Fun and Games

In Iraq War, Misc. on October 9, 2006 at 11:59 am

The Village Voice ran an article last week about games that are being organized in cities around the world using creative themes, technology, and often large amounts of players who don’t necessarily know each other. I’m always fascinated by stuff like this (whether it be just for fun, or when similar ideas are used to organize protests, etc.)

There are nearly 1,000 players many of them game designers, reviewers, teachers, and producers from across the country participating in events ranging from Lightning Buzz, advanced tag played with flashlights, to Plundr, a high-tech location-based game involving laptops, black-market trading, and MEGAputt golf in Central Park…

The game generating the most buzz is Cruel 2 B Kind, a benevolent variation on the popular street games Assassin and/or StreetWars, which were recently banned in London for causing public disturbances in these thin-skinned times. Instead of water guns, the secret weapons issued via text message during Cruel 2 B Kind include such directions as blow kisses, compliment someone’s shoes, curtsy or bow, offer welcome or help, mistake someone for a celebrity, or point out something beautiful.

While this isn’t political (and therefore doesn’t really fit into this blog), the article goes on to describe a similar idea being used to teach people about Iraq and some of the lesser known results of war.

Later that day, traveling through the city, I find a sticker plastered to a lamppost near Bowery and Bleecker for the urban “mash-up” game You Are Not Here, a 1:1 scale tour of Baghdad through the streets of Manhattan. I call the number and punch in the extension.

“Welcome to the Unknown Soldier Monument just west of the Green Zone in the heart of the most popular al-Zawra recreational park.”

The monument, I am informed, looks like a Frisbee, but it is actually a giant shield built by Saddam Hussein to commemorate the eight-year Iran-Iraq War. Under my feet, there is a museum. Due to international law, which forbids the destruction of cultural institutions and artifacts, both the monument and the museum have been protected from attacks. I blink at the young punks lining up in the sunlight under the CBGB sign and feel the surreal nature of the day start to catch up with me.

“Thank you for visiting the Unknown Soldiers Monument, and don’t forget to visit the Baghdad Zoo on the other end of the park,” says the recording.

At the Baghdad Zoo, which is located near the Jefferson Market Garden on Greenwich Avenue, I learn that the zoo once housed 650 animals, making it the largest in the Middle East. During the first Gulf war, looters ravaged the zoo for food and profit, selling what could not be eaten to private collectors. Donkeys were used to feed the other animals.

As I peer through the wrought-iron fence at the idyllic garden beyond, the effect of the virtual tour is surprisingly chilling, but I’m hooked. For the rest of the weekend, I will be obsessed, carrying in my pocket a crumpled “mash-up” map, which depicts Baghdad on one side and Manhattan/Brooklyn on the other.

“You may notice the giraffe enclosure has only one giraffe in it,” says the Moviefone voice. “The other was killed for food. Thank you for visiting the Baghdad Zoo.”

When I first read this, I was sitting in my favorite Middle Easter restaurant in the East Village (Cafe Rakka) and decided to take a stroll and try to find the lampost. Unfortuneately, I couldn’t find the sign anywhere. I guess part of the excitement of these games is that you have to get in on them right away or miss out.

As a sidenote, this reminds me a little of a few years ago when some friends of mine organized massive games of manhunt in Greenwich Village during the halloween parade. Some of the players were freinds and some were friends of friends of friends. It’s pretty crazy to play a big game like that in a crowd of people, not knowing who’s playing and who’s not right away (we had glowstick neclaces to identify ourselves).


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