In the 1920s, psychodrama (role playing for therapy) was introduced, and fantasy role-playing organizations like the Society for Creative Anachronism were established in the 1960s. Theater-style live-action games, influenced by the commedia dell'arte tradition of the 1500s, were introduced in the early 1980s by groups like Harvard University's Society for Interactive Literature.

A wide variety of LARPs have sprung up internationally since the '80s, but one of the most popular incorporates a psychological slant that can make players paranoid.

The game Assassin (also known by Gotcha, Paranoia, Killer, and several other names) dates back to the late '70s and remains popular, especially on college campuses, many of which have gaming guilds (the Assassin's Guild at MIT was among the first established, in 1981).

Exhibit A: Players must piece together the evidence above to solve the puzzle of The Citadel.
Jamie Peachey
Exhibit A: Players must piece together the evidence above to solve the puzzle of The Citadel.
Citadel developers, including Greg and Sonja Shaw (center) and Webb Pickersgill (right) test new media for the game.
Jamie Peachey
Citadel developers, including Greg and Sonja Shaw (center) and Webb Pickersgill (right) test new media for the game.

Details

For more information on The Citadel, or to set up a game, call Mission Lane Network at 602-795-0300 or visit www.citadelphoenix.com.

In the game, players try to eliminate each other using mock weapons — a spoon, squirt gun, or Nerf dart — and they succeed if they can touch their target with the "weapon." In some variations of the game, players can also "poison" each other's food with Tabasco sauce or plant a harmless "bomb," which could be a cassette tape in the target's car or a letter saying, "You're dead."

Unless the game referee establishes "safe zones" where game play cannot occur (such as a school, church, or workplace), Assassin happens everywhere at all hours. Players could walk out their front door at 4 a.m. and get hit with a Nerf dart, or be ambushed with a squirt gun while grocery shopping. The goal is to be the last player left, and the game encourages a sense of paranoia.

Like Assassin, The Citadel instills a degree of paranoia in its players. Because live actors are placed as undercover agents at public locations throughout the game, players feel like anybody they encounter could be part of it. Unlike Assassin and some other live-action games, including scavenger hunts, The Citadel revolves around a very detailed storyline and has a six-hour time limit. It's not simply about tagging someone with a Styrofoam ball or getting from point A to be point B before the other teams.

There are popular LARPs that also contain distinct characters and storylines, such as White Wolf Game Studio's World of Darkness game series about vampires (Vampire: The Masquerade), werewolves (Werewolf: The Apocalypse), and magic (Mage: The Ascension). But none of them contains the multi-media components or technology of The Citadel.

"You basically get that hybrid mentality, where you're interacting with live action and moving around places," Sonja Shaw says. "You're working the story as it unfolds, you're hacking through Web sites, you're getting video feeds, getting communications, tracking, tailing."

Webb Pickersgill adds his moviemaker perspective: "You're in the film as it's happening. You're not just watching it."


On a recent Tuesday night, a test team of four people is embarking on a Citadel game from Sapna Café on 13th Avenue and Grand. The team includes a woman from Tempe named Michelle Parrent. Parrent, 28, has never played a live-action role-playing game before but was intrigued enough by The Citadel to play on a night when she had to get up at 7 a.m. the next day for her job at a warehouse. Short and genial, with bright burgundy hair and large earrings, Parrent was interested in the game because it involved solving a puzzle and talking to people, two things she says she loves to do.

Her code name is "Bellstar," and The Citadel has dubbed her team "Dragon." They're meeting with Citadel director Brendan Kern (Greg Shaw) at Sapna to go over the game rules and sign release-of-liability forms. The forms advise players of the risks, "including physical injury, death, or other consequences," and make them agree not to break any laws. Kern tells the players where their first location will be, which in this game, turns out to be an empty warehouse somewhere in Central Phoenix.

At the beginning of their "mission," the players meet with someone code-named SCOPE at the warehouse. SCOPE, which stands for "Statistical Calculations on Probable Events," is the character players interact with the most. SCOPE could be male or female, depending on the actor playing the part for a particular game.

On this night, SCOPE is a petite, attractive brunette sporting a black business suit and hair in a stern, tight bun. She briefs team Dragon on the mission and has each member pick a role — transport (the person who'll be driving the team everywhere), technical support (the person who handles the laptop and gadgets), communicator (the person who stays in contact with SCOPE throughout the game), and covert agent (the person who approaches people and tries to get information). Parrent chooses the role of covert agent.

SCOPE gives the team a black bag full of equipment: pens and Citadel note pads, a mini-laptop with an Internet air card, a cordless USB mouse, four ear buds, and four small, black transmitter pods called i2i that they can wear around their necks and tune to the same channel to communicate via the ear buds. Unbeknownst to the team, a GPS tracker has been placed on their vehicle, so the game organizers know where they are (with all this expensive equipment) during every step of the mission.

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7 comments
J.M.
J.M.

I found this article because I was just sitting in my house thinking up the same idea and googled to see if anyone else had done it yet. Dam.

Greg Shaw
Greg Shaw

Hi Marcia. The game is designed for four players, but you could play it with one, two, or three players if you like. The per game cost is $380 regardless of team size. We would consider 5 players in certain situations (4 students and an adult) but our testing showed us that teams larger than that had a hard time keeping things together throughout the mission. Our contact info is in the article if you'd like to book a game with us. Thanks!

Marcia Heitz
Marcia Heitz

Sounds a little scary for kids... but my husband and I would love it! How many can play?

George
George

Cool idea! Paying to be a spy for a night. Awesome!

Mike Wells
Mike Wells

Wow, this sounds pretty damned cool. If this becomes a viable business, I might just have to play next time I come to Phoenix to visit family. Great story, too, gives background on role-playing, LARPS and alot of other stuff.

Good Luck with The Citadel, I hope it works for you guys.

Gotta try this
Gotta try this

It sounds like virtual reality without all the computers. I can't wait to play this game. Sign me up.

Julie Coleman
Julie Coleman

This sounds like a totally fun night out...something definately different than dinner and a movie. My husband is such a geek, he'll love it too.

 
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