Every year for the past three years, the University of Sydney in Australia has played host to Zedtown, the country’s biggest real-world zombie apocalypse simulation game. For one day, classes are forgotten, the entire university is transformed into a broken down wasteland, and over six hundred students and outsiders from all walks of life become heroes in their own mission to outlast the infection and be evacuated to safety at the end of a whole six hours of playing. The following is a transcript from one of their recorders - but be warned that imagery can be graphic, and not every story in this game has a happy ending.
Our day in Zedtown officially began at 1:00pm, with a mass exodus stemming outwards from the registration point and into the rest of the play area. Within minutes alliances had been formed, guns had been fired and rumours of the fabled “Original Zombie” - the human-looking infected whose touch will leave you zombified - had begun to spread like wildfire. For the first time in Zedtown history, factions were at play, with three different teams battling not only the zombies but each other for survival: the Golden Sands, the Red Earth Raiders and the Water Eaters. Our group of five came prepared for the fight with eight guns used to stun both zombies and humans and a whole bunch of rolled-up socks which, when they weren’t falling out of our pockets, were pretty handy grenades. Walkie talkies were also on the menu: apart from wasting away a fair chunk of our day as we made up callsigns and said “Over? Over!” again and again, they also turned out to be pretty useful later on when the group became divided. We began our day with a quick run around campus and an establishment of rendezvous points - spots we could all meet at if we lost contact with each other. Other groups approached us, some asking for directions, other for alliances: but with talk of the Original Zombie all around us, talking to strangers seemed like one of the worst ideas we could have.
After thoroughly scouting out our location, we headed towards our faction base, where we met the leader of the Red Earth Raiders for the first time. An imposing man with a streak of grey through his hair, doubtlessly due to some near-death experience or another, he asked for volunteers to steal fuel from the Golden Sands camp, a mission many were happy to accept. It was here that we came across our first real danger - humans. Zombies could be terrifying - deadly even - but nothing came close to the aggressive ruckus expressed by our team members when driven into an uproar by their majestic leader. We made it our mission to avoid the crowd heading towards the Sands base as we set out on our own into the wilderness.
Gossip spread like herpes in the Zedtown world, and before long it became known that outsiders who weren’t playing the game could be used as human shields - unable to be shot according to the rules of the game and yet useful for blocking bullets in a hurry. While we were wary of strangers, we couldn’t turn down the chance to let a civilian join our team when offered the chance. Carly was at the university doing an assignment, but she was happy to stay as our safeguard against zombie attacks as we continued to explore the wasteland. Upon turning a lonely corner at one point, we were surprised to find a hub of activity not five metres away from where zombies were openly roaming. We had stumbled upon Wombats: a lively bar with music, refreshments and blessedly human company, as well as a shooting mini-game which offered the promise of a zombie cure. Our respite was blessed but brief, with Carly soon departing to continue her work and the group of five continuing back out into the dangers of the outside world; minus our protective companion.
While we made it a habit to avoid the groups of hundreds that congregated at the faction bases, a brief check in to our camp showed no sign of human habitation or companionship. Our camp had been overrun by zombies, but to where it had moved we had no idea. Finding a small band of like-minded friends of around two dozen at the remnants of our safeground, we moved to a relatively secure and abandoned spot of the university: the tennis courts, where we were happy to stay until a news transmission disrupted our rest. The official Zedtown web app, free to players of the game, featured not only regular updates of how many survivors were left and a list of personal player achievements, but also a radio which kept tabs on new strains of the virus and gave regular updates of happenings within the individual factions. It was through this radio station that we learnt of the presence of witches: advanced zombies with piercing shrieks that could not be stunned by regular methods. Over the course of the next hour, members of our team told us a variety of ways to avoid their wrath: socks was one alleged option, complete silence in the face of their wrath another, and screaming back at them was posed as a legitimate choice. But it wasn’t until one invaded our tranquil idyll that we discovered firsthand the best way to dodge them: run as fast as you can.
Four hours into the day, the app was showing an alarming statistic. Of the six hundred players in the game, almost four hundred of them had been infected - and the number was rising by the minute. Through refugees from other factions, we heard that the Golden Sands and Water Eater bases had been completely destroyed, and a brief visit to our own base proved it a precarious stronghold of resistance against the zombies that patrolled around it on a regular basis. Effectively, we were trapped within about a fifth of the university, stuck in a small circle of safety that was rapidly diminishing with every passing second. We left the Red Earth Eaters base to find safety among (and inside) an assortment of dumpsters - but with more and more zombies passing us by the minute, we were certain that we needed a better hiding spot - and fast.
With just two hours to go in the game, we were among the last one hundred players in the game at 6:00pm when we finally found what we’d been searching for. One of the greatest things about the day was how it exposed a variety of locations I’d never even been to after three years of university - and nothing was better than our hiding spot. Behind a carpark, through an air conditioning maintenance area and down a dingy, dodgy hallway was a set of broken chairs surrounded by pipes and rubble, but blessedly secure and free from any zombie presence. We set up base here, with two of us standing as guards and the remaining three patrolling the hallway until a message on our radio told us the news: an evacuation team was arriving to airlift survivors out of the wasteland, and the meeting place was Wombats bar. We immediately sprang into action, planning our escape from our hideaway and through the hoards of undead into the comfort of the Wombats bar. Running united out of our hallway, we sprinted down endless roads, narrowly avoiding the grasps of several hoards before it happened: we were attacked. As the last person in our lineup, I was hit first, grabbed by a silently stealthy zombie from behind. I called out to my teammates, but to no avail; the zombie worked his way up the line, tagging each of us in turn. There was nowhere to run, and nothing to do that could reverse the infection. As my pouring blood began to chill within my bones and my eyes saw stars, I could think of only one thing: there’s always next year...
The next Zedtown event is scheduled to take place in December - the first not to take place at the University of Sydney. For more information on the event, visit www.zedtown.com.