David Fono loves The Wire, and he loves games. So when he sat down to re-watch the universally adored TV series with his girlfriend last month, he was struck by how game-like the show was. “Just in the first episode they refer to the drug underworld as ‘the game’ and to each other as players,” he observed. “The show really does represent so much of what happens in a game…there are rules and competition within their world.”
Fono is also a game designer, and he’d been looking for a project for the upcoming Berlin Playpublik street-game conference this month—an international festival of play in public spaces.
So this Monday, he and seven people went downtown to test his new creation, The Wire: The Game, at Cloud Gardens, a small, tucked-away park in the Financial District.
The play was simple: Participants were assigned classes—the eastern or western district police, the drug-dealing Barksdale or Stanfield gangs, or the ultimate wild card, stick-up artist Omar. The gangsters ran around trying to give Jolly Ranchers (representing drugs) to strangers, while cop-players photographed them to get a warrant for their future arrest. The more drugs the gangs sold, the more demerits the cops got, and vice versa for arrests. To make an arrest, cops had to be within water gun–spraying distance.
Computer-science phD student Dustin Freeman, who played as the Barksdale gang, figured that Omar—who toted an especially huge water cannon—was the real threat to his livelihood. So Freeman cut a side deal with a McNulty-esque cop: If Omar approached, he would let himself be arrested.
Just then, Omar was spotted just around the corner, and the deal worked: Dustin didn’t get all of his money stolen, the western district got an arrest, and Omar walked away with slightly less swagger.
After next week’s Berlin conference (where Fono hopes the game will be a hit) there aren’t any big plans. It’s not a for-profit enterprise, Fono explained “like performance art.”