Get your ghoul on at Spain's zombie games
As night falls in a small Spanish village, horror movie fan Noelia Vacias prepares for a night as a zombie invasion survivor, her eyes glowing white from tinted contact lenses, her arms covered in fake blood. Nearby, Enrique Morales wears a helmet and dark glasses and carries a fake gun.
Like the hundreds of others waiting in the park, for the next eight hours they will flee the living dead to avoid being contaminated and turning into zombies themselves.
"A zombie does not have the power of other characters" in science fiction, says Vacias, a 35-year-old logistics expert. "Before being zombies they were normal people. But they never get tired and that is what is frightening."
For Morales, a 23-year-old telecoms engineer, the game is "a way to take part in reproducing a zombie apocalypse".
The scenario, which resembles a scene from American TV series The Walking Dead, involves more than 400 participants.
"Survival Zombie" - held recently in the village of Olias del Rey, 70km south of Madrid - was the 22nd edition of the event in Spain since it was launched in 2012, with more and more people turning out in each town that hosts a zombie invasion.
A group of actors dressed as soldiers are also involved in the game, helping some players against the zombies or making it harder for others to solve the clues to survive.
Some of the largest zombie games in Spain have drawn up to 3,000 participants and even involved tanks or helicopters. Most of the participants are men aged 17 to 40, although the game is open to anyone over the age of 10.
Pablo Lueiro, 33, and Juan Carlos Fernandez, 44, are hooked on the adrenaline provided by the all-night role-playing game; the friends have taken part in several editions.
"When you play, you are almost convinced you are fighting to survive," says Lueiro, a video game tester; he feels afraid even if it's only "psychological".
Fernandez, who carries a torch and a walkie talkie, says the game has revived memories of playing catch as a child. "We walked nearly 50km during another zombie night," he says.
Zombies have been in fashion since the beginning of the 2000s in movies, literature and video games, says Jerome-Olivier Allard, who has a doctorate in film studies from the University of Montreal in Canada and is a fan of the genre. The games allow people to tap into their "survival fantasies", he says.
In addition to Spain, zombie-themed events have proved popular in other countries as well.
In the US and Canada zombie marches started being held in the early 2000s, drawing several thousand people in some cities, before the fashion spread to other continents.
In Britain, a zombie chase game called "2.8 Hours Later", inspired by Danny Boyle's 2010 cult film 28 Days Later about a global epidemic that turns people into cannibalistic zombies, has been held in several cities.
In Canada, a summer camp offers lessons on how to survive "an attack by the living dead".
Diego de la Concepcion, organiser of the "Survival Zombie" role-playing games in Spain, says other creatures don't spark as much interest. "We tried with other themes, with aliens and predators, but they did not have as much success," he says.
The goal of the game is for participants to stay alive until morning by avoiding getting touched by a zombie.
The contestants need to find clues that will help them reach a safe haven, the end point of the contest.
They are not allowed to attack the zombies so their only means of survival is by avoiding them.
For Maxime Coulombe, author of the book The Small Zombie Philosophy, the appeal of the games is simple. People are fascinated by zombies, the French sociologist says, and "contemporary societies are obsessed with the end of the world".