Overlap - Investigations in new and forgotten storytelling

Horror games on the run

Or ‘How Telling Tales While Being Chased By Zombies Helped Me Survive Slingshot’s ’2.8 Hours Later’…

Taking part in Slingshot’s City Wide Zombie Chase Game 2.8 Hours Later in Leeds last month, my fellow apocalyptic survivors and I found ourselves wondering two things: Did we have what it takes to survive an undead uprising? And, if so, what stories would we have to tell? To spoil the first question for you right off the blood-stained bat, we did survive. But it’s taken me several weeks since the zombie outbreak to bring myself to tell the tale…

2.8 Hours Later is essentially a game of tag that spans a city centre. You and your friends take on the role of survivors moving from checkpoint to checkpoint on a map and attempt to outmanoeuvre  any hordes of the undead that stand in your way as you try and locate a final safe-house. Beyond ‘here there be zombies’, there’s no real plot to speak of, no backstory for the outbreak, but that didn’t mean the players didn’t feel like they were part of a story. Perhaps the genius of this kind of storytelling – and what differentiated it from most computer games and live-action role-play scenarios – is the protagonist was genuinely me. As much as I play games to pretend I’m someone else, the unrelenting realism of me being me (dodgy knees, over-cautious nature, malapropic profanity and all) ensured an authenticity to the simple story idea ‘I am being chased’.

As well as the other hundreds of survivors sprinting round Leeds, I was playing the game with two friends. Like most of us, I choose friends who are smarter, faster and generally better than I am to try and make myself look good, but here the nature of the game meant we were all ‘playing alone, together’ as with MMORPGs so, within its loose parameters, anything could happen. So that’s what we imagined could happen. With hindsight, the zombies were only likely to be grazing in certain places, but you try telling your adrenaline-fuelled self that when you’re walking down a suspiciously dark alley way, knowing that your puffed-out breathing can probably be heard from streets away.

Fig 1. Running from zombies in the empty market

My paranoia when we were joined by another survivor ‘Chris’ who had been separated from his own group early on also kept me searching for possible traitors within our midst. More than likely, he had genuinely just lost his friends, but then why weren’t they answering their mobiles? Getting Chris’ story from him became like a fun mini-game in itself (especially as, even after an hour at the bar in the final safehouse, his friends still hadn’t surfaced – I hope they were all okay!)

Perhaps the only downfall of the evening’s storytelling was that we really were playing like impatient gamers. At each of the checkpoints, we would have to persuade a character to give us our next grid-reference – essentially a live-action dialogue-tree game but with less clear ‘rules’ so these became like cut scenes that the player just wanted to click through in order to get back to the main mechanic of running through the dark. That said, a little mini-game where one of the characters sent us back through a zombie-run shopping mall to fetch her some food before she’d let us through was brilliantly mean and I even managed my own take on Pac-Man as I somehow managed to outmanoeuvre two zombies around empty market stalls which I had no right surviving.

This was the main effect of the game. Did the fact I was pretending to be really chased by a zombie make me play harder, play better and just run faster? I’m pretty sure I’ve done okay at games of tag, British Bulldog and not totally shamed myself on Fun Runs or with general map-reading in the past.

But this is the experience I’ll remember, the story that I’ll tell and, more than likely, the thing that will ensure I’m zombie fodder when the real apocalypse comes because I’m all blasé. This wasn’t real after all… Apart from the fear, the adrenaline, the running and the thrill over a lack of teeth marks anywhere on me at the end…

Hmmn. Real enough maybe.

John Hunter is a writer living  in Sheffield. Read his blog here. Visit the 2.8 Hours website here.


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