Art and Entertainment

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A StreetWars advertisement

StreetWars: Playtime for Grown-ups

October 01, 2008 11:15 AM
by Shannon Firth
Ready or not, here come the “kidults.”

Young at Heart

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On Sept. 7, “StreetWars,” an urban game of hide-and-seek tag, transformed New York City into a playground. More than 250 people picked up dossiers containing their target’s identity and contact information. Using water pistols, balloon grenades, and for some, their own handmade contraptions, assassins began shadowing their assigned stranger while simultaneously outsmarting their own predator. Past players have worn disguises, staked out prey from rooftops, mined trash cans and hoodwinked coworkers into giving up a target’s location; all to make their kill. With each victory, the killer takes the dossier of the victim’s assigned target. If the assassin kills the target and that target has the killer’s dossier, he or she wins the game.
Ezra Donnelan, 22, told The New York Times he and his teammate recalled being questioned over their suspicious behavior. The players explained the game to the officers and were left alone. The Village Voice reported on the police arrest of one person at a promotional water fight in New York’s Union Square, however.
In 2006, Frederick Gonzales regaled Los Angeles Times reporters with tales of his victory in the San Francisco Street War, describing how he stalked and “killed” the game’s co-creator and Supreme Commander, Franz Aliquo, at his North Beach safe house: “As soon as I see a piece of his fur coat, I let loose with a blast. He was surprised …  so he tried to run across to the kitchen, and my brother got him from the other side and he just was knocked over.”

StreetWars, which began in 2004, has been played in Vienna, Canada, San Francisco, Los Angeles, London and New York. Aliquo, the self-titled Supreme Commander of the Shadow Government, told a KRON-4 reporter in San Francisco: “This is perhaps the most perfect escape from the trials and tribulations of everyday life.”

Background: Mikey FX; Other urban games

Michael Wilson, writer for The New York Times, didn’t realize how seriously players took the game until he tried to interview one over the phone. One player, Mikey FX, asked Wilson for proof that he was actually a reporter and not an assassin trying to “lure him into a trap.” Wilson said, “I laughed. He didn’t. I mentioned I’d been at The Times for six years. He was not impressed.” Wilson added, “Mikey FX came around, and sent an apologetic e-mail message that read, in part: ‘I’m sure you do understand … I had to be absolutely sure that you were on the level and that I wasn’t to be made a patsy.’”

Urban games are a growing trend—Pillowfight Clubs, Manhunt and Botfighters are played across the Western world, and are spreading fast. Botfighters, a game played by tens of thousands of Scandinavians, involves each player having a virtual robot identity and killing other players through text messages. “Shoot Me if You Can,” a photo tag game, has been popularized in Korea. Street Wars has also gone international. David Styles, a London player, told U.K. paper The Guardian why he plays: “I live a regular, ordinary life. I’ve got a wife and kids, I work in the City. I’m a bit overweight. I saw this as chance to feel like I was living in an action movie for a couple of weeks.”

Video: StreetWars and PacManhattan

Yutai Liao, the game’s co-creator, who goes by the alias The Mustached Commander, explained to NBC in Los Angeles that he’d always played cops and robbers and secret agent as a kid. Liao said, “Some of us just never quite signed the contract that said if you grow up and get a job you’re not supposed to do that anymore.”

In May 2004, a CNN video clip explained how a group of New York University graduate students in the Interactive Telecommunications Program arranged a live game of PacMan in Washington Square Park. Players dressed as ghosts chased another player dressed as PacMan through a six-by-four-block city grid. CNN Anchor Erica Hill explained: “Just like the real PacMan the game ends when PacMan eats all of the dots or the ghosts get him.”

Related Topic: Cures for boredom; Brain Games, Flash Mobs

In 2006, writer and editor Colleen Kane blogged about her spy mission at the start of “Midnight Madness,” a scavenger hunt competition organized by Columbia University graduates and gamers and played by some of their technology-challenged friends. As part of the game Kane shadowed two players from last year’s winning team.

Flash mobs also appear to be making a comeback. The silent rave is just one type where strangers are brought together, usually via the Internet, as Madeleine North, a writer for British paper The Independent, explains, to “perform random acts of communal silliness.” Other flash mobs include zombie mobs, splash mobs, pillow fights and tango commutes. North opines, “In essence, it’s a little bit of mischief, a hiccup in people’s ordered day … And let’s face it, it’s cities that are most in need of these random outbursts of silliness.
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