'Killing' gamers with kindness

Festival goers prowl New York streets in a game you win by shouting out the right warm fuzzy. Photos: N.Y. street games

NEW YORK--You have to love the Big Apple.

I'm here covering the Come Out and Play Festival, a three-day celebration of street and live-action role-playing games, where players might find themselves walking down Broadway together trying to "assassinate" each other with kindness.

And that's why, if you happened on Saturday afternoon to be standing in front of the Ed Sullivan Theater here--where the "Late Show with David Letterman" is filmed--a group of 30 or more people may well have wandered by and exhorted you with a big cheer of "Way to go!"

The dozens on Broadway, myself included, were playing "Cruel 2 B Kind," a game by 42 Entertainment designer Jane McGonigal and Persuasive Games designer Ian Bogost, in which teams stalked each other for several hours, trying to win by shouting out just the right words of kindness.

Come Out and Play

In "Cruel 2 B Kind," you are text-messaged a weapon (like "Have a spectacular day"), and the idea is to find a team whose weakness matches the weapon. The winning team then text-messages a code given them by the losers to the game organizers in order to register the "kill." If the phrases are wrong, but the attackees are indeed players, they must respond, "You're too kind," and move on.

A winning team absorbs the losing one into a now-larger team that then continues on in search of further prey. Teams get bigger and bigger until only a small number of the mega-groups are prowling around trying to kill each other with nice words. Thus, within a minute after the game's start, my partner, CNET News.com reporter Caroline McCarthy, and I had already vanquished one opponent. It was pure luck that we saw them before they saw us, because they surely would have hit us with the right phrase if we hadn't hit them first.

You don't (usually) think of a line of people waiting for a musical as a place for soft cover. It not only makes the game rich, it transforms the experience of how you move through a city.
--Eric Zimmerman, GameLab CEO

So as McCarthy and I were standing on the street, busy texting in the code, we were attacked by a third team. Fortunately for us, the attackers charged with the wrong weapon and we parried with exactly the right words to knock them off.

Within five minutes of the game's start, McCarthy and I were now in control of a team of six. We felt unstoppable.

Of course, such feelings are usually fleeting. And so, mere minutes later, another group of six sprung out of nowhere and, just like that, we were dead. We now were absorbed by someone else's team of 12.

In the early going, "Cruel 2 B Kind," which McGonigal and Bogost had been testing for some time (they recently conducted two run-throughs in San Francisco's Dolores Park) moved fast. Our team members found themselves shouting words of kindness at each other across Broadway. We were vanquished again. "Oh, no, they got us," one teammate yelled in anguish.

We made them cross Broadway to come to us to form the now even larger mob.

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