The (water) gun-toting agents of City Assault are out for figurative blood
“I’ve always wanted to be a private investigator,” she said, index finger tapping against the barroom table. Agent Quadraphenia. She was such a pretty girl: blond hair; thick, red lips; eyes that flickered like stars and breasts like Mount Kiliman … pardon me. All I’m trying to say is that she was so full of life.
A private investigator. Sure. Yeah, she was definitely anxious to live that the life of a secret agent—tracking her mark, staying one step ahead of the competition—but who wouldn’t be? She certainly wasn’t afraid, either. Yeah, you should have seen that smile.
So, of course, to hear about her getting shot—second day on the job—right in front of her peers at the pizza joint, it was, well, it was funny as hell, actually. It is just a game of City Assault, after all.
“City ass-what,” you ask?
Well, let’s let the guy who shot her tell his side of the story.
“I had tracked her since the beginning,” said Agent Kyoujin Ookawa. Quadraphenia was his first target, and he wanted to take her out as quickly as possible—to make an example out of her, as a warning to the others.
He went to an “unsavory” part of Oak Park, where she lived, dressed in a suit and tie, posing as a government worker but feeling more like a schoolboy: sweaty palms and big aspirations.
“She opened [the door] about an inch and wouldn’t look out. She was really scared,” he said. “And rightfully so,” he added with a bit of bravado.
This dog was all bark and no bite. Ookawa didn’t even hit his target that day. If Quadraphenia were to be called a “real pussy,” it would be due entirely to her catlike reflexes. The vixen pulled out her weapon—water-filled, mind you—before Ookawa could make his move, and they had an old-fashioned face off, with her gun to his face. Fucking rookies. There they were, like a couple of chicks fresh outta the egg, all wet, googly eyed and dumb–looking, neither of them really sure what to do.
Is he a secret agent, or is he a fed telling the truth?
Ookawa took off in his car before both of them pissed themselves and things got really embarrassing.
The following day, though, wasn’t so lucky for Quadraphenia.
With a little Internet sleuthing, Ookawa tracked the dame to a local restaurant. Once again, he donned a costume, except this time he dressed down. Way down, as in homeless.
Disheveled and scruffy, Ookawa crept into the restaurant. His heart thumped in his chest like a fat-assed clown on a pogo stick, hopping around a freak-show tent.
“She’s probably in here hiding,” he thought nervously. “She’s gonna take me out.
“The whole time you’re hunting somebody, somebody’s hunting you,” Ookawa explained.
He finally spotted Quadraphenia sitting at a table with friends wearing a disguise of her own. That pretty hair of hers was braided in pigtails and she had on a hat. Pheesh, some disguise. Her eyes darted around the room as if she was expecting shit to go down. Ookawa got behind her and made his move.
“I put my pistol about a foot from her [head] and started squirting at point-blank range,” he said, nearly giggling from excitement. “She froze like a deer in headlights … and I said, ‘I’ll meet you outside, right now.’”
He paused. “As soon as I said that, the whole table burst into laughter.”
And that, my friends, is exactly how the game is meant to be played, at least, according to Agent Shepard, co-founder of City Assault, Sacramento.
“The way he’s going about it is very much what we want. He’s very persistent and very willing to dress up. It’s exciting to hear,” Shepard said.
While City Assault is new to the area, it’s definitely not a new idea. This outlet for wannabe secret agents was the brainchild of graphic designer Yutai Liao, or “The Mustache Commander,” as he likes to be called. Since its inception in 2004, Liao’s game, StreetWars, has taken off in popularity. To date, games have been held in San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, Vancouver, London and Vienna. Disappointed that StreetWars skipped Sacramento, Agent Shepard and his pal Agent Cutthroat took matters into their own hands.
With a promise to the overlords of StreetWars that they would not use the official StreetWars name, Shepard and Cutthroat borrowed the concept and five months ago began City Assault here in Sacramento, which is currently (and successfully) in the midst of its first round of play.
When I met up with Cutthroat and Shepard at the Bonn Lair pub on J Street to discuss the game, they were dressed in suits, complete with fedoras, sunglasses and shifty eyes. They played their parts well, to say the least, and they certainly looked like badass detectives. Getting information from them is akin to asking questions to, very appropriately, secret agents.
Shepard clammed up at the first sign of personal questions, revealing only that he’s in his mid-30s. Cutthroat is a bit looser lipped and said he’s 28, and in the business of “finance.” Shepard claimed he’s “a creative” who runs “a large conglomerate.” Whatever that means.
Straight faced, yes. But are they lying?
“No,” Shepard said with a grin. “Not really.” Ah, Christ.
They deftly shifted the conversation to the real matter of importance: the game. The rules are simple: sign up online; buy a water gun; get the information (workplace, home address, phone number, etc.) of another player (your target); then, when you snag an opportunity, squirt them (with your gun, of course). Once soaked, the “deceased” hands you the information of the person they were stalking. And so on. The last player left at the end of the three-week game period wins. The winner receives money from the entry-fee pool, which can amount to hundreds of dollars, depending on how many people sign up.
But the game is not as easy as it sounds. Like real detective work, there’s a lot of waiting around involved, which can be excruciating. And to play the game with maximum efficiency, you must “stalk” your victim.
Not surprisingly, it’s the term “stalk” that’s made some public officials nervous.
In 2005, the mayor of New York Mike Bloomberg publicly denounced the StreetWars game, saying, “It is not funny in this day and age. It may be funny for kids playing in the schoolyard. It’s not something that is appropriate on the streets of this city, given the world we live in.”
Sounds like your typical political buzzkill, but who knows, maybe it’s not such an irrational fear, you know, given the climate and all.
“Worse things have happened. We know right from wrong,” Shepard said. “It’s a game … and people are going to play whether anyone likes it or not.”
Luckily, in this area, Sacramento police officials haven’t yet heard about City Assault, and when asked if about the game, I could almost hear the officer scratching his head on the other end of the phone line. He finally let out a little chuckle. “I’ll ask around,” he said, and never called back. Most likely the fuzz has better things to do than hassle people over a water-gun game.
Anyway, the game (a word Shepard and Cutthroat really want to emphasize) was designed with safety in mind, and, ironically enough, Agent Cutthroat adds a voice of reason to conversation regarding the perceived danger level. “We meet everybody before they even play, so we kind of pre-screen them in a sense to make sure they’re not some whack job,” he said, smiling, kind of like, to be honest, a whack job. But common sense, he said, is what it comes down to in the end.
Be smart, get a neon-colored water gun and you’ll be fine. That’s really all it takes for a safe game. And to have fun, of course.
So what kind of adult person, you ask, would dedicate so much time to a water-gun game, anyway? You might be surprised.
“We see a huge range [of people],” said Cutthroat, from different age groups and from “many different walks of life.”
For instance, Agent Ookawa in real life is 41-years-old and works in information technology. His wife, who is also playing the game, is a regulations analyst for a private company. They have two boys, 7 and 10 years old, who are too young for the City Assault’s 18-plus age limit, but are playing vicariously through their mom and dad, anyway. Ookawa said they love every minute of their parents’ new paranoid, aggressive lives as secret agents. “They’re just thrilled,” Ookawa said. “It’s like cops and robbers for adults.”
Toward the end of our conversation, it seemed the guilt had become too much. Ookawa had to come clean.
“I gotta tell you,” he said in a low, discreet voice, “I’m not Japanese. I just came up with that name to throw people off.”
Whatever keeps you in the game, man.
For many players, one of the most intriguing parts of City Assault is the thick wall of paranoia and fear that you must face each day of the three-week game period, which is what sets City Assault apart from being your typical schoolyard water-gun fight.
Boredom maybe, but fear is definitely not something you feel on a day-to-day basis working as a legislative analyst or as an Internet tech guy. The game is lifelike, exciting and appealing, especially to us working stiffs who are stuck behind computers all day.
Just as we were about to hang up the phone, a doorbell rang and Ookawa excused himself to answer it.
A barely audible conversation could be heard in the background: “What can I do for you? … Uhhh, No. No thank you.”
When he got back, he was a little out of breath.
“It was a carpet-cleaning company going door to door,” he said with a wavering voice. “He could have been an agent, but I had my hand on [my gun], of course,” he said, “And I didn’t open the door.”
Shaken, Ookawa said he’s going to watch the van pull away to see if it stops at other houses. Most likely, it’s just another sloppy agent trying to make an easy kill. And if that’s the case, they’ve got another thing coming.
Oh yeah, the beautiful Agent Quadraphenia? Meh, there’ll be other broads.