls as defense.

"It sounds ridiculous but it's really a fun and interesting thing to watch and participate in," Hileman said.

Hileman, a junior studying biology, said getting to class became a theatrical experience.

"Just trying to walk across campus I had to defend myself against zombie attacks," he said.

Thursday evening, Southeast administration terminated the game through a message posted on the university portal, a network for students and faculty.

Dr. Dennis Holt, vice president for enrollment management and student success, sent a message to students explaining the actions Friday. He said he received complaints from students, faculty and staff about the presence of toy guns on campus.

"In an era of heightened sensitivity to violence on campus, with incidents at Northern Illinois and Virginia Tech most recently, the image of people with weapons understandably alarms and distresses many -- even those who know that this is only a game," he said.

John Kautzner, who organized the game, said there were 266 players when it ended. He registered with a site, humansvszombies.org. Players used it to keep track of the rules and who had been tagged to become a zombie.

"Every 48 hours if [the zombies] don't feed, they starve themselves," said Kautzner, a senior studying education.

He said he heard about the game from a friend attending Penn State University. According to the game site, it is played at hundreds of college campuses across the country.

A resident adviser at Vandiver Hall, Kautzner said the game was not part of campus programming but that he consulted with the dean of students and the department of public safety. He said school safety officials approved the use of Nerf guns.

"They pretty much said what we could do without them having a problem with it," he said.

There were also safe zones around campus shuttles, building entrances and crosswalks, he said.

In his statement to students, Holt said the decision to stop the game was more about easing anxiety of having toy guns on campus.

"That we terminated the game is in no way a reflection on the students who were playing it, but a response to these concerns," Holt said.

Kautzner said the game built camaraderie and that students were disappointed by the action to stop it.

"I feel like they could have made more of a compromise before pulling the plug on it," he said.

He said he plans to approach the administration later in the year to discuss ways to reinstate the game. He said he also wants to include canned food drives and litter pickup as part of the game's mission.

"Because they've had so much heat, we want to give them some time to cool off," he said.

abusch@semissiourian.com

388-3627

Pertinent address:

One University Plaza Cape Girardeau, MO

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