Experiencing Blast Theory’s I’d Hide You – Gaming your way through Manchester’s night scene

I’d Hide You by Blast Theory is described as an “online game of stealth and cunning” performed during the FutureEverything festival in Manchester during three evenings (17-19 May). It relies on live online broadcasting and consists of three teams of players competing against each other while running along the streets of Manchester.  The players (or runners) don colourful brightly-lit helmets and a device consisting of a portable video camera with a ring of LED lights attached, making them very distinct. At the same time, anyone can join the game online by logging into the game’s website for a specific period of time and choosing a player. They can see the live video feedback of the player’s video camera.

The objective of the street players is to covertly film players of the opponent teams. Once they have them in the sight of their cameras, the online players that have chosen their camera view click on the screen and score points, while the street player targeted loses lives.

While many of Blast Theory’s projects participants assume the role of street players while the narrative is delivered to them through mobile devices, in I’d Hide You (and also previously in Can You See Me Now?) the roles are reversed: participants sit in front of the screen of their networked devices while the narrative is brought to them through a group of previously arranged street players (or runners). The latter are even given an online presence, where you can choose between red, yellow and white teams to see their self-descriptions and short videos.

Another defining feature of I’d Hide You is the use of live online broadcasting, which, despite the advances of broadband technology, computer speed power and software, is still subject to glitches, breakdown, overloaded servers and variable image quality. This is perhaps why major broadcasters are reluctant to depend solely on it for transmission of major events. However, independent online broadcasting is undoubtedly a great playing field for experimental arts, and hopefuly we will see more of it in the near future.

EXPERIENCING I’D HIDE YOU

I logged in to the game’s website on the second day. The rules are simple enough to grasp while playing and the only action to score points is to click on the screen at the right time (when an opponent is in sight). I chose a player called Paul and his online video stream appeared in front of me. I was suddenly being taken around the streets of Manchester on a live tour. Paul kept turning around the camera to himself so he could chat while waiting to ambush other participants. He was quite skilfull at the latter, and once another player was on site I started clicking frantically on the screen, scoring nearly a dozen points (one for each click). The game goes on pause after the first seconds of a live confrontation because once the opponent realises he is being shot he turns around and the whole point of the ambush is gone. It then gives players time to move away and regain their breath before starting over again. While playing, I was able to send comments to Paul by typing on my keyboard (“Watch out, there is someone behind shooting at you!”). The experience of being ambushed is quite annoying. Paul got a bit distracted, was ambushed and lost all his lives.

The game reset and I was brought back to the initial screen presenting a map of the streets of Manchester with live updates of the locations of players prompting you to choose one. Some nice background music comes on and I am briefly presented with the top scores of online players. I notice that the highest score is above 900. What? How did he/she manage that? I get a Twitter from a colleague reminding me that the points accumulate, so you need to keep playing. Gosh, you can;t get away from obsessive game players even in an art-based project…

I join another player (Abi). She is too slow, and keeps getting killed. I get a bit annoyed, but unphased, I move on to join Matt, who seems more confident, assures me that he knows the streets of Manchester really well and that he is “in it to win it”. Matt is an efficient player, and I manage to add a few points to my tally while he ambushes a few players. Although my score keeps resetting to zero every time I switch players, I hope that somewhere in the server my score is increasing. However, after a while Matt gets into a cruisy mode and starts a kind of ad-hoc tour of Manchester’s night scene, entering a kebab shop and sitting down for a while, discussing the shop’s choice of music. He is stopped on the streets while people ask him what on earth he is doing. He dishes out cards with the web address of the game. Some peopl strike a conversation with him, holding hi back. I send Matt a message: “Come on, let’s keep going”.Other messages from online players also pop up on the screen (“There is another player behind you!”, “Good playing, Matt!”).

For me, the most interesting aspects of the game are the amazing random camera shots and the random conversations that street players engage in. They keep me entertained for over an hour. The serer eventually crashes, it must be overloaded, and for me it’s time to get back to reality. Or to my closer reality at home. Thanks for Paul, Abi and Matt, I spent some time cruising the streets of Manchester alongside them with the excuse that I was playing an online competitive game to try and knock out the highest score (I was never going to do that and honestly did not aim for it). Like sandboxing in a walking version of Grand Theft Auto, except the scenery around me is not generated by algorithms.

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