Sunday, September 21, 2008

"Are You in the Game?"

I've only been mistaken for a prostitute once in my life. It was when I was a college student visiting London, and I was walking back from a posh dinner party to my fleabag backpacker's hotel in Bayswater.

A balding, bearded middle age man came up to me hesitantly to inquire about the price. He did not mention any kind of sexual transaction in his query about "how much?", so I must have looked at him quite blankly. At this point he asked me with a mixture of irritation and embarrassment, "Are you in the game?" It was not an expression that I was familiar with at the time, so I continued to peer at him quizzically. Finally, he asked if I was "working," a phrase that I actually recognized as street lingo. As soon as he saw my aghast response, he expressed his mortification and vanished.

The irony to me was that I was wearing perhaps the most conservative outfit that I owned at the time: a nineteen-sixties navy Chanel suit knock-off with a white collar and big white buttons. Like many in the punk rock generation, I often wore fishnet stockings, leather halter tops, and lycra mini-skirts. But for some reason this garb never caused any confusion about my profession. And yet my school marmy apparel registered with this would-be john as a sign that I was costumed as one who was "in the game" in the alternate reality game that is urban prostitution.

I found myself thinking about this incident again as I begin to sit down and work on this paper on alternate reality games that I've agreed to give at the American Studies Association conference in October. Of late I've been thinking a lot about politeness and games, whether it is politeness in Facebook games in this paper or the politeness involved in this meditation on cheek kissing and collision detection.

Since proposing to talk about "Taking It To the Streets" in these urban alternate reality games, there have already been a number of new additions in the field of improvisational streetscape play, such as Massively Multiplayer Soba from Mary Flanagan of Tiltfactor Laboratory.

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