In The Beginning…
The year was 1991. Cheers was still on TV, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was the kids phenomenon that was everywhere (cowabunga dude!) and you could still get a laugh by working “I’ve fallen & I can’t get up” into your joke. My friend Rachelle was going to be celebrating her 21st birthday and me and Tree were sitting around trying to think of what to do for her party. Since she wasn’t a drinker, most of our circle wasn’t, the typical rite of passage was not an option. It was February, which took a lot of outdoor activities off the list as well. We also wanted to do something as an activity that added to the birthday party that was already planned, so it would have to accommodate all types of people. Young & old, fit & flabby, smart & slow would all need to participate. We kicked around a bunch of ideas.. What if you could play inside, in public, like at the mall? How cool would it be to use guns (my suggestion)? How can you avoid being kicked out for playing a game in the mall with guns? As we worked through these questions, A spy theme emerged and we just had to try it out.
We headed over to Twin Peaks mall with Art, another friend, and bought some dollar store guns to use. We played two missions. One team of two on offense and one lone agent on defense. I’ll never forget the initial rush of being in a store pretending to shop and spotting Art walking through the mall on the way to his objective. It was like being in a movie, and I was the secret agent. Brassy spy music started playing as my vision focused on my target and filtered out everything else. My shopping persona dropped off and I stepped out of the store. Walking through a maelstrom of human activity in the main corridor, I pulled out my gun and approached my target. Every sense was heightened and blood pounded in my ears as I closed in and …and… actually I don’t remember if I got him or not. But it was great! I felt so alive and also part of a massive secret club (which satisfied something deep inside). We concluded that play testing (as we say nowadays) was a success and this thing was ready! We called it Spy Vs. Spy and we unveiled it the next week.
The night of the party, we couldn’t use the mall because it closed early (small town), but we organized into teams, passed out the weapons, assigned drivers, and played three missions using the one thing that was open late in Longmont, fast food joints and grocery stores (Shopping Centers, for all you city folks). Drivers would transport their team to the Pickup spot and then everyone would walk to the Drop-off spot on the other side of the Shopping Center. That night, Janie recognized my walk and took me out (lessons in disguising mannerisms), my sister Sarah totally fooled everyone on my team by borrowing a jacket & hat from one of the guys on her team (first recorded disguise!) and retrieved the intel at the pickup (probably a napkin or straw), and we saw the “Mob rush with the Courier in the middle” tactic for the first time. All in all it was a fun time for everyone and people started talking about “doing this again.” We did it several more times over the next few years for birthdays, campus group events or even just for fun on a Friday night. We mostly played in Boulder & Denver, because those are much more interesting places to walk and their malls were bigger than the one in Longmont. We played the day after thanksgiving, the Saturday before Christmas, and warm summer evenings. It was a really fun game that was different every time because of the people who were playing. I liked the way it wasn’t always won by the most athletic team; you really had to use your brain if you wanted to win (maybe because I was such a big fan of Bugs Bunny!).
I moved to San Francisco 6 years later and I’ve since refined the game a bit (e.g. I changed the name to from Spy Vs. Spy to Jericho, introduced hats/bandannas, etc). I introduced everyone I met here to it for years until eventually I realized, “I need to do this full time.” Now I provide a way for anyone who wants to be a spy on a mission to experience the same feeling I did in that mall so many years ago.
This weekend, November 10th, Jericho is going to be featured (for the 3rd year in a row) as one of the games in an amazing outdoor games festival here in San Francisco called Come Out & Play. We will be playing Jericho the way we did way back in the beginning, so bring a Nerf gun & a Bandanna (for when you die). Details here.
This may be the chance you’ve been waiting for to live out your spy dreams! See you soon!