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Future Games 

She wants to harness the power of the communal cerebellum her games create and put it to work solving real-world problems

Wednesday, Apr 18 2007
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The only catch was, you couldn't tell which of the strangers streaming by were players. That evening, lots of innocent people got caught in the crossfire. Unsuspecting women waiting for a bus were all told how gorgeous they looked, and many tourists were assaulted by what they assumed were over-enthusiastic civic boosters welcoming them to the city. A couple of teenagers in the park were shown the amazing moon — which was fat and yellow — as well as an amazing flock of birds that wheeled above the trees.

The simple game was invented as an explicit counterargument to Street Wars, an increasingly popular assassination game that was last played in San Francisco in February. In Street Wars, participants spend weeks stalking other players in hopes of bringing them down with a well-aimed Super Soaker Blast. In the post-9/11 world, this game of urban warfare played with big plastic guns has not gone over well with city authorities. Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City made the harshest statement, saying that the game's creators probably needed psychiatric help, while other towns have made noises about banning the game entirely.

That's what worried McGonigal. "I can understand why Street Wars is fun, but if the local police start banning this, it's not a big step to banning all public games," she says. So she and Bogost invented Cruel 2 Be Kind to show the authorities a friendlier, more whimsical side of public gaming. "People might be disconcerted by random acts of kindness, but they won't call the police," McGonigal says.

On that warm Friday evening, a small team was ambushed by a group of players who swooped up on bicycles, shouting, "You look gorgeous tonight!" The captives merged into the victorious group, and people who were strangers to each other began plotting their next move. McGonigal was playing a role in the game, and she was out there somewhere, roaming the streets in a neon pink wig and big sunglasses. There was a bonus prize for any team that successfully attacked her. So the group set off, scanning the surroundings for amazing things.

About The Author

Eliza Strickland

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