Urban Street Game: Journey to the End of the Night
UPDATE! I’ve posted up photos and a recap of the event.
Journey to the End of Night is a free street game where “runners” try to get to specific destinations across the city, all the while avoiding people who are “chasers.” If you’re caught, you automatically become a chaser.
The first year in Chicago, the game had 75 people. In 2009 there were 271. Last year, there were 404 players. This year, there are at least 800 people who have registered on Facebook saying they’ll participate.
This year, the event is tomorrow – Saturday, May 7th. It is free to anyone and everyone, with no registration fees. All you need to do is show up in Welles Park at 7 PM, and just like that – you’re able to play.
If you’re curious to learn more about the event, you can check out the official site, learn about the rules and look over photos from events past. You can also look over this Newsweek article from 2010.
I learned of the event through Evan Jacover. We first began corresponding a few years ago, off and on via email and it’s odd how much I know about his life, through his blog. We’ve never met officially in person, but this year marks the second year he’s invited me to join in the event. As long as my coughing continues to slowly improve… I’m planning on being a runner.
I decided to ask Evan a few questions about the event, and he was kind enough to answer my Q&A. He, along with his wife, Shama, are part of the folks organizing the event.
1) So, this is like a large game of tag… spread out across the city?
To some extent, yes, except of course, by the end of the game there are several hundred people who are “it.” The other big difference is that it has a beginning and an end, which makes it feel like more of an adventure. For me a big part of the game is the social relationships you share with the people you’re running with and even the strangers you meet along the way.
One of the things I love about the game is that you see the city in a way you’ve never seen it before. You’ll go through neighborhoods you’ve never been in and see things you never knew existed. We saw a weird empty lot with horses in it one year. Who knew? Horses!
2) What advice would you give to all first time runners?
It’s good to have a plan, whether it’s a route or where you’ll meet up with others if you get separated. Make your plan when you’re in a safe zone because you won’t be able to when you’re running away from a chaser. Also, don’t be afraid to use public transportation. Sometimes it’s worth going a little bit out of your way for a free ride.
3) What’s the movie equivalent of this event? The Warriors? Logan’s Run? The Fugitive?
I always think it’s most like zombie movies. Especially when someone from your group gets tagged and all of a sudden they change from someone you’re trying to protect to someone you’re trying to get away from. I thought of Journey when watching The Walking Dead. Another similarity is you can go from feeling safe to running for your life in a split second.
4) How did you first learn about this event?
I met Dax Tran-Caffee, who brought the game to Chicago, after one of his accordion/puppet shows. He’s since moved back to the bay area, which is a total bummer because he brings a lot of fun to whatever city he’s in.
5) Can you talk a bit about your first event experience?
The first event I played was The Architect and the Urchin, which is similar to Journey in some ways, but there are three groups of people instead of two. People with blue ribbons could tag people with pink ribbons. People with pink ribbons could tag people with orange ribbons, and people with orange ribbons could tag people with blue ribbons — like rock, paper, scissors.
I was a staff chaser for the second Chicago Journey (which means I was one of the people who started the game as a chaser) and I dressed in a gorilla costume (minus the head, which was too hot.)
People loved getting chased by a gorilla, let me tell you. Even the policemen who saw me got a kick out of it. I was so worried they would be mad at me, but they just told me they were disappointed I wasn’t wearing the gorilla head.
There’s a bit of Cirque du Soleil-esque weirdness to these events. One of my favorite checkpoints that year had a girl on stilts walking among the tall statues in Grant Park.
6) Do you recommend runners traveling as a group? How many is too many?
I’d definitely travel in a group, but I’d also expect to get split up, or even lose a few members. It’s not uncommon for the slowest member of a group to be sacrificed so others can get away. Sad but true. I think more than 5 people makes it difficult.
Last year I helped at checkpoint #4 — there are 6 checkpoints — and I don’t think there were many (if any) groups of more than 5 people that managed to stay together that long.
All that said, as a chaser, I find that it’s really hard to catch runners when they’re by themselves. When there’s a mob of people you’re more likely to catch at least one.
7) If I get caught, I understand that I become a chaser. Do I stay in the area where I was captured, or can I relocate?
Once you’re a chaser, you can go wherever you want. If you want to catch the most people, you want to find the choke points where people are forced to go. You also want to be somewhere that doesn’t have a lot of chasers milling about (or at least none faster than you.)
Sometimes it’s best to find the out-of-the-way route people are taking to avoid running into chasers. That’s where you’ll find people who are trying to avoid chasers instead of outrun them. Easy pickings.
I’d also recommend teaming up with one or more other chasers to set up traps for runners by having one person chase the runners to where the other is waiting. If you can’t tell, I really enjoy these chaser strategies. That’s why I’ve been helping out as a staff chaser for so long.
8) In the woods, when a bear chases you and your friends… you don’t have to run faster than the bear. You just have to run faster than your friend. Talk a bit about betrayal and surviving the game.
There’s definitely an el
ement of this. Personally, I don’t really see it as a betrayal, but I understand why people do. Last year I somehow caught one of the super-fast lead runners who was just trying to blow through the course before there were too many chasers. He was with two other people and they all tried to run by me, but the street was too narrow.
He was pretty upset at first, and said, “what do I do now?” I said, “Go catch your friends!” He smiled and took off.
9) You began participating as a runner, but decided to become a chaser. When did you switch, and what prompted the change?
I’ve actually never played Journey as a runner. The second year it was run in Chicago, which was the first time I knew about it, they were desperate for people to help out so I volunteered. I hope I can play it from the other side one of these days, but I’d rather make sure the game keeps going.
10) Name a classic rookie mistake.
If you’re a chaser, you’re most noticeable when you’re sprinting after someone. Also, chasers tend to know where bus stops are. Be careful getting off of buses.
The event is tomorrow, and free for anyone to participate. It looks to be a blast, with a ton of folks running around Chicago. Consider getting a few friends together and joining in the fun.
And make sure to bring along a slow friend. You know… just in case.