Guerrilla Games

“Guerrilla games?” I asked.

She looked back at me and smiled, “They’re like normal games except we use the city as our board. It’s really fun, we…”. I stopped her right there…I was in.

Then I paused for a moment, considered what I’d just got myself into, and asked how much it would cost. It was free. This was meant to be.

Two days later, I show up at an underground bowling alley at the designated time. There was a group of people sitting around a top hat that looked like something out of Dr. Suess. I was in the right place.

The first game on the itinerary was called “Blood Sacrifice”. Comforting. I hesitantly put my name on the registration sheet and huddled by a group of equally confused-looking twenty-somethings.

Eventually, a man wearing a cape and carrying a battle-ax came up to us and said it was time. He gestured and we followed.

We walked through the center of town and arrived at an empty park. Mr. Battle Axe encouraged us to gather around him in a circle. He raised his hands for silence and began to tell a story.  A tale about the history of the land where we were stood. He brought us back to a time before the Romans, a time of wilderness, where rituals reigned and mysticism covered the lands as far as the eye could see.

There were two tribes. Each tribe revered its own deity. One clan revered the Sacred Snake, and the other worshipped the Wolf. These tribes were locked in an ancient blood feud. Their battleground, the very spot we stood upon.

Each new moon, a fog would fill the forests and these tribes would wage war for the rights to the best hunting grounds and the freshest water holes. The tribes were long gone but their practices were passed down through the generations. It was now our turn to uphold their sacred traditions.

The story paused for a second and the tone changed as we were warned that this was going to be a full-contact affair. It would definitely be dangerous and anyone that was uncomfortable with that could leave. No one left, we just looked at each other reluctantly.

As we peeled off into separate tribes, we were each given a pair of goggles smeared with wax, a paper bowl, and a fluorescent sports bib. Each team got a 10-liter pouch of water and an empty bucket.

The soft pouch of water was our sacrificial animal. The bucket was our sacred altar. One person from each team had to stand on the opposite side of the park with the empty bucket. Each team had to collect blood from the sacrificial animal in their paper bowl and then smear as much as they could on their respective alters. The tribe that smeared the most blood on their alter would win the rights to the finest water holes.

The wax-smeared goggles meant that none of us could see anything. The teams were then placed perpendicular to each other across the field.  This meant that we would have to run into each other to reach our alter across the field.

It was going to be mayhem.

We had thirty minutes.

At the end of which we would hear the sound of a duck being slaughtered, and we would know the game is over.

Less than five minutes in and the battlefield was carnage. All you could hear was the sound of uncontrolled laughter and loud thuds of people running into each other. You could kind of see people through the goggles, so you did your best to run around them…but if you run too fast you’d spill all your water.

At first, everyone just ran around like maniacs. As the game progressed tactics began to emerge. Some people ventured out as groups protectively huddled around one person carrying lots of water: the Viking shield wall. Other people ran back and forth without any water just as decoys. Some people just played offensive and focused on spilling as much water before it got to the opposing alter.

Two rugby tackles later, I was caked in mud and soaking wet. The dreadful duck call was sounded. It was over.

The blood was measured out as the tribes disputed the legality of some of the opposition’s more uncompromising tactics. Several fingers were pointed, one man’s pet dog was accused of being a hussy…and after much commotion, a winner was declared. The sacred snake clan had made its ancestors proud.

“Blood sacrifice” was the first of three games that day. The other two games were treasure hunts, one involved collecting tiny bottles of milk placed around the city, and the other involved hunting for clues in phone boxes across town. The twist was that if any of us were photographed calling up for the clues we were disqualified. No one knew who was taking the photographs, so anyone with a mobile phone was a threat.

I remember this being one of the best days I’d had in a while. I made 12 new friends that day. That’s 12 more friends than I normally make in a day.

I met the crew people that designed the games. I even spoke with some other people who ran a Guerrilla Games festival. There were another two companies there that designed and ran guerrilla games for a living. How had I never heard of this? This was one of the most interesting experiences I’d ever had.

These games were filling a growing cultural void. A void that modern technology has created. We now communicate more than ever before but the quality and depth of our interactions are degrading. Guerrilla gaming was not role-playing. I was not pretending to be a farm animal when I was running around collecting little milk bottles. I was me and my interactions with the other players weren’t theatrical. These people were real, and even if the fantasy world around us was simulated, the connections we made were genuine.