Loudly call the name of a person standing in the circle and start walking towards them, acting like a ‘zombie’ with your arms stretched out in front of you.
Your aim is to tag this named person on their shoulders.
This named person aims to call the name of another person in the circle before they are tagged.
If they avoid being tagged, the originally named person will immediately step into the circle and attempt to tag the person they just named.
On all occasions, the openings in the circle are filled by the previous zombie.
If the named person is tagged, everyone can enjoy a good laugh and, after a few moments, invite the tagged person to become the next zombie.
Play for several minutes, introducing extra ‘zombies’ as appropriate.
Video Transcript for Zombie Name-Game
presented by Mark Collard
So I have eyed off Cindy. She hasn’t noticed, of course. So I’ve decided that I want to get to that spot, and it’s ultra-competitive.
I’m going to move just at walking pace, but imagine like you’ve just got out of bed, you’ve had the most horrendous week of sleepless nights and all that other stuff, and it’s like a zombie.
So I’m going to move from here, like a zombie, but walking towards you, and my goal is to tag you, tap you on your shoulders, before you have left the circle.
Now you can avoid the zombie tapping you on the shoulders by doing the same thing as me. As soon as you hear your name, look for someone else, call their name and zombie-like towards them.
To repeat, you must say a name before you leave the circle. You then zombie-like across there. And then if you manage to tap them on the shoulder before they’ve left the circle, then you know, you can get a bonus point.
But effectively what you’re hoping to do is cause them to trigger a response where they call someone’s name, and then the whole process continues. You’re hoping to tag but you want to avoid being tagged at the same time.
(people playing Zombie Name-Game)
You can pick up the pace now when you’re zombie-ing. You can move much faster.
(people playing Zombie Name-Game)
How To Play Narrative
Start your group in a circle, and playing full-out to demonstrate what you are looking for, walk forward into the centre of the circle with your arms stretched out in front of you like a zombie, almost as if you were sleep-walking, hands dangling at the end of your arms.
As you leave your spot, call out the name of a person standing on the other side of the circle to you.
Your object as the ‘zombie’ is to tag the person you have nominated before they get a chance to quickly call out the name of another person standing in the circle, ie not yours or their name, but someone else’s.
Make it look like you are a zombie, adding appropriate zombie-like noises and stumble, but don’t make your characterisation too real lest you intimidate your target.
Suggest that if contact is inevitable, ie the next to call out a name is stumbling, a compassionate tag on the shoulders with both hands is all that is required. Also, in the interests of safety and fair play, suggest that the zombies keep to a brisk walk at most.
If the person about to be tagged manages to call out a name before they get tagged, they immediately leave their spot in the circle. This spot is assumed by the first zombie, and the new zombie repeats the process, ie they walk with outstretched arms across to the person they have just named.
And so it goes on.
Watch the terror on people’s faces as they suddenly become aware that they are about to be tagged. As if they had no time to think of a name before this moment, right? It’s hilarious.
So what happens if the zombie ‘tags’ someone too slow to blurt out a name? Well, you have a few options.
You could simply ask that person who was tagged to stand out of the circle and continue with the game as successive zombies eliminate everyone.
However, I prefer to keep everyone ‘in,’ and suggest that if someone is too slow, or blurts out a wrong name, they simply assume the role of the zombie, and play on.
Practical Leadership Tips
Create a circle large enough that it would take an average person two to three seconds to walk briskly from one side to the other. Any smaller and those whose names are called will simply need to respond a lot quicker.
Beware the sneaky strategy of folks who leave their spot in the circle, and don’t name another person until they are almost on top of them. Names need to be called immediately as soon as one leaves the circle.
Remember, the ‘zombie’ act is intended to be fun. If you start to observe it becoming a little more sinister, whereby people are actively aiming to intimidate or ‘throttle’ others, stop the game. On these occasions, it would be worthwhile to invite your group to reflect on the impact of such behaviours on the well-being of your group.
Observe the immediate stress one puts themselves under as soon as their name is called. Despite the fact everyone has ample time in advance to think of a name to call, some people still appear stunned to hear their name as if they didn’t expect to be called.
You could integrate Zombie Name-Game as part of a well-designed SEL program to develop your group’s ability to manage their emotions, thoughts and behaviours effectively in different situations and to achieve goals.
Specifically, this activity offers ample opportunities to explore and practice the following social & interpersonal skills:
Identifying Personal, Cultural & Linguistic Assets
Anticipating & Evaluating the Consequences of One’s Actions
Promoting Personal & Collective Well-Being
You can learn more about SEL and how it can support character education here.
Health & Wellness Programming
There is no specific health & wellness perspective to this activity other than promoting the benefits to one’s wellbeing of learning a few names and enjoying a good laugh.
In a small way, you could argue that the focus required to interact and engage physically with others may speak to the benefits of having developed a set of supportive and healthy behavioural norms in advance. Or, if not, you could use these less-than-desired interactions or outcomes to explore what sorts of behaviours your group would prefer to see.
For example, you could invite your group to reflect on the level of comfort (safety consciousness) that the group as a whole had with people approaching them as a ‘zombie.’ That is to say, not everyone would enjoy the spectre of being stared down by a menacing monster. You could lead a conversation about what this ‘menace’ means in the context of our work and play.
If you can think of more explicit ways in which Zombie Name-Game could be purposefully integrated into a health and wellness program, please leave a comment at the base of this page.
Zombie Apocalypse: Introduce a second, third and fourth zombie into the action, to occupy more people and generate more energy.
Velocity: With a large group, suggest to the zombies they may travel a little faster, but keeping an eye on collisions at all times.
Elimination Round: Eliminate anyone who is tagged by a zombie. With each elimination, the circle contracts until only three people remain – declare them all winners.
More Lives: Give people two or three chances (or lives) before they are eliminated from the circle. In this case, quit the game soon after the energy reaches its peak, regardless of the number of eliminations – otherwise, you could bore people to death!
No Zombies: Take a look at Fill Me In to experience a very similar action-oriented name-game, without the zombies.
Very playful, highly interactive & energising group game.
Simple team-building activity that inspires creativity.
Useful Framing Ideas
Our performance is often affected when we find ourselves under pressure. Be it exams, practical tests, sporting finals, and so on, there’s something about knowing that we are under pressure that immediately impacts our results. This exercise will highlight this very phenomenon but in a very small way – the ability to react quickly as soon as you hear your name called…
Reflection Tips & Strategies
Coupled with one or more reflection strategies, here are some sample questions you could use to process your group’s experience after playing this quirky name-game:
What did it feel like to walk like a ‘zombie.’
How did you feel to watch a ‘zombie’ walk towards you? Why?
As a zombie, did you generally choose people you knew or did not know so well? Why?
What helped you to remember a few new names?
The inspiration for Zombie Name-Game, and many more fun, action-based name-games, was sourced from the following publication: