Zom­bies run wild over Sydney uni­ver­sity

The Myanmar Times - - The Pulse -

A HIGH-PITCHED scream pierces the air as a “zom­bie witch” in a dirty white dress sprints down a street at a Sydney uni­ver­sity, hair whip­ping around wild eyes as she chases a group des­per­ately scram­bling to get out of her way. Wel­come to “Zed­town” – an ad­ven­ture event where com­peti­tors play out a zom­bie apoca­lypse: Peo­ple race to reach an evac­u­a­tion point to en­sure their sur­vival, but must also avoid be­ing caught and turned by the “un­dead”.

De­scribed in­ter­change­ably as a gi­ant game of zom­bie-themed tag and a “live-ac­tion” video game, the events cap­i­talise on an emerg­ing le­gion of gamers who have grown up bat­tling virtual en­e­mies on com­puter screens – and now want to ex­pe­ri­ence such fan­tasies in real life.

“It’s a great feel­ing hav­ing hun­dreds of fully grown men and women run­ning away in le­git­i­mate fear from you. It’s re­ally ex­hil­a­rat­ing,” the woman who plays the zom­bie witch, Ka­te­rina Halkeas, tells AFP.

“Video games them­selves are be­com­ing so much more im­mer­sive. And then when you have some­thing like this, it’s re­ally the next step,” adds Halkeas, who took her in­spi­ra­tion from a char­ac­ter in the Left 4 Dead video game. But un­like com­puter games, in real life play­ers can’t hit pause or pull the plug, or even head to the toi­let with­out risk­ing their “lives”. They have to keep run­ning to es­cape the threats in the game, adding to the height­ened in­ten­sity.

The events kicks off with hu­mans, dubbed “sur­vivors”, out­num­ber­ing zom­bies, though all that is re­quired to turn some­one into the un­dead is to tag or touch them.

Both sides are in an as­sort­ment of cos­tumes and in high spir­its. The or­gan­is­ers add jeop­ardy at the start of the game by anoint­ing a small fac­tion, who ap­pear to be sur­vivors, as se­cret zom­bies. This, play­ers say, sows mis­trust and quickly swells the num­ber of those hunt­ing ver­sus the num­ber of those hunted.

“You find your­self talk­ing to peo­ple you wouldn’t have oth­er­wise spo­ken to and re­ly­ing on those peo­ple for your life and ... you form in­tense re­la­tion­ships quickly,” says Zed­town cre­ator David Har­mon, who has plans to roll out the event in other cities.

Tasks and chal­lenges are set for peo­ple to progress through the event space, and to try to make sure they don’t sim­ply stay hid­den.

As dark­ness falls, ten­sions rise and the ranks of the un­dead thicken – some­times chant­ing “one of us” in hordes to scare the few re­main­ing sur­vivors as they make a last-gasp at­tempt to reach the evac­u­a­tion point. “Emo­tion­ally, it’s an ab­so­lute rush,” says player Ian Kil­burn, whose long, tat­tered black-hooded cloak “Death” cos­tume, which in­cludes a sickle tossed over his shoul­ders, is well-known among Zed­town par­tic­i­pants.

“I’ve al­ways been blown away by the cos­tumes and the ef­fort that ev­ery­one goes to to make it a very fun ex­pe­ri­ence,” he tells AFP dur­ing the Zed­town game held at the Uni­ver­sity of New South Wales.

Such is the de­mand to play, tick­ets for the most re­cent event at UNSW, which cost A$45 (US$34) each, sold out within min­utes.

Shoot­ing games such as laser tag or paint­ball have been around for some time but Zed­town taps into a trend blend­ing vin­tage video game con­cepts with re­al­ity. Poke­mon Go, which is based on soft­ware first launched in 1996 for Nin­tendo’s iconic Game Boy con­sole, uses play­ers’ smart­phone cam­eras and satel­lite lo­ca­tion to en­able them to see car­toon mon­sters to cap­ture – in real-world set­tings.

Es­cape the Room com­puter games such as the Sub­ma­chine Se­ries and Mys­tery of Time and Space, where play­ers have to solve rid­dles and puz­zles to reach the next level and ul­ti­mately leave, have spawned phys­i­cal ad­ven­tures – known as Es­cape Rooms – where par­tic­i­pants are locked in a room and have to solve prob­lems to get out.

The next generation of games, though, will see con­sumers playing in the phys­i­cal world but im­mers­ing them­selves in set­tings and against foes in the virtual world, in­dus­try ex­perts say. Ocu­lus Rift, the virtual re­al­ity sys­tem and head­set owned by Face­book, was re­leased in the US in March and the UK in late Septem­ber to favourable con­sumer re­sponses.

“VR isn’t a thing you do, it’s a place you visit,” one gamer said in an on­line re­view of the US$599 de­vice.

Tim Ruse, chief ex­ec­u­tive of start-up Zero La­tency, says he has seen huge in­ter­est in his firm’s virtual re­al­ity sys­tem. Com­peti­tors – sport­ing head­sets and car­ry­ing back­packs with a com­puter as well as fake guns – en­ter a large ware­house and ex­plore dif­fer­ent sim­u­lated set­tings. These in­clude bat­tling zom­bies, an ar­cade-style game where you de­fend a fort, and an outer-space ex­plo­ration sce­nario.

Just a year af­ter launch­ing in Mel­bourne, Zero La­tency are ex­pand­ing their model to the United States, Spain and Ja­pan at Sega’s amuse­ment park in Tokyo.“I guess hu­mans have al­ways – from sto­ry­telling to cin­ema to gam­ing – sought to re­move them­selves from re­al­ity,” Ruse tells AFP, adding, “I think this next generation of fully im­mer­sive ex­pe­ri­ences are that next level of en­ter­tain­ment or es­capism.”

Pho­tos: AFP

A young stu­dent is caught up in the pro­duc­tion of Zed­town, held at a Sydney uni­ver­sity.

Zom­bies chase af­ter the liv­ing in Zed­town, a zom­bie-themed tag and live-ac­tion video game.

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