Zachary Martin

Mar 29, 2012

Outside the Department of English yesterday, I paused to watch a young man in a cape pass. He was striding toward the building, looking cautiously over his shoulder every few seconds, and he carried with him a Nerf bat and a toy gun capable of firing soft plastic projectiles. He stopped outside the door long enough to lower the hammer on his toy gun--safety first in the classroom, I was glad to see--and entered the building, his cape kicking up behind him. I stood there for a few moments, trying to process what I had just seen. The best I could come up with was that it was time on campus for another round of the game "Assassins." That would at least explain the toy gun and the Nerf bat, which the young man seemed ready to swing at attackers at a moment's notice. The cape I just chalked up to unique fashion sense. Or maybe capes on men are making a comeback. For those unfamiliar with it, "Assassins" is a relatively common game on university campuses (and the recent subject of an excellent two-part episode of "Community"). It features teams of participants trying to tag each other with toy guns or water pistols until a single person or team is left standing. It goes by a lot of different names, our Poetry Editor Janine Joseph has informed me--Assassins, Zombies vs. Humans, Gotcha, KAOS (Killing As Organized Sport), Juggernaut, Battle Royale, Paranoia, Killer, Tag, Elimination, or Circle of Death--and I confess even those of us at Gulf Coast have played some different variations of it in the past. Paranoia Players divide themselves into three teams: Poets, Fiction Writers, and Nonfiction Writers. Players intermingle freely on campus and are allowed to switch teams at will but, in their heart of hearts, they all know which team they really belong to and live in constant fear that they'll be discovered as impostors. Each team is convinced they've won, but pretends like the score is tied whenever asked. Gotcha! This is an every-player-for-themselves version of the game. Each player locks themselves in a quiet room and writes an honest, heartbreaking, book-length memoir about a difficult time in their lives. They spend years crafting searing prose about the experiences that shaped them and work diligently to fit these into a gripping overall narrative, only to find, when they emerge with the manuscript, that another player has just published a memoir on the exact same topic, and with a snappier title. Somehow, James Frey wins. Zombies vs. Humans Players divide into two teams, Zombies and Humans. The Humans teach introductory classes for very little pay and the Zombies handle university administration. Whenever a Zombie sees a Human on campus, they are allowed to verbally abuse them. Humans try to win basic concessions like healthcare and retirement benefits for their team and Zombies try to make Humans' lives a living hell. The game is rigged, and the Humans always lose. Battle Royale Men-only version of the game. Players meet at a bar, swarm around female bar patrons, and try to engage in conversations about where they've published, who they've studied with, what classes they're taking, which Cormac McCarthy novel they're currently re-reading, why they didn't enter different chapbook competitions, which panels they attended at AWP, and which summer residencies they're applying for. The first player to get a woman's phone number wins. (Usually ends without a winner.) If you're in a creative writing program, you've probably been playing some version of these games for years, without even knowing it. May I suggest that, next time, you try wearing a cape? It won't improve your chances of winning, but it will get you noticed.