Brain Food

Lessons Learned Fighting Zombies

There are seven of us, including me. We’ve been sent to pick up a cache of ammunition from the north-west corner of the contamination zone. There’s talk that it’s an ambush. Steph is the loudest voice of dissent. She’s the only female in our squad, her face painted a deep green like Dutch at the end of Predator or Captain Willard in Apocalypse Now. Or, I suppose but don’t articulate, Al Jolson in The Jazz Singer. Her boyfriend Louis is in the squad too.

Even if it is an ambush, reasons the 2IC (a tall athletic guy who goes by Scarecrow, I never get his real name), we’re all armed to the teeth. “Except him,” Steph interjects. The group looks to me. I have on my person two single shot blasters, a note pad, and a pen.

“Yeah,” says Scarecrow, looking me up and down. “Except him.”

Zedtown works like this. The game starts with 300 players, and takes place over a huge area. Today — Saturday October 12 — it’s at the Sydney University campus. This is the second time the game has been staged; the last Zedtown had just 80 participants. The vast majority of the players begin as Survivors, and are armed with Nerf blasters. These blasters are brought from home, and vary wildly. Some are shotguns. Some are pistols. Others have been modified for extra range and power with canisters of compressed air, or industrial grade springs, or supercharged trustfire batteries. These ones are confiscated before the game begins and put into a distressingly large pile.

The game starts with a few randomly-selected infected players. As with any epidemic, this number will grow exponentially over time. If a player is tagged by one of the Zombies, they become infected themselves. Survivors keep the Zombies at bay by shooting them. Survivors wear orange arm bands; Zombies wear green headbands.

The game lasts six hours. Complete the missions. Stay alive. No climbing. Keep sunsafe.

On a stage at the front of the tent, David Harmon — who runs the Zedtown games along with Raskopoulos — explains the official rules of the game, the players nodding along. Before introducing a towering, bearded ‘combat expert’ who goes by the name of Max Fightmaster, he lays down one last rule.

”The golden rule,” Harmon begins, “is that we are all adults playing with children’s toy guns. Please do not forget this, don’t be that guy. Have fun.”

A roar of approval goes up in the crowd and Nerf bullets are fired into the air, and then awkwardly collected from the ground.

The most remarkable thing about the game is how quickly it sucks you in. I had initially assumed that my willingness to suspend disbelief would be trumped by my desire to not run around playing make-believe like a stupid dickhead. This, it turns out, is completely incorrect.

The fear is genuine, the inter-Survivor arguments are not feigned; you actually peer around corners, guns at the ready, and shout things like ”Clear!“ and ”fall back!“ without a trace of self-awareness. When you run from a horde, you run with adrenaline. The guns are plastic and fluoro, the Zombies are just people wearing green headbands, but the game is so immersive I saw no fewer than three people almost taken out by very real cars while fleeing extremely fake Zombies.

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“A horde of about 70 came and scattered the group. I’m no longer frightened.”


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Article by Ben Jenkins for Stoli Australia



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