Games for Good: How a Game of Zombie Tag Changed My Life

Games are an excellent escape from reality. They allow us to set aside our sometimes not so thrilling lives to go on grand adventures. However, I know first-hand that games can be so much more than that. Though they can provide a distraction from the real world, they also have the potential to enhance that reality. Games can build communities and allow people to realize their real-life potential. There was one particular game that made me see the wonderful impact they can have on people. Oddly enough, it was a game of tag.

In high school and a good bit of college I kept to myself. I had a very close-knit group of friends that I did everything with, but I was terrified to branch out of that group and talk to new people. I made very good friends in my dorm, but did not step outside of that group very much. I always had very intense social anxiety. I would get incredibly stressed out at the simplest things if it involved talking to someone I didn’t know. 

One semester, a few of the close friends in my dorm were getting really excited about a game our Student Activities Council was putting on called Humans vs. Zombies. It is a week-long game held once every semester. Everyone starts as a human except for one original zombie, or OZ. Zombies have to tag humans to turn them into zombies. Humans can stop the zombies’ ability to tag by “stunning” them with balled up socks. The goal of the humans is to complete missions and make it to the end of the week without getting tagged. The goal of the zombies is simple: Kill all humans.

HvZ happens all around the world.  Check it out!

HvZ happens all around the world. Check it out!

It sounded very fun and didn’t involve venturing far outside of my friend group, so I gave it a shot. While I was playing I met people from another group on campus known as Live Action Society, the campus Nerf club. Even though I had a lot of anxiety, they were really accepting and easy to hang out with. I had a blast playing HvZ and decided to buy a few Nerf blasters to participate in other LAS games. After another game or two of HvZ games run by Student Activities Council, LAS decided that they wanted to host their own HvZ using Nerf blasters as well as socks. Participation was great and LAS became the campus host of HvZ.

After playing about three or four games and becoming an officer of LAS I decided that I wanted to try being the original zombie. Being OZ is more than just making tags. The OZ leads the zombie hoard and coordinates everyone. They are responsible for engaging players and kick-starting the game. A bad OZ can ruin an entire game.

This was terrifying to me. Although I had been participating in LAS games and performing officer duties, none of that had required me to step too far outside of my small LAS inner circle. Sure, I could come up with fun game ideas and make eye-catching posters for the club, but actually talking to a ton of strangers? Not my forte. Even though it scared the hell out of me, I had fallen in love with this game. I wanted to help be the driving force to make new player love the game as much as I did.

My life would never be the same after that week. I learned that I am incredibly good at talking to people and getting them excited when I have the right motivation. Being OZ taught me that when I set my mind to it, I can be a very powerful personality that can bring a lot of happiness and excitement to the lives of others. That Fall 2012 game was the beginning of the transformation into the person I am today. It sounds like an exaggeration, but I felt like a completely different creature. I had made dozens of new friends in the course of a few days and felt happier than ever. I found myself making speeches in front of a hundred people and encouraging them to chant so loudly the whole campus could hear. I discovered something inside of myself that would not have been brought out without Nerf. 

Around this time I also began going to a magical place known as Thunderdome.

It was literally a back yard Nerf area. Seriously. There’s even a documentary about it.  Check it out.  Buy a 2-pack of the film  here .

It was literally a back yard Nerf area. Seriously. There’s even a documentary about it. Check it out. Buy a 2-pack of the film here.

Thunderdome was a different setting than LAS games and really helped mix it up for me. After my OZ experience I found it incredibly easy to talk to people and make friends there. Nerf had changed me from being someone who would go out of their way to avoid strangers into a person who was excited to have new people in his life. 

A little over three years ago I decided I wanted to make a change in my health. I had been overweight since grade school and I was sick of it. There were several motivating factors for this change, but Nerf was a huge part of it. If I could be a great zombie at 250 pounds I could only imagine how I’d do if I was actually in shape. I changed my eating habits to a diet that I could stick to. I dropped 56 pounds in less than a year.

It's amazing how much playing with toy guns can motivate you.

It's amazing how much playing with toy guns can motivate you.

I did great as a zombie that fall, but I knew I could still do better. I got a workout buddy and started hitting the gym. By the time the spring game came around I could not believe how much my physical fitness had improved. I could run around campus all day without feeling like having a heart attack. I was always a fast sprinter, but now I could run with the fastest players and not have to catch my breath every 30 seconds. I have become a completely new person physically, and I don’t think I would have been motivated enough without Nerf. 

These plastic toys have given me an avenue to have a better life mentally, socially, and physically. I was an overweight college kid who didn’t want to talk to more than 15 people and struggled to find his purpose in life. After getting involved in these seemingly childish games I became a relatively fit person who would host house parties nearly every weekend, inviting anyone and everyone willing to come. I graduated college, got a full time job at Missouri State University, and became the staff advisor for Live Action Society. I’m very proud of my academic accomplishments, but honestly the thing I am most proud of in my college life is my involvement with these two Nerf communities. 

Most people find it very strange when I talk about Nerf and how much of an impact it’s had on my life. Even if they don’t verbalize it, I’ve gotten several looks that say “Playing with toys changed your life? That’s really weird.” Nerf has been the vehicle for massive positive change for me. It could have easily been something else. It could have been a different college club, a fraternity, or a whole host of “normal” activities, but Nerf is the one that jumped out at me and made me recognize my potential. It’s so much more than just shooting each other with darts. These people are a family. My family. I’ve seen people who met in LAS get married years later. Hell, I met my fiancé because of these silly little games. Lives have literally, and yes, I am using that word properly, been saved by Thunderdome and LAS giving lost college students a family and motivation. This family is the most inclusive, accepting, and beautiful group of people I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. Thank you, Nerf, LAS, and Thunderdome. Without these groups I would not be the person I am today.

How have games had a positive impact on your life? Feel free to share your stories in the comments.

See you next week!