They’ve taken place in New York, LA, Chicago, Paris, Vienna and, now in 2010, in London. StreetWars is a three-week long water assassination competition and our reporter, Sameer Patel, is a marked man. (Photos by RJ Fernandez, released courtesy of The Shadow Government).
Monday morning, a ringing wakes me up. Bleary eyed, I answer my intercom. A voice informs me there’s a parcel waiting downstairs: I’ll be down in a moment, I say, amazed at Amazon’s efficiency. I only ordered that yesterday. As I put on my shoes, I happen to glance at the clock. 7am? Any time before 12 feels criminal when you work for yourself, but something else isn’t quite right. Royal Mail could never be here this early. Suddenly it dawns on me the man outside is probably not the postman at all, but is most likely holding a water pistol, waiting to drench me in my best pajamas. The intercom rings again; my hunter is now getting irate that I haven’t gone down to collect his phantom package. Smiling, I wish him all the best, hang up and then walk over to my balcony to wave my blonde, 20-something assassin off. He’s in perfect uniform even sporting a Royal Mail delivery bag. At least now I know what my would-be killer looks like. But I’m knackered and even more paranoid than ever.
I’ve signed up to StreetWars. Not that I really know what StreetWars is, or exactly what it would entail, but it seemed like a good idea when the e-mail hit my inbox. Join a clandestine group of urban assassins? Damn right. And so my double life began. Not in the obvious place of sourcing a battlefield-ready water-arm. No, instead I’m planning strategies, dreaming up costumes and thinking gadgets. What’s the best way to lure someone out? How will I camouflage myself? In short I’ve become M, Q and Bond all in one. I’m taking this way too seriously I say to myself. But when I get to the London PickUps to receive my first assassination target I realized the opposite was true…
I arrive in East London late on a Sunday night. A suited security guard with a watergun patrols the perimeter of a compound on Rivington Street. I speak to him and the electronic gate opens into a candlelit courtyard where a Xenia Onatopp look-a-like in a little black dress orders me to sit. There’s some nervous banter with another couple of lone wolves (they’ve all played before), before the Agent name I’ve signed up as is called. Jaws. I’m whisked inside a pitch dark building by the black-clad villainess and down the stairs, almost falling in the process, into a cellar. My ‘What the fuck-o-meter?’ is now registering all time highs. Whatever ball I’ve started rolling is quickly gaining momentum.
StreetWars began in 2004 in New York. The game is controlled by the Shadow Government, under the guidance of the US-based Supreme and Moustache Commanders, two highly-depraved individuals, and Eevilmidget who co-ordinates things on the ground in London. While holding down day-jobs they co-ordinate games around the globe, appearing at ‘socials’ to lead the revelry and encourage degeneracy. Streetwars lasts three weeks and is played around the clock. You arm yourself to the teeth with water bombs, stealth weaponry and beast water pistols. You have a target; you are a target. You can play as a team or solo and each kill you make earns you a new target. Last man standing wins. You can’t attack people at work (yes, you have to live your life at the same time) or on public transport, bars or banks but apart from that, anything goes. And is encouraged. Save for making your weapon look real, unless you wanted to be gunned down by the police.
The cellar vault contains two pools, again eerie and candle-lit. A further couple of black-suited henchman guard the table where two computers sit, linking me to Supreme and Mustache in the USA. Her Eevilmidget-ness tells me to sit, pleasantries are spoken, I stupidly mention I’m sober and several shots of Jack Daniels are forced down my throat. Almost all the conversation with the commanders is too obscene to be repeatable (safe to say I will never think of sorbet in the same way again). Finally a black folder is passed to me and I’m told to leave. Combined with my already raised adrenaline levels this whole experience has left a lasting impression. This could be a sleepless few weeks. But I do now have a target.
Her name is Amanda Leat aka Trixie Benedict I find out as I run away, looking over my shoulder at every turn before leaping on a bus and ducking down behind a seat. I’m given her photo, her home and work address, telephone numbers and e-mail. It soon dawns on me that the best way to avoid being hunted, is to hunt. I probably should have sourced a water pistol by now.
It only takes a single day for me to realize how very twisted the game is. On the very same Monday that my assassin messes with my sleeping pattern, he returns to lie in wait after work. It takes under 24 hours of being a wanted man for my neighbours to turn against me. The innocent looking O.A.P. from across the street comes knocking on my door. Her face is distressed and she says she needs help and mumbles something about her partner. She urges me to come with her, and only luck saves me. Just as I step back in the flat to get my shoes my assassin jumps out from behind the wall. Luckily I’ve time to slam the door shut and run into my living room, but he’s persistent enough to stick his gun through the letter box, hose down my wall and shout some obscenities before finally leaving defeated. My heart is genuinely pounding and I’m actually a little scared. Rule Number 1: Trust No-one.
The next day I’m out of my house by 6am, before my assassin has a chance to come back. I head over on a bus to Peckham to an area full of council estates. Balconies and gantries run everywhere and it feels both apt and unnerving to be stalking here. My target lives in a modern block of flats and after investigating for a while, I settle for a position 40m away, where I can’t be seen from her entrance and wait. The real surprise is that no-one takes any notice of me. I initially feel uncomfortable when I see passers by, people walking their dogs. But for whatever reason they leave me alone. An hour goes past with little activity and then, in quick succession, cars and people leave from her building on their way to work. I see several blondes exit that I don’t think are her, but I realize my position’s just a little too far away to get a good visual. A woman on a bike seems a good possibility, a white girl with a headscarf looks conspicuous… and then suddenly there’s a perfect match. I’m out from my position, following her from a distance. As she heads round a corner she seems totally oblivious to me. I begin to pick up my pace, moving closer and as I do I reach into my duffle coat pockets and ready my pair of mini-Super Soakers. Its time. As quickly as I can I draw both guns and aim low, spraying both her legs and feel the elation of a ‘kill’. And then she screams. And looks genuinely scared. As she turns, I realise I’ve got the wrong girl!
Later that day, after I finally block the image of the terrified girl from my mind, I try stalking around tricksy Trixie’s work in Soho. It’s about 5pm and with a bit of luck I’ll catch her leaving work. I decide to pose as a drunk (though I can’t bring myself to drink Special Brew) and sit on the pavement at the end of her street drinking beer. Nothing. The next day I’m back as a tourist with a big SLR camera and spend a pleasant hour or so eating lunch in her local café. Still naught. Finally I just wait literally outside her office waiting for her. I ring her office, try Googling for more info, I even try to get my flatmate to sell her company market research. But sadly I just can’t work out how to get to her.
In the end I don’t make it to a week. After a couple of quiet days, I decide to risk it and go for a run, though I leave my door unlocked in case I need to get back inside in a hurry. I walk round a corner and down some stairs in my complex heading for the gate. As I get to the bottom, I look up and catch a figure hiding in a passageway just off to the left. We see each other at the same time, our eyes meet and there’s recognition. For a second neither of us move. It’s like that moment in all good Westerns, after which it’s time to see who can draw quickest. Except I’m in running gear and don’t have a gun. Turning on my heels, I sprint back up the stairs, heart pounding and desperate to reach my house before he’s in shooting range. I can hear him shout behind me and begin the chase. I’m only 25m away though and firm favourite to make it back safely. I get up the stairs and to my front door with literally a second to spare. Unfortunately when I reach for the handle, in my haste I miss and instead of a smooth entry and a victory dance I find my head connecting firmly with a shut door. Ouch. Dazed, I manage to stumble in but, before I can turn to slam the door shut, I feel the sting of cold water on my back. Game Over. My assassin, NinjaSquash, told me in the pub afterwards that he had been waiting for me all day. Nice guy though, he paid for the beers.
By now you’ll understand that StreetWars is an intense experience. On paper it sounds like a bit of a laugh; water pistol assassinations. The reality is that you get sucked into and for a while your life isn’t totally under your own control. You feel fear when leaving your house and relief when you’re safe. You stalk with intent, desperately hoping today you’ll get your target. While the game is on, the ‘dead’ (and living if they’re brave enough) come out for weekly socials to console each other over beers. There’s an intense pleasure in hearing people recount their stories of ‘kills’ or just ludicrous deeds in the name of stalking… the tale of one assassin who stalked his victim for 200 miles all the way up to Manchester on a train (a safe zone) just to pop him at the other end is legendary. My conclusion is that StreetWars is not for everyone, but if you’re willing to put the time and effort involved in, or join as a team, sharing the stalking and banter, and drinking recklessly, and if you’re ready to step outside your comfort zone it’s worth the experience. After all, it’s only water.
For more info on the live-action urban gaming experience that is StreetWars, then check out their website, including this rather funky promo video or read more on Wiki. To keep tabs on forthcoming events, sign up to their Facebook page.