A House Divided
Much has already been written about whether the game assassin has a place at Harvard. The Freshman Dean's Office and the masters of Lowell House have banned the game on the grounds that it encourages stalking and surveillance of fellow students while making it more difficult for campus police to differentiate between truly suspect persons and overzealous assassins running around in all black with painted plastic guns and Nerf darts. Given the recent thefts in the courtyard of Mather and assault outside of Langdell Hall, such concerns have been given more weight than ever before.
But security concerns aside, what I discovered after playing on two-week season of assassin in Quincy House is that the game fosters a pervasive sense of paranoia which disrupts everything from schoolwork to eating and sleeping patterns. At one point last year, I found myself placed on the "Hit List," a distinction which prompted me to enter the dining hall for 30 seconds early in the morning and then leave the house until midnight, when it was safe to return.
It became increasingly clear that if anything, assassin was making it more difficult for me to interact socially within Quincy. Without a doubt, the game forced me to open the House facebook and learn some new names and numbers. But rather than engaging in any meaningful interaction with these people, I devoted my time to carefully memorizing their class schedules, following them to and from meals and preventing them from leaving their rooms at night to do laundry.
Die-hard gamers within the house argue that despite all the mockery that assassin typically invites, it represents one of the best ways to foster house spirit in Quincy. Just as Dunster has their traditional goat roast and Kirkland has its evening of Shakespeare, we have our assassin.
Unfortunately, after just a few days of playing, it becomes painfully obvious that assassin regularly generates enough dispute, bitterness, and resentment to far outweigh any harmony it might create. The situation is only exacerbated by the House assassin council's unwillingness to make special provisions for important House activities which actually do foster a sense of camaraderie, such as House Crew. After a month of practice and conditioning, Quincy rowers are reluctant to come to breakfast as a team or to meet for practices in the morning for fear of being killed, thereby letting their assassin teams down.
The most obvious response to such criticisms is that the game has the potential to remain harmless and fun if only those playing could take it less seriously. True enough, yet the game is specifically designed to be both intense and prolonged. Rather than having one big barbecue which features a shoot-out or various games, Quincy House assassin typically lasts between two and three weeks during one of the most important academic times of the semester, leading up to Spring exams. Furthermore, the assassin council website lists hitmen who spend whole days of their final semester at Harvard roaming around the house to hunt people down and ensure they can neither enter or exit the house without being killed.
And the obsession is not just limited to the students. Last year, one of the House tutors rescheduled his class so that it would meet outside of the house, fearing that he might be killed on his way to teach.
Proponents of the game say that recent policies have been just another attempt by the administration to rob students of social opportunities. Yet perhaps instead of putting up posters which invite Quincy residents to "Play it while it's Still Legal," its participants should pause for a moment to consider whether assassin encourages House unity or whether it is simply a symptom of the lack of opportunities for real social interaction within our community.
Although it is admirable for the masters of Quincy House not to patrol the lives of their students, they must consider the kind of behavior which assassin encourages and decide whether that is truly in keeping with the spirit of the house.
Bryan W. Leach '00 is a social studies concentrator in Quincy House.