By September 6, 2007

It’s just a game, or is it?

My Year of the Zombie game ran last Tuesday. The group decided to break out from the Magic Kingdom’s underground utilidors and try to find more survivors at nearby Epcot. They then proceeded to go above ground and play tag with the undead in a park full of tens of thousands of zombies.

I always enjoy watching what the players decide to do, especially when a plan collapses. Last session was no exception. I would like to think we’re just playing a game, but a part of me believes that the campaign amplifies normal human responses. Perhaps YOTZ may be used as a model in a real disaster situation, the presence of animated corpses notwithstanding.

Here are some behaviors exhibited by the players:

  • Unnecessary risk taking: One of the characters sprinted off in one direction, hoping to draw the majority of the zombies towards him. The rest of the group would try to sneak around the other direction. While a noble and daring plan, the group was well-equipped to fight the zombies head-on. Someone in the group failed to be sneaky, the zombies closed in, someone panicked, and now one of the party was split from everyone else. Whether it be in Disney World or stranded in the mountains, it doesn’t pay to leave your group in a survival situation.
  • Emulation: Not two turns after the first character ran towards the zombies with open arms, a second character followed suit, running in the opposite direction. While the second player’s intentions were good, it reminded me of what could happen without a concrete plan. The group became further fragmented, mostly because folks thought what one person was doing was a good idea. This is a disaster preparedness crapshoot: what if the person you’re following/emulating has a good idea? I think the biggest problem with emulation in this case was that there wasn’t enough planning and forethought ahead of time, just action. Player #2 wound up getting tripped up by zombies and eaten. Mmm, brains.
  • Cohesion: Once the group commits to an action, everyone in the group should engage. Some of the group ran, some of the group walked, and some of the group stayed put. My buddy Stilts stayed by the utilidor stairwell entrance until it the party was cut in half by the undead. He wound up being one of the few surviving players, but I wonder what would have happened if everyone stuck together.
  • Grim pragmatism: I’d like to think that if a real disaster would occur, people would rip their button-down shirts open to reveal a red S underneath. What would probably happen is exactly what Stilts did as the party was eaten in Disney World — wait cautiously from a position of safety, and do the best to insure his own survival. Zombies swarmed near the stairwell entrance when the “walking-speed” group was caught in the middle. The one remaining survivor tried to make it back to the stairs, only to see Stilts shut the door in her face. Sure, he could have opened the door for her, but why take his chances with twenty zombies outside? Even if he did the heroic thing (see “Unnecessary risk taking”), maybe she would have been bitten, or he would have been bitten, or both. I believe that it is easier for humans to play it safe than to help other people. How many times have you driven by someone next to a disabled car on the interstate without stopping or calling for help? I sure as hell do. In a disaster situation the risks will be amplified, while the rewards remain about the same.

So sure, getting eaten by a zombie isn’t like being frozen after your car breaks down in the mountains, but I believe some of the reactions are the same. That’s what I like the most about the YOTZ campaign. I find it easier to observe peoples’ natures more easily without the high drama of dragons and damsels in distress in the way. There’s no world-ending crisis the group can prevent, there isn’t a supreme evil to thwart. Just five people trying to get the fuck out of Disney World without dying.

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Posted in: games, zombies

1 Comment on "It’s just a game, or is it?"

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  1. Markie says:

    Interesting observations… I like that the risk taker was one of the survivors, but the observation is accurate… Coordinated effort would have kept everyone alive…

    I like to think that since this is a game, the normally placid Markie character would not be taking risks like he has the past couple of weeks in a real life survival situation, but it does let me model some alternative behaviors to see how some options play out…

    On a parallel interest, I have been thinking of conducting a round or three of delphi (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Delphi_method) Q and A to plan some of my own alternatives if/when the bad stuff happens, and direction to take to keep going. I will likely try to coordinate this through you and your site… I still have to work out the conditions, hypothesis, and success criteria.

    More soon…
    Mark