Monday, March 13, 2006

Urban Playgrounds and Battlegrounds

Today, readers of Column One in the Los Angeles Times can discover how an "Assassin Game is a Hit, Man," which already has been played within the city limits of San Francisco, New York, Vancouver, and Vienna. This very morning the officially enrolled "assassins," who have been matched up via the Internet site Street Wars, will hit the streets of Los Angeles for three weeks of kill-or-be-killed watergun combat. Would-be hitpersons receive their "target's" e-mail, address, and location of employment. Kill your target and you get your target's envelope, and thus your next victim is selected. Luckily, you can't kill anyone at work or within a block of work, so I should be safe from the line of fire in my UCI office, where I plan to cower for the next three weeks.

Like the classic, if cheesy, film The Tenth Victim, this game sponsored by a self-proclaimed "Shadow Government" exploits the power dynamics of everyday work and leisure environments. The question of whether or not this game encourages a counterproductive ethos of stalking and assault is complicated by the fact that many participants already spend time in the passive-aggressive environment of online role-playing games engaged in similar activities. During the heyday of Counterstrike at UCI, many of my students came to class having recently killed their classmates a few seats over.

Participants in Street Wars claim that it is more like an adult version of "tag" that combines an action movie narrative with their everyday social exchanges. An alternative might be the games sponsored by feminist, pacifist gamesters at Ludica who bring real-world, tactile, non-competitive play experiences to videogame conferences.



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