March 7, 2012
KINGSTON, RHODE ISLAND: Paranoia—pure paranoia yet, no fear. Intense courage transmits through the weight of your armaments. Your body extends through the cold barrels, aimed true at any unfortunate foe. At your disposal is a thirty-five round drum magazine: an unadulterated, rapid-fire power house. You make yourself ruthless, for neither former friend nor enemy can be trusted.
You prepare to run into the rising Sun, charting a mental escape route through abandoned streets and buildings. A heavy, rapid heartbeat engulfs all the senses. Engage every fiber at full capacity. One last exhale…now run.
The horde descends. Fellow fighters and companions, fallen behind, will be left there. Your last obstacle, but perhaps the greatest yet, is survival. You manifest one last coherent observation.
“At least the zombies have friends.”
Primal instincts take over, breathing is rapid but consistent. Suddenly a hand travels a violent path down your back. You’re done. Game over.
Now the round is over. Shining, glorious civilization still stands. You and twenty friends stagger and rejoice at the conclusion of this great game. Tired and hungry yet satisfied, you brandish your orange bandana in hand. The dining hall’s chicken nuggets seem like a dream come true to you at this point. At your victory dinner, Ryan Cabral welcomes you to URI’s Human vs. Zombies club, one of the largest of its kind at the Kingston campus.
“It’s all about fun, it’s gotta be safe. And because it’s fun, people come. And because it’s designed to be safe, we have very few incidents. As a result, people stay and people come back.”
This sums up the executive philosophy of HvZ President Ryan Cabral. The extreme tag-style game gathers attention and intrigue wherever it manifests. Most outdoor areas of the campus are fair game.
On my rounds through the Memorial Union, I overheard some members of the club, distinguished by bright orange bandanas, branding him the ‘glorious leader’. Among some student circles Ryan Cabral garners an almost godfather-like status. His student support network took shape through the HvZ and gaming clubs. His meals at the Union café never seem solitary, nor are his steps ever made without six following quickly behind.
The Memorial Union, a center alive with movement and conversation, acts as a beacon of refuge during quiet nights. Somewhere within these mural-laden walls and cushioned chairs sit myself and President Cabral, as we share candid observations and information over a slice of piping hot pizza.
Amid this teeming cornucopia of student activity—which includes dancing, politics, and fencing among other things—dormant zombie hunters mingle with the undead.
He forgoes a number two pencil for a plastic-forged Nerf tommy gun. He also prefers feasting upon the living as opposed to Butterfield sandwich meats.
“Maybe not to turkey, pepperoni and bacon; I’ll make exceptions of course.”
My first impression of Cabral honed in on his automatic, genuine nice guy personality.
His tone of speaking hinted mildly of his high self-esteem. His presentation so far seemed only to reinforce that. Simultaneously, a thought stuck in my mind: there was no doubt that he was a spokesman or public relations executive. I knew I was face-to-face with the organization itself.
To Cabral and hundreds of the other loyal URI walking dead, the rush of sprinting across the Quadrangle as human targets scramble to escape to safety in a mock zombie apocalypse translate to ultimate fun. The junior Geology major credits the group’s birth at URI to Zack Larusso, as well as growing popularity to college-age Nerf gun lovers and an enormous international following.
But he argues further that it’s not just a great opportunity for fun, but for physical exertion and interpersonal relationship and community building. “It also helps to preserve my perfect frame,” he joked, though in less appropriate terms. The strength of the group, he adds, comes from the close personal ties that every member makes with the other; conversely, Cabral feels his perseverance and sense of duty as a willing leader come from the trust the other players put in him.
His hard work could be called a labor of love: he runs the HvZ club partly with his girlfriend Colleen Cassidy and best friends. He also oversees Merrow Hall as a resident assistant. Despite the workload of full-time study and two jobs, his grades never suffer. He even mobilizes the group for community service too; alternative style games involve participants in charity events such as Penny Wars, campus clean-ups and other types of fundraisers.
The idea of fighting zombies through the expansive, open, and grassy campus immediately appeal to all walks of students, adds Cabral. He’s personally befriended many players, which include a litany of track stars, soccer players, ocean engineers, pharmacy majors, Greek life members, writers and gamers. “It’s diverse and always will be, because anyone can get into it. We aren’t an exclusive club by any means.”
Despite harassment from other students—Cabral won’t name them specifically—the HvZ club continues to bring back over one hundred players on average every round. This two-year turnout record remains untouched. He asserts that he will keep rolling with the punches to keep the game going and players happy.
Cabral and his staff spearhead the every heart-racing round twice a semester. They recommend those interested sign up at uri.hvzsource.com, or throw an email toward email@example.com.