Reflections on Playing TvsZ

Games that build community

I’ve been playing the latest installment of Jesse Stommel and Pete Rorabaugh’s Twitter tag game Twitter vs Zombies this weekend. (Quick shout out to my hubby: sorry for ignoring you last night.) Follow the #TvsZ hashtag now through Sunday night to see the game play, or sign up at to participate. It has been fun to play, though I became a zombie within the first couple hours :(.

Now, I look like this:

By Zarateman (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons
By Zarateman (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons
So, I’m motivated to write this quick reflective blog by a recently announced rule that “substantive blog posts” will result in being converted back into a human. Yay! What a great motivator.

As I’ve been playing, I’ve been thinking what a wonderful introduction to Twitter this game really is. In order to survive, human players use direct messages to coordinate and strategize.  They band together and strategically use their few defensive plays to protect themselves as much as possible. In fact, I was surprised to read on a player’s blog (she posted it to get an hour’s safety) that humans feel that the rules favor zombies. According to one very deft player’s blog:

The rules are severly slanted toward the Zombies and since I’m still human the rules don’t allow for me to have much playing time. I sit back, watch, learn and strategize.

Occasionally announced rules encourage players to use multiple Twitter functions to strategic advantage, including, so far, attaching photos, linking to blog posts, etc. [Update: and also posting multi-media links,  writing Twitter poetry that furthers the game narrative, Storifying verses to create collective Twitter poems, working with other players to create coordinated attacks and safezones, linking to vlogs, and much more. See the Game Rules for complete description of the forms of media players learn to exploit to survive or to attack more successfully.]

In order to keep up with the timelines on the various players and game actions, I’ve been using Tweetdeck, as I imagine most players are. It’s crucial to know exactly when an action tweet happened, as in most cases players have only 5 minutes to respond.

Finally, the structure of the game–it is the player’s responsibility to list change their status from human to zombie on a public google spreadsheet, for example–both trusts players to play “by the rules” and invites us to participate in inventing new rules. The game action is therefore collective and emergent, rather than rule-bound and hierarchical. For example, the official game account just posted, requesting players to suggest new rules for the final 24 hour period of play:

All this fun makes me think, of course, of adapting the game for use at my campus. It is the best inclusive, community-building introduction to social media that I’ve seen. So… maybe a game built around introducing the campus to DigLibArts? Or maybe a game among students at various DHSoCal colleges?

There are so many options for emulation. I’m curious to read more by Peter Rorabaugh and others on building and running the game. How many folks share the labor of the administrator’s account during the 72 hours of play? How many of the secondary websites (rule changes, narrative complexity, etc.) are built ahead of time? Do they use a bot to send the regular “infection rate” tweets? What does the back end of the game look like? This would be a great “how to” article! (Hint, hint). The article by Jesse Stommel (@jessifer) and Pete Rorabaugh (@allistelling) on Jesse Stommel’s blog  is wonderful, but I’d like more!

[Updated on June 24, with the primary goal of removing embarrasing typos left in the original post due to the exigencies of posting within the game timeframe.]

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