The streets are being taken back! There is an organisation that aims to challenge the perception of urban spaces as being purely commercial arenas. They encourage large groups of strangers to get out and play. Capture the flag is a military style game that involves two teams each with a base and a flag to protect. Each team aims to capture their rival’s flag and take it back to their base. On Friday 5th June drinkers and owners of local Bengali restaurants looked on in bewilderment as dozens of flag waving bandana wearing gamers charged about the streets. The event lasted for several hours and increased in size as more locals joined in. Organisers Tom and Jack are involved in political protest and anti-capitalist activities but maintain that the event is just about fun. “We do have political convictions but we don’t really want to force them onto other people, we just want to use this game as a platform for introducing people to stuff they might not have heard of before.”
“It’s about looking at areas of the city in different ways, going off the beaten track, doing different things and reinterpreting the city.”
He tells me this while both of us are held prisoner in the Yellow team’s prison. No sooner has he finished his sentence when a valiant red team member explodes through the yellow defenses and frees us all from the gaol. I continue the interview several hours later after the whole thing is winding down. “It’s about looking at areas of the city in different ways, going off the beaten track, doing different things and reinterpreting the city.” Tom explains, his face glowing from physical exertion. “It’s not just a place for passive consumption, it can also be used as a playground. It can be used for fun.”
But how did they get the idea to get adults to play a children’s game with complete strangers on a Friday night? Tom reveals that he got the idea after an evening spent dodging the old bill. “It was scary but I thought this is really fun. It would be cool to recreate it somehow in the city.” After reading an anarchist journal called Rolling Thunder, and discovering a report on a capture the flag game in America, they were inspired. “We thought it was a pretty slick way of getting people out on the streets, playing. We get to make different flags for the two teams and they develop this pseudo-nationalistic fervour. It’s really weird how you change just before the game.”
An unexpected and significant event of the evening was the participation of the young Bengali community, a number of whom joined the red team after witnessing the screaming packs of lunatics racing about their neighbourhood. “They were conspiring with one another in Bengali to free the prisoners from the yellow team’s jail.” Tom burbles enthusiastically. “We had no idea what was going on when they smuggled in a member of our team, in a group of kids, who weren’t even in the game. They walked past with their hoods up and the guy from the red team just sprang out and gave us a jail break!”
Elise the flag maker
How did you find out about this game tonight?
My friends Tom and Jack set it up.
Did you have fun?
Yeah, it’s really good because you can discover part of London in a way that you wouldn’t usually. It’s probably the most fun you can have on a weekend!
More fun than getting drunk?
Yeah, because it brings lots of people together. We just don’t play games anymore and it’s great that people can have fun in the street with lots of other people. You get to meet a lot of people as well just by coming and all doing the same thing. You develop solidarity with your team mates even though you have no idea who they are, you’ve never met them before, then you see them and you’re like, “What’s the deal? Where’s the flag?” You immediately connect because you’re both wearing the same headbands.
What was the best thing about tonight?
I really liked how the little kids joined in.
How did you find out about tonight?
Through some friends of mine
Did you have a good night?
Yes very good.
What do you think of capture the flag?
It is very fun. Haha look at this. (The assembled members of both teams torment a passing car) It was amazing just running around the streets of London in groups of five or more pretending to be all military, it’s really funny. I was on the offensive all the time, a bit selfish of me but I’m exhausted now.
Did you capture the flag?
Nah, but I was part of a group that did.
Richard the ghost man
Did you have fun tonight?
Yeah, it was a laugh. We heard it was happening, we were running a bit late, we decided we wanted to join in as a separate team in no mans land. We painted our faces white, we had our own flag and we decided we couldn’t tag people but could only haunt them and convert them to our team.
What was the name of your team?
What was the weirdest thing tonight?
The conversations we had with people. We were dabbing people with white face paint, even if they weren’t involved. People’s faces, when we started running at them, with our white faces, the sheer confusion in their eyes, thinking “Who is this third team? Where did they get their flag?”
photography by Tom Rowsell http://trowsell.blogspot.com