I stood in front of a hundred and seventy people in the middle of London’s South Bank and screamed. I said that we would record what happened here today. That we would protect the past, and forge the history of the future in unchangeable print. That the revolution would not be televised; that the revolution would be carved in stone. Shouts and cheers filled the air. My heart sang. My feet tingled. I had found my voice.
I was a member of the Guardians, see – a gang of guerilla historians, struggling to keep the past intact in a world controlled by the all-powerful Authority (kind of Big Brother mixed with Google) and preserve the sanctity of the printed, immutable word. We competed against three other factions, all with more exciting back-stories than us, in a grand game to take apart the systems of government and broadcast our message of hope to the world.
The game mainly involved wristbands and map-reading. Far less shooting and arson than I would have liked, but hey ho.
This was all part of an experience called Incitement, created by live-gaming company Splash and Ripple. In the style of 2.8 Hours Later, teams of players follow clues around a map to checkpoints in the city (the city in question last week was London; the week before that it was Bristol) and complete simple, thought-provoking tasks in exchange for wristbands – a sort of handwavey game element which the factions are using as points to determine which one of them gets hold of the means to transmit their two-minute message.
There’s the constant threat of Authority Agents, although few turn up – we didn’t see any in our two-hour jaunt around the city. We heard tell of them confiscating wristbands. The real threat came from other teams, one of which were permitted to chase you within certain zones of the game and nick your wristbands off you. Of course, you could steal from another faction, too; but it was hard to do.
I don’t want to spoiler much of what happened at the game, because it’s worth your time and money to attend, but be warned – there’s almost no way to win. And that’s fine, obviously. I run a LARP where the majority of characters die in the first half-hour of each game. For them victory isn’t about escaping from whatever hell we’ve forced them into, but earning a good death.
But the core of the game, the closest thing you can get to a win state, is to answer the question – “What would it take to find your voice?” At the end of the game, after spending two hours in competition, players gather around a stage. They’ve been taught the call and response human megaphone system that originated at Occupy Wall Street. The tools are there, but will people use them?
A man shouts out that it’s time for them to broadcast their message. It’s time for them to say what happens next. I push through the crowd and say my piece, as the organisers asked me to – not providing a script, but getting a promise from me that I’d say something once the chips were down to spark the crowd up. Cheers. A second man, also selected by the organisers, takes the floor and says his piece. More cheers. Hugging. Solidarity. Feels good, man.
A girl walks up and shouts, pacing around and gesturing wildly. I figure it’s pre-meditated, like ours were, although I’m told later that it was completely spontaneous. She found her voice. She won the game.
Everyone else found someone else’s voice, and repeated it after them. Is that satire?
Incitement is built around that closing scene, the electric buzz of a crowd cheering, the hair-raising thrill of public speaking, and the freedom of endorsing a make-believe worldview that’s not too far from the truth. People – me included – shout and scream and yell and don’t say anything coherent, just make as much noise as they can to join in with the tumult. It reminded me of marching through the streets of London in protest against education cuts, and blowing on a vuvuzela because I didn’t have anything specific to shout, but wanted to be part of the chorus.
I’m not sure how Splash and Ripple are going to tweak it so more than one person “finds their voice” per game – subliminal messaging, liberal use of repeatable slogans, and preparing players beforehand to think of what they’ll shout out when the time comes could all work.
Is two hours enough to formulate dissent enough to get people screaming in the street under assumed identities? Can they make them find their own voice through subtle game mechanics, or is any encouragement just another form of propaganda, just as false as the authority’s message? What does that say about the concept of the game?
I really hope they manage to pull it off, though.