Capture the Flag

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Capture the Flag, Friday, November 16, 2007, Providence Place Mall

"Defining You": a game of Capture the Flag organized by Kiera Feldman, Aaron Perry-Zucker, and Peter Scheidt


Built in 1828 in downtown Providence, the Arcade is America's oldest enclosed shopping mall.  To be fair,  Cleveland, Ohio, Seattle, Washington, Appleton, Wisconsin, and Edina, Minnesota all make similar claims.  It seems that everyone wants to be a trendsetter when it comes to shopping---be it purchases or even the structure itself.

In 1999 - 171 year after the granite pillars of the Arcade were raised, Providence Place Mall opened is doors.  Construction costs totaled around $500 million - Rhode Island's most expensive development project to date.  Located in the heart of downtown Providence, the mall promised to herald the arrival of a new, vibrant Downcity.  

We see Capture the Flag as an intervention: a creative imagining of a commercial space in a noncommercial way. With its "Defining You" slogan, the Providence Place Mall tries to define us as material consumers; instead, we aim to define ourselves as cultural producers.

The Invite: Two separate Facebook invites were sent out--one to Brown students and one to RISD students. Each team was unaware of the other's existence.  The invites were identical except for meet-up location.

Friday night. Two teams descend upon the mall. Old game, new rules. This time, incognito.

Is that woman going for the flag? Or just shopping? In this game, it's hard to tell.

-Game rules discussed, maps distributed, and teams organized on location
-BROWN: Meet at 7pm under the skybridge in front of the mall entrance (corner of memorial blvd and francis st--see google map)
-/RISD:-Meet at 7pm at the corner of the mall closest to the Capitol (the corner of Gaspee and Francis, see map).
-Mandatory: for the purposes of in-game communication, post your cell phone number on the wall (only event attendees can see the wall)
-If you accept this invitation we are counting on you to show up

Stretch. Hydrate. Game on.

The Rules:

The Game:

Arriving at their respective meeting places, it was revealed to each team that an opposing team was located on the opposite end of the mall.  While the Facebook invite had led invitees to believe that they would be playing against friends and acquaintances, participants discovered that they would be playing against strangers.  Game organizers then stamped hands, distributed maps with rules on the back, and collected phone numbers.  The flags - altered Macy's bags with large red and blue stars on ether side - were given to each team to hide.  Peter compiled the list of Red team phone numbers, and Aaron compiled the list for the Blue team. Shortly before the game began, the organizers gave each team two stamps to be used in the recruitment/decoy-stamping effort.

The game began at approximately 7:40pm with a text message that read, "GAME ON."  Throughout the game, game organizers participated while remaining in contact to ensure that everything was running smoothly.  Group texting was used by Aaron and Peter to relay major game events to both teams ("JAILBREAK," "GAME ON," and "GAME OVER").  Throughout the game, participants  used texting to strategize and communicate about flag location and jailed players.  The red team won the first game at 8:25pm.  We then regrouped the teams at their respective bases and discussed new strategies.  The rules were changed at this time and stores were declared to be fair game, yet the flag was to remain outside stores.  A new game began and was later called a stalemate at 9:30pm due to the mall closing. Additionally, mall security had issued an earlier loitering warning to everyone sitting in the Blue team jail, which provided a bit of a fun damper.

At the conclusion of the game, both teams met in the middle of the mall for a short post-game huddle.  At this point participants numbered about thirty, although over the course of the game numbers fluctuated with the addition of recruits. It is estimated that there were about five recruits and thirty decoys.

Post-Game Pictures:



Post Game Stories (received by email from participants):

I was part of the dramatic capture of the Blue Team's Flag. Initially I was one of three scouts sent out to scope the scene and try to get deep into enemy territory before they could figure out who I was; I went undercover with a large Bed, Bath, and Beyond shopping bag and held fake phone conversations with no one on the other end so as to blend in with the crowds. I was told the blue flag was in an alcove on the first floor; I walked towards it and ran into Mr. David [name removed], one of the other two scouts, very near to the location of the flag. We linked arms and walked within feet of the flag and its guards; they made a move towards us just as Agent [name removed] brilliantly asked me, "Do you remember where we parked?" I replied in the negative; he asked me to hold an elevator while he went to the ATM and pretended to fiddle with his wallet. The next few events occurred in such rapid succession that it is difficult to recount; as I held the elevator, David dashed over, grabbed the flag, and started running towards the stairs after quickly determining that the elevator door would take too long to close. Some well-meaning citizen nearly took David out, undoubtedly thinking he was a robber, but David shouted, "I SWEAR, this is a game! Let me go!" Which he did, and David ran up three flights of stairs, emerged with the flag hidden under his jacket, and proceeded to walk camly (though briskly) through the mall until he reached the safe zone.

an enjoyable point was when sophie [name removed] and i tried to recruit some random boys to help us free our comrades from jail.  we figured we would blend in better if we were walking with jocky-looking abercrombie-type boys... so we spent at least 10 minutes trying to convince these three boys to play.  we lied and said we were doing a sociology experiment.  they thought we were crazy for playing capture the flag in the mall.  They were very indecisive and weren't sure whetehr it would be too much to play with us for five minutes (the amount of time for a jail break) finally they agreed.  but then, they spent another 3-5 minuted complaining and arguing about the prospect of having their hands stamped.  one got cranky when the ink smeared on his abercrombie button-down.
finally, we went across the enemy lines- only to be tagged by alexander! there was a struggle where i attempted to run and almost lost my shirt.  i went to jail, while the boys were mumbling "what the fuck?!" and looking at me like i was absolutely bonkers.
sophie [name removed] managed to keep them engaged and they eventually freed us all from jail.  after completing the task we separated and incredulously watched them walk into, where? abercrombie, of course...

A few fun bits:The master recruiting duo (i.e. Sophie [name removed] and Lara [name removed]) were propositioning two men right at the border.  As Lara was holding up her hands, saying, "Everyone playing has their hands stamped like this," two girls came up to the four of us and said, "Want to be decoys for our game of Capture the Flag?" Lara froze and awkwardly looked down at the stamps still being displayed.  It took about 2 full seconds (plenty of time for Lara and Sophie to have run to a safer zone, but really slow processing by all sides), and both teams of recruiters grabbed each other, "DO YOU KNOW WHERE THE GAP IS?" Kerfuffle, kerfuffle.  We called it a tie, retreated and went back to recruiting.
Also, I get stores confused.  Especially those in the same genre. Which is why I asked the guy at American Eagle for an Abercrombie & Fitch bag to blend in.  He was not happy and would not give me a bag.
Decoy decoy's 'tude.  "Are you at least the leader of your team?"
Suggestion: more often.

One of my favorite moments was very early in the game. Lulu and I were the Blue Team Offensive Strike Force, Second Floor, and we were doing reconnaissance in hostile territory. We saw a couple of suspicious characters (one of whom was you, actually, I think), and followed them back to where they met with friends. Lulu and I hid behind a column while I called our jail guards to give them complete descriptions of the enemy, but as I'm peering around the column, one of the Red Team members is pulling out his phone and doing the exact same thing. He starts making for us and Lulu and I BOLT. It was great, because it was the first time we had come into contact with the Red Team. My other favorite moment was during the second round. We couldn't find the red flag, so I started shadowing someone who I had seen consorting with known Reds. I was pretty sure he spotted me, so I ducked into a store, switched jackets (I had an extra in my purse because the Blue Team had done a comprehensive clothes swap between rounds), pulled my hair out of a bun and put on a pair of big sunglasses. Then I stalked him, feeling utterly awesome.
My one regret is that we never did choose codenames.
Also, if there is a hallowed Brown building with lots of dark nooks, maybe Sardines would be in order? Great game, though -Lia

Post-game round-up from the organizers:

Peter Scheidt:

Part of our goal in approaching this project was to execute a small TAZ, mostly to explore the theory outside of the text and see what radical potential it might offer.
Part of Hakim Bey's theory on the Temporary Autonomous Zone, or TAZ deals with the importance of the group aspect in realizing an escape from our megainformation state.  The closed nuclear familial unit is the structure of corporate society, but the nomadic band is in opposition to this.  "The band is open--not to everyone, of course, but to the affinity group, the initiates sworn to a bond of love."  Therefore, it was very important to this event that the game had the ability to involve mall patrons and knowledge of the game among patrons grow virally.
I'm not sure I agree with Bey's ideas about giving up "wanting" "the Revolution" but I was intrigued in exploring how radical of a tactic it is to simply withdraw ourselves from the spectacle, rather than attempt a confrontation within the system.  The TAZ is a sort of clandestine and slippery strike that does not attempt to confront the State directly. 
I was somewhat surprised at the reactions from mall security and businesses.  Many of us had hoods up to conceal our features, and everyone was always looking shiftily over their shoulder for the other team.  We would drift in and out of stores and hang around the door near the alarms - but no one was apprehended for shoplifting or asked to leave.  Oftentimes, people would dash straight out of a store to tag someone.  The time we were approached by security was when there were 7 or so of us sitting tamely on the jail bench and the guard said we had to either be shopping or eating in the mall, we couldn't "just hang out."
It was also interesting to see how neurotic the players became.  Anyone could be on the opposite team and as a result we found ourselves constantly scanning everyone in the mall trying to make a judgment of behavior and see if their hands were available.

Kiera Feldman:

My favorite childhood games were generally the kind where everyone won--games like icebreakers, puzzles, and thinly veiled educational activities.  Being the kid who dressed weird, had the funny-smelling house, and spent recesses in the library, I longed to play not so much against others but rather with others.  As a result, my competitive streak is severely underdeveloped.
Capture the Flag is by definition an intensely competitive game, and when push came to shove, I was nowhere to be seen.  The truth of the matter is that Capture the Flag brought out my true (cowardly) colors.  I didn't rescue any teammates from jail, and I certainly didn't participate in any flag-stealing missions.  I spent most of the first round of the game lurking behind columns, ostensibly on the lookout for intruding members of the opposite team.  At one point I was seized with a momentary rush of bravery and crossed into the Blue team's territory.  I entered JC Penney on the first floor and made my way to the second floor with the intention of rescuing my jailed teammates on the benches.  Much time was then spent on my cellphone back and forth to jailed teammates asking if it was safe to make a break from the store.  When I finally did make a break for it, the Red team had already won the round.  I spent the entirety of the second round as a jail guard.  In one moment of misguided heroism, I thwarted an attempted jail rescue mission by tackling a girl who turned out to be (game co-organizer) Peter's roommate.

Aaron Perry-Zucker:

Our group was created when Kiera and myself felt that the general group project that the class was discussing was moving in a direction that we didn't like. We decided to branch off on our own and form "Team Fun." Shortly thereafter the whole class was divided into groups and Peter was added to the fray. We decided that the idea of taking a childhood game and re-contextualizing it sound like a great idea. Our goals were in line with those of Improv Everywhere in that we wanted to craft our own fun (DIY Fun). Our project was radical media because it wasn't radical media. Or at least it was radical in that we were looking for fun in an openly commercial place that didn't involve any spending. We were creating our own temporary autonomous zone that was in-fact hidden in a mall.

The game was incredibly fun, and although the rules could have been slightly clearer, everyone had a good time. I spent most of the game as either jail guard or rogue defensive agent. The mall was an excellent space; the multiple levels and the open space between them made the game very interesting. I was spotted several times by enemies on other levels and warned teammates on other levels about enemies on my own level numerous times. Although we first met as separate teams in the beginning, meeting up at the end was great; all enmity forgotten, just rejoicing in the fun. Everyone said that we have to play again and I would love to. We might consider another game though; no one was really bothered with the flag, it was much more fun getting caught and freed from jail. Additionally, whatever we decide to do for a second game would have to take into account that we would probably have considerably more people. I would be interested in doing a round two of this for the next project.


Bey, Hakim. The Temporary Autonomous Zone. 

RE/Search #11: Pranks! "A good prank raises life up to what art should be: a critique of society, and a glimpse into a better, more poetic future!"

"1 Room, No View": Providence artists build secret apartment in Providence Place Mall

[Reverend Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping] 

Improv Everywhere: A group that "causes scenes of chaos and joy in public places."

"The City We Bought: Providence's Psychogeographic Revolution" : Article in the College Hill Independent

"Assessing the Providence Place Mall" : Brown University policy report written by students at the Taubman Center for Public Policy

"The Arcade: The Nation's Oldest Indoor Shopping Mall" : Article on

Waterfire Providence

Providence Place Mall

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