13 Feb 2011
I had heard about this interactive game that takes place in a warehouse where you, along with other participants, go on a mission to acquire a set of hidden and guarded boxes and return them to base camp. It’s like a video game but in real life. My friend and I arrived at the meeting point, a pub, and met the others on the team; about 12 of us in total. After signing the necessary legalities, we were given a map of the site and our mission. The host, Casey, gave us each different coloured ties for us to identify one another, walkie-talkies and then she pulled out the tranquilizer gun (really just a toy dart gun) and asked, “Who wants to be the badass with the tranq gun?” I immediately raise my hand and grin, “Me, me!” I am now 7 years old. And it’s marvellous.
We partnered up: Fashion Parade, Gryffindor (a guy was wearing a red and gold scarf), G & T, team Stealth, Leonado, and my friend and I were team Fargo. After looking at the map, we came up with a divide and conquer plan to go in and get the codes, cut wires, and steal the 8 boxes inside the warehouse. Of course, being amateur thieves, nothing really went according to plan.
A guard is sitting at the pub. We watch him leave and (not-so-inconspicuously) follow him. My friend grabs a couple of clementines from a fruit vendor and we decide then and there that they are not clementines, but smoke bombs. We follow the guard to a warehouse. One of the participants (who came prepared with a balaclava) tried to jump the wall. So we helped to lift him up and a soon as he reached the top, spotted a guard and then tried to crouch down. I wandered around to the side where the gate was. We unlatched the gate and filed in and hid behind the row of shipping containers. Then we split up to enter the building. My partner and I found the Internet code and radioed it over to the team inside at the computer trying to get the lock codes.
Trying to figure out how to get inside without getting caught, my partner and I ran up the side stairs and found a (nerf) gun. Now with both of us armed we broke into the back door and snuck down the staircase. Out the window I see a girl being escorted off the property. “I’m here doing community service” I hear her say. Brilliant blag, but it doesn’t work. We continue to the ground floor where we find other members of the group. We have more boxes to find. A guard comes into the room and we all hide. Balaclava guy hides in plain view and I crouch behind a ladder and tarp, and pull out my gun. The guard comes in and instead of shooting him I just get up and leave the property. So much for being a badass. My natural proclivity towards passivity took over my instincts to shoot and destroy. Plus the guard was unarmed; it just doesn’t seem right to shoot the guy in the face. This is how I rationalise my timidity. So much for video games, movies, TV, and the news desensitising me to violence.
Once outside, my partner, another girl and I try going through the front door saying we are the cleaning crew. I put on an amazing German accent. They don’t buy it. We leave. Fail. So much for trying to blag my way in, I decide to break in through the back door again. My partner and I get inside and to a small corridor of cells, but a guard comes in. He tries to escort us both out. We use our American charm to talk the guard into circles. I hide myself in a cell while my partner gets the guard outside, “I’m sure she’s outside already,” I hear her say. I turn and look and there is an “off-duty” guard just sitting there. “You really shouldn’t be in here,” he tells me. “Oh, I’m just here to check on you. You all right?” He responds. I listen to make sure my partner and the guard are gone. “Great,” I say, “take it easy.” I leave and slip into another room where I find one of the boxes. Another guy from our group has a box too. We run outside to base camp and turn in the boxes. So far we’ve got five out of the eight boxes. Time is running out so we rush back to the warehouse. I pick up a clementine from earlier and look around for the other boxes. A guard comes out just as I step out from hiding. Crap. “I just wanted to give you this,” as I offer the rotten fruit, “to apologise for earlier.” He takes and thanks me as I begin to leave the property. He goes back inside and I rush to the side and break in. Again. Finally back to the ground floor, I see everyone being escorted out. The game is over but I refuse to give up. I hid behind a door and wait. Just as I’m about to run into the next room, the guards come back so I remain hidden. My heart is racing. Finally, my hiding place is discovered and I’m escorted out of the building.
I meet up with the rest of the team at basecamp. We only got five boxes. But we did rescues someone from jail and found the gun so we get bonus points for that. As we walk back to the pub for our debriefing, we excited talk about our tactics – the ones that worked and the ones that failed. From clementines to balaclavas, community service to German cleaning ladies with a bucket, from breaking in to simply walking through the front door. Although everything about this is clearly fake, my heart still raced. I was on a high when we were done and wanted more.
Although this isn’t theatre, nor would I classify it as a performance, it is definitely performative. There’s something about playing pretend that is appealing to young and old alike. Especially in a ever-increasing digitalised world where connections and communities exist through the tubes and wires on the interweb, there’s something thrilling about the opportunity to through caution to the wind and suspending our disbelief and take the risk of actual interaction through an imaginary premise. I remember when I was a child I wanted to be a spy. I’d run around the neighbourhood, jumping fences, climbing trees, and even entered people’s garages (although I never took anything, I do have morals). I made up the rules as I played, and I played with complete abandon, fully immersed in the imaginary world I created.
As we get older we become conditioned to losing our inner child and are no longer encouraged to play with complete abandon, but rather completely abandon play. It seems that there’s an energy out there trying to rebel against this fact as more interactive theatre, performances, art and even games become more and more popular, pushing the boundaries of what it means to play, of what it means to suspend disbelief, of what it means to create and imagine…and have fun.