Nerf Gun Zombie Apocalypse vs competitive sports and gamification, too

I am having great fun corresponding with Sebastian Deterling. In a recent exchange, he wrote about his experiences playing a game called “Nerf Gun Zombie Apocalypse.” With his permission, I share it with you, as well as the three parts of an appropriately humorous video dramatization of the aforementioned.

Sebastian writes:

My most transcendent gaming experience was a recent round of Nerfgun Zombiecalypse – one side Zombies (of course, Zombies), the other, humans with nerfguns. Physical play, with others, beautiful winning conditions (in the end, everyone has become a human, or everyone has become a Zombie but for the last man standing, which also is a proud role, so you always end up in the winning team), but what made it transcendent was that its outrageousness and fantasy theme removed it far from any association with competitive “having to win” sports. Sure, you gave your very best (I was never more exhausted after a game), but the game was so uncommon, such a one-time event, its framing gave rise to so many beautifully-whimsical emergent moments (the last man trapped ontop a ladder, where the antidote rests, but having dropped his gun, and all Zombies beneath him dragging at his feet), dropping in and out for a round or changing the rules to re-establish balance between the teams was so easy that we never tipped into the instrumental, the “have-to,” “need-to.” This is precisely what I tried to get at with “munchkindom” (, which is just another way of saying instrumental gaming instead of autotelic playing. The Munchkin (or powergamer) is the one who gets so absorbed in the instrumental frame of optimizing his movements and strategies in order to win that he forgets the larger frame around it establishing that he is not just an instrumental actor, but also a social actor, part of the ethos and community of people engaging in gaming for the sake of fun and socializing (nothing new to anyone who knows your book ;). That’s one big issue I see with gamification: The way it’s been set up, it predominantly tunes people into a gaming/Munchkin mindset.

Other great things about the game:

  • After each round, you can choose to switch sides, helping you to stay in flow by adjusting the intensity and play style to your current mood.
  • After each round, rules can and will be slightly altered, often undisclosed to the humans – not only for balance, but also for variety, depth, and surprise (e.g. Zombies might suddenly take 3 rather than 2 hits, “tank” Zombies taking 5 hits, “crawler” Zombies moving rapidly rather than slow on all fours, the healing antidote initially being hidden/not hidden, Zombies being hidden/not hidden…)

1 Comment

  1. Bernie DeKoven on September 7, 2012 at 11:57 am

    I am coming to accept the probability that the impact I was planning to make on the world is not destined to arrive until some time after my departure. This probably explains why I am so thrilled to find people like Sebastian Deterling, who not only understands what I wrote about in the Well-Played Game, but understands it well enough to put it into practice, both in play and theory.

    His use of the word “munchkin” is powerful as it is playful. It describes, alas, the vast majority of game players who have come to believe that winning is the only criteria for determining success – people who have bought in so heavily into what I call “the gaming mind” that they are taken by surprise by the idea that games have something to do with fun, play, community.

    Nerf Gun Zombie Apocalypse is clearly a fun game – intentionally silly. The version of the game described was made even sillier, more intentionally playful, more clearly focused on having fun together, more appealing to the playing mind than the gaming mind.

    Sadly, this is not the norm. Fortunately, there are people who care more about fun than about winning. And people like Sebastian, with the temerity to advocate such silliness.

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