Urban Gaming Club president oversees on-campus ‘Humans vs. Zombies’ war
Hetty Nie, a senior majoring in bioengineering, spends her days like most Penn State students. She gets up, goes to class, assists with research and chips away at job applications.
Some days, though, she also oversees a campus war between humans and the undead.
Nie is in her second year as president of Penn State’s Urban Gaming Club, which brings together students with a passion for activities that mimic the action you’d find in video games or tactical board games on a life-size level.
At Penn State, the Urban Gaming Club is most famous – or infamous, depending on who you’re asking – for its “Humans vs. Zombies” tournaments held several times a year. Essentially a giant game of tag, it’s “a massive, campus-wide game that simulates a zombie outbreak,” according to the Urban Gaming Club website. The tournaments are marked by students wearing neon bandanas sprinting across campus or stalking opponents across campus in hopes of catching a fellow player on his or her way out of class. The game’s “artillery” includes marshmallows and socks, and its “missions” can culminate in dramatic Nerf gun battles staged between classroom buildings.
There’s also “Assassins,” in which students are assigned targets to “kill” during the course of a game – “poisoning” someone with hot sauce, for example – according to the group’s website. The club’s games also include scavenger hunts spanning through campus and State College, as well as variations on “Capture the Flag” both outside and in the HUB-Robeson Center.
Nie admits that her organization’s antics can raise eyebrows.
“We kind of get a bad rap,” she said. “There’s definitely people who are really into the game and who will run over pedestrians, hit pedestrians."
Still, he sentiment across the board is mixed, she said – some students seem easily entertained by the Urban Gaming Club's battles, while others are easily annoyed.
The scale and complexities of the games require Nie to work closely with the administration, local law enforcement and other student organizations to coordinate activities. For the most part, though, Nie said her fellow urban gamers are careful to avoid causing damage to campus or interfering too much with the lives of their fellow students.
Finding a second family among the urban gamers
Nie came to Penn State with a background in games involving “Live Action Role Playing,” or "LARP-ing." The Urban Gaming Club caught her attention when she attended Penn State’s Involvement Fair her freshman year. At first, she wasn't quite as intrigued by the group's talk of games with Nerf supplies.
“But then they’re like, ‘And we have foam swords,’" Nie said, her smile growing wide. "And I’m like, ‘Foam swords!’ ”
Nie started out with the organization by playing “Humans vs. Zombies” and “Assassins,” and since then the Urban Gaming Club has become something of a second family for her at Penn State.
Some members are majoring in English, others in forensic science or information sciences and technology. Some like video games, while others like origami, embroidery and science fiction.
But as Nie explained in an April 2012 interview: “Most [urban gamers] just like having fun in the same way, and we don’t really care that everyone thinks that we’re weird or nerdy or whatever.”
To her, being in the Urban Gaming Club means having a “built-in group of friends” with at least one thing in common – even if in this case, for many of them, that simply means being willing to fight off some zombies in the name of a good time.
Tricks of the trade
A successful game of "Humans vs. Zombies" can hinge on having the right supplies. Over the past few years, Nie has perfected the art of turning old socks into highly specialized missiles used to stun opponents during Urban Gaming Club activities.