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Are you real? Am I?

Samara Mitchell

It’s 2pm. I’m late. The summer sun is burning my skin and millions of little clocks around the city are eating up the few minutes I have to locate the rendezvous point for uninitiated players in the WP Workroom. I’m having strange feelings of paranoia and self doubt. Who’s in on this game? Have the vendors at the FringeTix office already notified my game-hosts that I’ve arrived? Will it matter that I’m somewhat challenged in the spatial skills department? That I’m not a hard-core gamer? If only I’d played more SimCity, taken up orienteering, or knew how to use a Palm Pilot.

Several minutes and a few micro pep-talks later, I stumble into the waiting room for I Like Frank in Adelaide, a game connecting online participants and players on the street. This remarkable interactive performance event has been developed in the lead up to Adelaide Fringe 2004 by visiting UK artists’ collective Blast Theory, in collaboration with Nottingham University’s Mixed Reality Lab (MRL). Matt Adams, Ju Farr and Nick Tandavanitj are Blast Theory’s core members. They’re in Adelaide as part of the “Adelaide Thinkers in Residence” program, along with Professor Steve Benford, Martin Flintham, Jan Humble and Ian Taylor from the MRL.

Sitting in the waiting room is like sitting in a reality airlock that quarantines uninitiated gamers from the trappings and distractions of the outside world. The familiar face of a woman dressed in prison-warden-cum- street-ware garb emerges from the game’s ‘briefing room’ with a clip-board: “Please place your name here.” Smiling enigmatically, she takes our signatures and returns to the darkened room. Living in Adelaide, you tend to know just about everybody, so of course I know this woman. I decide to remain silent, lest I shatter the fragile beginnings of an altered experience.

Chatting pleasantly with a curator from Yogjakarta, Indonesia and an arts-worker visiting from Darwin, I became curious about what micro-mythologies may have been established about the game. There’s lots of talk about experimental mobile networks and references to Mission: Impossible but no dirt on our target, Frank.

I notice a single hydrangea has been plucked and left on a small corner table. A clue? I know where they grow around the University and the Botanic Gardens and make a mental file of this visual cryptogram for future reference.

“Follow me please.” Following my guide into the small dark room, I was given game instructions in a friendly yet officious manner and asked to hand over all my belongings except water, sunscreen and medication. In return I was handed a 3G mobile phone. By ritualistically handing over personal belongings that define us as material entities, players are given the opportunity to connect within a much broader network of identities.

Heading down to the SA Museum on North Terrace, I receive a poetic text message, presumably from Frank. I’m not sure whether we are supposed to be old friends or lovers. Perhaps Frank is a ghost who needs me to remember him in order to be released from haunting the coded labyrinths of these city streets.: “...Remember when I pushed you into the fountain and you gave chase...”

No, I don’t remember that Frank, but I can imagine it. Having an idea of the fountain Frank might be reminiscing about, I go there and punch in my coordinates. Upon doing so I receive instructions to walk south into the city.

I became confused at times, trying to decide whether the messages I was receiving were coming from Frank, online players, or the game’s hosts, whom I imagined must be exasperated with my cloddishness.

“Can you pick me up a postcard?”

“Go to Rundle Street.”

“Go to the nearest Post Office.”

“Go to the second bike outside the Post Office.”

Okay. I’m going to pick one of those options. I see a familiar sticker on the bicycle seat and retrieve a postcard from a small bag beneath it. On it is a man walking towards his friend or lover on a snow-cleared path in a park full of conifers, behind a block of apartments. Printed on the back are the words: “Who are you responsible for?”

The interface on my phone rattles with a hubbub of text: “No! Over here, over here!”


Arrrggghh!!! Yes I’ve got the postcard! What do I do with it?! I’m a bit exasperated, but I am having fun.

Having participated as an online player, I now realise that it’s a good idea to develop a rapport with your street-player early in the piece. Each online player is assigned a task or series of tasks that will bring that player closer to Frank. To do this an online player needs to team up with someone on the street, a mutually beneficial relationship for both parties. Some street-players may need to pick up a postcard for their online companions, or walk into a pool hall on Rundle Street with a handwritten message, or perhaps stride into a pub and yell out “I Like Frank” to the bar staff. As an online player, I tried to guide a street-player into a bar on Rundle Street, realising as I did so that more than one of my online companions was giving this poor street-runner different instructions.

Over the course of an hour I chased the elusive Frank down backstreets sprayed with stencil art. I pretended not to notice the shoes stepping behind a phone-box and out of my line of sight when I phoned in for technical assistance. I waited for Frank in a cinema foyer and was stood up by him at our favourite bar.

Finally the phone rang. It was nice to hear a voice again. My telephonic siren safely navigated me across a busy road and through a subterranean car park, from which I emerged into an intimate sunlit courtyard. I sat on a bench, listening to the measured and friendly human on the other end of the line.

“Congratulations, you’ve finished the game. Do you feel any closer to the people on the street around you?”

Truthfully, I had felt frantic and somewhat disconnected until the moment he asked the question. It was then that a transcendent affection for the people in this city gently drifted back into view. I quickly penned an answer on the back of the postcard I had collected and moved to return the handset to base.

My short walk back to the university grounds was unhurried and contemplative. I didn’t find Frank in any kind of embodied sense, but his trace encouraged me to be a tourist in my own city and to keep seeking out those individual and uncommon details that struggle for recognition within the everyday experience of public life.

I Like Frank in Adelaide, Blast Theory, Adelaide Fringe 2004, March 1-14

RealTime issue #60 April-May 2004 pg. 26

© Samara Mitchell; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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