The Go Game
The Go Game is a competitive game put on by a San Francisco company of the same name. Players race through the game zone solving clues and performing tasks with the aid of a cell phone and digital camera in an effort to earn the most points. Though the Go Game comprises elements of a scavenger hunt and a treasure hunt, in fact it is neither. Rather, it is a site-specific, clue-finding race in which sleuthing skills and courage are weighed equally with humor and creativity. The Go Game advertises itself as “the future of corporate play,” is a perennial favorite for team-building activities, and was voted “Best Way to Rediscover Your City” by the SF Weekly.
A Go Game is mapped onto an existing game zone, overlaying the familiar and everyday with a mystery that can only be unlocked with the keys provided by the phone and the clues as created by the game masters. A game master can build a game suited to any theme (music, espionage) but the traditional version of the game is run 6-8 times a week, year round.
Game zones must be easily navigated by foot, for this is how the game is played; most comprise several city blocks, generally in an area of a city with some history, lots of foot traffic, funky coffee shops, etc. (examples include Atlanta's Olympic Park and Hollywood and Highland). Though the Go Game can be played anywhere there is cell phone service, these game zones are more “fertile” than convention centers and shopping malls, where it has also been played.
Players are split into teams of 3 to 10; the game has been played by as few as a dozen and as many as several thousand. Each team receives a superhero themed tin lunch box and a clue envelope labeled "CONFIDENTIAL: DO NOT OPEN UNTIL THE PHONE TELLS YOU." The lunch box contains a wireless web enabled cell phone and digital camera, as well as a map of the game zone and a list of rules and instructions.
Players are greeted by a Go Game operative (the Game Master) wearing an orange flightsuit. The Game Master gives a brief introductory warm-up talk in which he or she explains the Rules and the Tools. At the end of this talk, the game master fires a starting gun and players begin solving missions.
Games typically last 2 hours from the firing of the start gun, though they can sometimes last as long as several days. Teams solve as many missions as they can within the two hours of play; a team that solves missions correctly and quickly will earn a high score, for every time a correct answer is sent to the server, the phone downloads another mission for the team to solve, and every mission is an opportunity to earn points.
At the end of game, all teams get a message on their phones telling them the location of the judging ceremony, usually a bar or restaurant. When teams arrive, they hand in their cameras and get refreshments while the judging ceremony begins.
The judging is hosted by the game master or another Go Game employee, and it is the culmination of the judgable missions performed during the game. Photos and videos are shown on the big screen for the entertainment of the players. After awarding points based on these missions, the host announces the winner and gives out the prizes. Prizes are usually totemic, gag gifts, though there have been prizes of HD TV’s and Pocket PCs. The entire event lasts about four hours from start to finish.
Types of Missions
The three main categories of missions are:
• Sneak and Snoop Missions: These are modeled on traditional treasure-hunt or scavenger clues, though they do not require players to retrieve items, nor are they arranged in a cumulative, linear progression. A typical Sneak and Snoop mission might require a team to navigate their way to a particular location and find or observe a particular facet of the architecture, geography, signage, or gardening in order to answer a question. Some missions may refer to the clues contained within the confidential envelope: a team might have to use a key inside the envelope to decode a hidden message spelled out by the flags of different countries hanging above a hotel. These missions are usually worth 25-45 points.
• Plant Missions: These missions make use of the two or more actors who are in on the game. These actors are lying in wait throughout the game zone, some in costume and others blending in; each has a task for the teams. Typical plant missions include a gypsy, a ninja, and a runaway bride. Sometimes plants are in plainclothes and lead players through a memory game, or see how many marshmallows they can fit in their mouths. These missions are usually around 60-90 points.
• Judgable Missions: Unlike other missions, there is no correct answer to a Judgable mission; rather, teams solve them by taking a photo, series of photos, or video in the category as set forth by the parameters of the mission. These creative missions are viewed by the other teams at the end of the game and awarded points based on how funny, creative, original, risky, daring, or dirty the judgables are, or just how enjoyable they are to watch. These missions are worth the most points (120 points usually) and are frequently the key to winning the game. A team will perform between 2 and 4 judgable missions in a typical game.
Other kinds of missions include:
• Runner mission: Unlike the other plant missions, the runner perambulates throughout the game zone. In certain runner missions, teams must be on the lookout for a certain character (such as Batman or Supergirl) whom they must find while they play. This character may have a password players will be asked about at the end of the game. Other runner missions, such as Dead Weight, feature a character that teams must avoid: Dead Weight tags slow or inattentive teams and joins their team and attempts to annoy, distract, or sabotage them as they play.
• Trivia: These are non-site-specific general knowledge questions that reward players’ knowledge of the company they work for, their teammates, or any other trivial knowledge.
• Recall: Some missions are in two parts and must be completed after leaving the location the phone directs teams to. The hotel room mission sends teams into a crime scene; the gangster mission directs teams to a character named Tony Tuesday who recounts the demise of his cousin. Ten minutes after they leave these missions, the phone asks questions that test their memory of what they heard or observed.
• Brain Burner: These are difficult brainteasers or puzzles, usually used to slow down a team that is far outpacing the competition.
The game was the brainchild of Ian Fraser of San Francisco. In December 2000, Fraser had a dream about navigating a city, guided by a magical helmet that quizzed him on his surroundings. The name "The Go Game" came to him in the dream as well. Fraser recounted his dream to his best friend, Finnegan "Finn" Kelly, who was trained as a jazz piano player but was a computer programmer as a hobby. Kelly saw the potential to make Fraser’s dream reality; he moved from New York to California and the two friends became entrepreneurs, turning Fraser’s dream into a workable business.
Though neither had any experience with start-up business, and Fraser was still working part-time with troubled youths, in February 2001 they bought their cell phones and began working in earnest to make the game a reality. Incorporating under the name Wink Back Inc. in July 2001, the Go Game was first played for a corporate group in November 2001; the client was Yahoo Graphic Design. The first community game was played on 8 December 2001 in San Francisco’s Mission District.
• Favorite judgable missions include “Historical Ballet,” in which teams must act out an event from world history by dancing it. This video mission is based on the ComedySportz game of the same name and is included in nearly all corporate games. “Moon landing” is the most frequently performed dance.
• Favorite plant missions include Agent Hotpants: Teams are told an agent is waiting for them in a bar; she has a password for them, but will only identify herself if teams use their best pickup line on her. Teams must hit on everyone in the bar until someone divulges the password..