photo: courtesy of Jim Cooper
Commuting rarely gets the adrenaline going. The only rush I feel after slogging out of bed (unless the Red Line happens to catch fire) is the one that follows my morning coffee, which is no way for a 26-year-old to live. Finding StreetWars was like seeing the light at the end of a very humdrum tunnel.
The citywide game finds civilized people reverting to bestial hunters, using squirt guns as weaponry against randomly assigned targets for an action-packed three weeks. You might recall a similar game called Assassins from your college dorm days, but StreetWars pins you against potentially anyone who lives and works in Chicago, from businessmen to soccer moms. Sorry, kids: 18 and over only.
The skinny: While the games have been running since 2004 in major cities including New York, San Francisco and Vienna, this summer, from July 16 to August 6, marks the first time Chicagoans can get in on the action. Every player receives a list of places their targets generally frequent, so you have an idea where to go to take them down come game time. Meanwhile, someone tries to do the same to you. The entire city (sans safe zones, such as public transit and bars) is open territory. Sign up solo or with a team of up to five, but know that if your team captain dies, everyone goes. Among the 200-to-300 players per city, folks generally fall between the 25-to-40-year-old range, the majority of them male.
The commitment: Once the game begins, it goes non-stop. You must make at least one hit attempt each week, and you have to be around for a majority of the game time. Rules abound, but the covenants of StreetWars prevent me from revealing them—I kid you not. However, the StreetWars organizers answer pre-game questions via email. For instance, I'm out of town when we receive our assignments, but a kindly person, who went only as the "Supreme Commander, Shadow Government," replied that my team captain may pick up my targets. The Commander added that I'll be missing "delicious hard liquor and possibly boobs." Damn.
The cost: The entry costs $40, a paltry fee considering the $500 reward you'll reap should you triumph—by either being the last person standing or taking out the Commander in a sudden-death playoff.
The getup: Water balloons and water guns of any sort fly. No special clothes are necessary, however, if you wear a suit to work, hope that your assassin takes pity on your new J. Crew tie.
Difficulty level: The biggest challenge I faced was recruiting friends to play. Perhaps it's fear, maturity or the prospect of spending a workday with soaked britches. But simple suggestions like keeping a change of clothes at work tipped my prospective teammates towards go.
The payoff: The most satisfying part, besides actually playing the game, is unnecessarily elaborate strategizing. I'd be a fool to describe in detail the plans we've devised, but consider a few nuggets of wisdom: If you work close to your teammates, change travel routes so you're not clumped together like a herd of buffalo. Also, lock your MySpace page to prevent online snoops from tapping into your top-secret game plan.
Wear and tear: StreetWars gets into your head more than your body. As the Supreme Commander put it, "At first the paranoia is overwhelming; it's like free adrenaline shots in your heart for a couple of days straight, then between the hunting and the trying to keep up with your normal life, it gets very exhausting."
The verdict: Just thinking about the game raises my heart rate. I can't wait to get up early to tail someone or to wonder if the woman on the L who keeps looking at me is doing more than judging my fashion sense. Beyond simply spicing up my commute, though, this game will give me the sense of living as our ancestors did, not knowing if they'd make it back from the hunt. I may not be able to go back to coffee.
Head to Streetwars.net and click on "Chicago 2007" for the full list of details.