Cruel 2 B Kind: the friendly assassin

The game Assassin, as Wikipedia helpfully puts it, is a “live-action role playing game” where every player is trying to kill other players until only one remains. Unlike a card game or the round-the-table Werewolf game popular at Foo Camp, Assassin can span many days and include dozens of people. That means it collides with Real Life in fairly obvious ways. You can, for example, be killed on the way to class. But what does it mean to be killed? In one game you might be done in with a squirt gun, in another it might be a rubber band. But a new version of the game, as I learned at Collision Detection, involves killing with kindness.

Cruel 2 B Kind is a version of Assassin designed to get around one of the inconveniences of the game: freaking out bystanders with disturbing and apparently dangerous attack and evasion dramatics. Intead of murdering someone with a squirt gun, you do it with a targeted compliment. Thus, a badly-aimed volley will only brighten a bystander’s day rather than dampening their shirt or soiling their pants.

This all sounds clever to me, but I knew exactly where to go for the straight dope. At great expense, we have retained the services of Assassin Expert JMike and asked him for his opinion on the matter. When it comes to Assassin, JMike knows whereof he speaks. Over the past 15 years he has played and managed dozens of Assassin games great and small. Here’s what he had to say.

The “random act of kindness” shtick is a little sappy. Granted,
assassin-style games have always had a problem: how to arrange a game that
is played out in the real life urban jungle? People who design these kind
of games — well some of them anyway — fantasize about being able to set up
stake-outs, open-clandestine meetings, elaborate hits, etc. out in public,
but obviously you have this problem that the more realistic the setup, the
more likely it will be confused for the real thing (with dire consequences).
So the realism wing of the gaming world takes the action into controlled or
semi-controlled environments: college campuses, convention hotels, private
rural land, and they accept the necessary compromises: complex relationships
with the authorities and/or slightly watered-down action (paintball, boffer
weapons, very simplified role playing dynamics, etc.). This other wing of
the gaming world seems to be evolving recently, where they use VERY watered
down action in order to be able to play out in the real world. I’d say that
the recent movement of live performance art — I forget the name of the
phenomenon, but where you get like 200 people to meet and go up and down the
escalators in some iconic hotel lobby in town — is very closely related to
this wing of the gaming world. Anyway, I think modern technology is going
to be a big advance to this wing of the gaming world, in that you’ll be able
to do more complicated things where you get the thrill of the chase and
even, in a way, the thrill of the kill, without having to do things that
look dangerous or threatening to non-players.

SO I guess my take on it is that this is kind of a confluence of the old
school live-action role playing gaming scene with the
whatever-its-name-is-performance-art scene and more power to it. I hope and
expect to see some pretty good and funny things come out of it. Random act
of kindness warfare is a little bit of a sappy start though :)

So there you have it. One of my favorite things in life is knowing just who to ask when a certain topic comes up. You’d be surprised how often JMike is that person.

4 thoughts on “Cruel 2 B Kind: the friendly assassin”

  1. Hey Ned,
    It’s a strange coincidence, but I’m the current organizer of an Assassin game at Warren Wilson College. We’ve been trying to deal with witnesses, and this may just be the way to do it. Thank you dear uncle.

  2. You’d be surprised how utterly un-sappy this game is when it’s actually played out. The gameplay mechanics aren’t watered down at all– the strategies of many teams were ingenious, the attacks exciting, the defenses hilarious, and moreover the pleasure of being part of a larger group (same pleasure as was experienced in the flash mobs) is not to be underestimated. Also, the fantasy of killing other people with weapons is not a fantasy shared by all gamers. To replace fake guns fantasy with a different interactive core mechanic doesn’t water it down– it opens the game up to a much wider audience. If we believe in the benefits of play, for creating community, for taking back public spaces, for supporting meaningful engagement, etc., that’s a crucial step to take.

  3. Will:

    You might be able to find a set of rules from the MIT Assassins’ Guild out there on the web somewhere. The MIT guild chose the tack that a college campus environment allows you plenty of opportunity to kill your rivals without any witnesses.

    This argument may only really apply when there are other dynamics in the game that encourage players to go exploring in little-traveled corners of campus; a straightforward “circle game” may require a wrinkle in the rules that allows for a single non-player witness or some such thing. Variations abound. If you really want your game to be a “killer” game, then dangit, you should be out there killing people :)


    I’ve been caricaturized in the MIT Guild as a frothing-at-the-mouth “back in my day we ran people down in the dark hallways at 3am and gunned them down in a hail of discs and we liked it ” creaky old timer. So be it. My main assertion about sappiness is a little heavy-handed, but stems from the implied claim that a game that calls itself “Assassin”, or something deriving from that, really ought to involve running your opponent down and killing him. Or cleverly out-maneuvering him and killing him with well-executed surprise. Hilarity doesn’t seem to have much room there.

    I’ve done plenty of live action gaming that didn’t pretend to anything “assassin” like, and I’ve usually enjoyed it. Hence my belief that something really good will come from this confluence of flash mobs (thanks for slipping that term in there) and live action gaming that claims to assassin-ness.

    We could dive a little deeper into the question. Are the “killing with kindness” mechanics just a bit of hilarity? Or an attempt to reach out to the flash mob crowd that might not otherwise play in an assassin-style game? Or a conscious attempt at subversion of assassin-style gaming? (We’ll kill the assassin-style game through the kindness of “killing with kindness” style games.) I’m not sure. It was probably innocent, but it’s fun to speculate. An awful lot of people seem to really dislike the fact that assassin gaming involves killing people.


  4. For those of you following this conversation, I should point out that the Jane McG in the comments above is Jane McGonigal, the co-creator of Cruel 2 B Kind and principal of

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