by Lauren Atkinson
Though they’re currently more popular in the United Kingdom than in the United States, so-called zombie boot camps are popping up with surprising regularity in the least likely of places. I recently had the opportunity to participate in one just outside of Boston, Massachusetts. Let me tell you, as a fun loving girl who simply abhors all forms of violence and who ‘freaked’ when I found out my granddad owned a rifle, it was a surprisingly addictive way to spend a Saturday afternoon. The action was surrealistic and the staff added good doses of humour throughout.
For those who don’t yet know, zombie boot camps are basically live-action roleplaying events in which participants battle “live” zombies in a number of different scenarios. The whole experience closely mirrors the missions from first-person shooter video games. It is one of the most realistic types of life-action roleplaying. Although Zombie Camp is not for the light hearted, fans of such video games or horror movies would be thrilled with this kind of day out.
Before the actual adventure begins, you meet with a weapons specialist who briefs you on a number of different weapons that you’ll be using to eliminate zombies. Although weapons in real life are as appealing to me as a root canal treatment, in the world of zombie boot camps, the weapons I learned to use for monster slaying included a pistol, an assault rifle, a handful of grenades, and even – this one was as cool and quirky as it was spooky – a chainsaw.
The weapons briefing turned out to be my favorite part of the zombie boot camp experience. Go figure. The specialist who briefed my group was just that, a real-life weapons specialist. I believe that he used to work for the military and trust me, this added to the chilling believability of the whole experience. Of course, the weapons were not real (they are modified so they don’t fire real bullets and are built solely for play), but that is beside the point. They feel like real weapons and look like real weapons, and when a dozen zombies are chasing you down, they darn well seem like real weapons.
After the weapons briefing, my group of ten headed to a briefing by a “zombie specialist.” We were told exactly how the zombies had taken over and what we were expected to do about it. We were filled in on their behavior and the best ways to take them down. It began to seem ominous. You could barely tell that the specialist doing the briefing was just an actor – it totally felt like we were really at the brink of a disaster and were being prepared for battle. At that point, I began to get goose bumps on my arms. It felt like we were about to step into the apocalypse.
The setting of our zombie missions was a little bit disappointing at first. I’d read a lot about the zombie boot camps taking place in the UK and knew that they were commonly held in abandoned warehouses and sometimes even in empty shopping malls. Ours took place on a simple little street lined with smallish buildings and houses. It was almost like any street from any small town in America. Not very exotic. Not very exciting. And definitely not the sort of place where you might expect a zombie outbreak to originate.
Luckily, the small-town setting actually proved to add to the experience and make it seem more life-like as soon as the zombies started showing up. Our little town might not have been as spooky as a blown-out shopping mall, but it definitely lived up to expectations. Gunning down zombies, busting down doors, and coordinating attacks with my teammates made my time at the zombie boot camp the most fun that I’ve ever had.
The zombies started coming out of the doorways as soon as our first mission began. The mission, to clear the town of zombies, proved difficult – partly because we were not just decked out with weapons but also with real-life gear and equipment. I had on a military-issue helmet, Kevlar vest, and other heavy combat gear. Zombie boot camps aren’t for the faint of heart or body.
As we continued to blast, shoot, slash, and hack our way through the zombie minions, I came to realize exactly how much effort was put into the zombie boot camp. The special effects were dazzling: the blood looked real, the zombies looked real, the explosions looked real – everything looked like it was really happening. And the actors hired to play the zombies did a heck of a job. I often found myself thinking that I was actually in the middle of a zombie invasion rather than a simple participant in a zombie roleplaying game.
The whole adventure lasted around five hours, including the briefing and various missions. We also got lucky and the group putting on the boot camp supplied us with a complimentary lunch after the first mission (which, at least for me, was desperately needed to refuel).
A zombie boot camp is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I don’t mean to sound corny or promotional here, but it I just loved it. It’s the perfect mini-vacation for the zombie-lover, adventure-lover, or even just those looking to try something new. I learned a lot and feel confident that if there is ever a real-life zombie apocalypse, I’ll be the hero that saves the human race.
Lauren Atkinson works for Wish.co.uk and is a freelance travel writer who enjoys writing about her quirky adventures. For more information on Wish UK gifts like the zombie experience, visit their website.
photo via istockphoto.com