Humans Versus Zombies: An Appropriate Community Event?

Posted by Tillman W. Nechtman

Last week, the campus community was notified that this year's Humans Versus Zombies (HVZ) game has been scheduled for October 22 to October 27. That notice assured us that this game would not interfere with non-players or with campus and its academic life.
 As one who has taught through this game in previous years and as one who has never participated in the game, I write to assure the campus community that the HVZ game most certainly does interfere in the academic life of the college. During the nearly-week long event, students come to class wrapped in their bandanas carrying along their Nerf weapons. The game dominates pre-class conversations among both players and non-players alike, time that ought otherwise be filled with thoughts and conversation about the course content. I can only imagine how completely the game marginalizes conversation about academic life in locations like the dorms or in the dining hall. Back in the classroom, students often bolt out the door at class' end to avoid the rush across campus in which they could become somebody's target. Likewise, just crossing campus can be harrowing, as students duck and run to avoid being struck down as part of the game play.
 Let's be honest, therefore, whenever this community organizes a weeklong game of this sort, it does say something about our community's priorities, and in this instance, we are not prioritizing learning, which is, after all, the college's primary mission. Let's not pretend that not only allowing but actually promoting a culture in which students carry around toys for a week does not have a detrimental and diluting impact on the seriousness with which the college can and does carry out its educational mission.
Even the timing here speaks volumes. Friday, October 25 is this semester's study day, scheduled as such because many classes will have papers due and midterms scheduled soon thereafter. That HVZ has been scheduled across the study day is a clear indication that academic interests took a back burner in this instance. Imagine the student who hopes to spend the study day outside of Case Center reading up for an exam who now has to be disrupted by others running around with their toys in the hallways shooting one another with Nerf pellets. Surely, that student's academic climate has been harmed by this event.
And, let us linger for a moment on the idea of a game that converts campus into a simulated war zone, a game in which students duck behind furniture and under bushes to avoid being shot. That is a scene that is sadly far too common in our nation. College campuses, high schools, elementary schools, even day care centers have become venues for horrific gun violence in recent years, so much so that the issue is an ongoing and serious topic in debates over public policy. How callous are we as a community that we turn that kind of scenario - a campus battlefield - into a weeklong game? How insensitive? I certainly do not want to be the one who has to explain to a prospective student from Columbine, Colorado or from Newtown, Connecticut why Skidmore thinks it is either appropriate or fun to have students simulate a war zone on its campus in the middle of an academic term. I suspect that citizens of towns where real violence and abject evil have manifested themselves in schools would read this event as far less "fun" than those planning it think it will be.
I urge those in Student Government and Student Affairs who are planning this game to re-think their decision. I urge those who are considering playing it to think deeply before they sign up. Is an HVZ game representative of the kind of scholastic community we hope to build here? Can we host it and reasonably expect that it won't damage our educational mission? And, as a matter of civic responsibility, ought our campus community casually play as a game something that, for far too many in our nation, has been a horrible reality? Think about it, Skidmore.

Uncharted Track

Campus Safety Reports: September 13 to 19