Widgets Magazine

Assassins games bring both paranoia and community to dorms

SAM GIRVIN/The Stanford Daily

SAM GIRVIN/The Stanford Daily

A tradition so embedded in Stanford culture that its origins are unknown, the game of Assassins brings a stronger sense of community, a fun distraction and temporary paranoia to many dorms each year.

Game rules vary among the residences. Players in the live-action game are each assigned another player to “assassinate.” Depending on the rules, kills may involve shooting the victim with a water or Nerf gun, throwing a sock at the target or poking the individual with a spoon, usually without anyone witnessing the kill.

Some dorms also make areas such as in-session classes, bathrooms, dining halls or dorm rooms “safe zones” – places where players cannot be killed. Other variations of the game describe who can witness a kill for it to remain valid, whether or not targets can pursue their assassins and how long assassins can take to pursue their victims before timing out.


The organizers and the winners

Dorm staff, especially resident computer consultants (RCCs) in freshman dorms, typically organize the game. Gavilan Galloway ’15, an RCC in Serra and the dorm’s “game master” for the last two weeks, created and hosted an Assassins website on his Raspberry Pi, a credit card-sized computer. The project began in the fall with his desire to create a web-server from scratch, and the site, which automatically assigns targets and allows players to report kills, has been used by Otero, Trancos and Serra this year.

Galloway explained that he modeled his version of the rules off his previous dorm Assassins games and added small fixes to areas that he found had been problematic. He also spoke about his experiences as a freshman and sophomore.

“It consumed everyone for the week that we played, and everyone was talking about it,” Galloway said. “It was actually a big stress for a lot of people, but it was a good experience. I got pretty into it. I took the final three even as far as to break a couple friendships for a little while.”

“Game masters” can also be the residents themselves. This year, Teddy Morris-Knower ’17, a member of Larkin’s dorm government, coordinated his dorm’s game of Assassins during winter quarter by getting feedback from his peers and developing rules based on his previous experience playing during camp.

“I talked to the staff members to figure out how they played it last year,” Morris-Knower said, “and I talked to some other kids who had played it either at their high schools or at other events to try to figure out what would the best way to do it in a dorm situation.”

He said that over 80 percent of the dorm played and that the game brought members of the dorm together.

“People are definitely much more focused on their dorm [when playing],” Morris-Knower said. “It was definitely a different atmosphere that I haven’t seen since. It was really cool.”

Morris-Knower said that one student changed the HTML of one of the target emails in order to trick another player. Larkin’s winner was a basketball player whose four days of absence brought her automatically into the final three.

Katelyn Phan ’15, this year’s winner in Okada, worked with her roommate to stay alive together until the final three. Despite her opponent “stalking” Phan to her midterm, she managed to catch him on a staircase.


The good, bad and ugly

Like Morris-Knower, Phan spoke about the positive sense of community and fun that the game brought to the dorm.

However, not all of the effects of Assassins are positive. Students in general agreed that players can get extremely involved in Assassins and end up taking the game very seriously.

“People would have a lot of negative feelings because people would just get…really competitive [during Assassins],” Phan said. “In the end, everyone’s just like, ‘Oh, it’s just a game,’ but people do get paranoid.”

Living in constant paranoia that a friend could shoot you when your guard is down often creates an additional stress for students. Camille Townshend ’17 spoke about the Freshman-Sophomore College’s (FroSoCo) game this year, which ended abruptly after a weekend break.

“It was stressful,” Townshend said. “I had a super-elaborate plan for my person. I even know them. I stalked them on Facebook. I actually looked them up in my email and I figured out that he was [an ASSU Senator].”

Townshend explained that after organizers gave the residents a weekend off to do work, no one wanted to resume playing.

Organizers implemented a break over the weekend to give everyone a chance to study but after the two days, no one went back to playing. Even one of the most successful players did not want to restart after the weekend since “Assassins was consuming [his] life.”

The negative effects were also felt by the FroSoCo coordinator, who was asked many questions about gameplay and eventually driven to pass the responsibility to a different staff member.

Yet despite its negative aspects, Townshend still agreed that Assassins still had redeeming values.

“It was fun while I was there,” Townshend said. “I especially liked helping other people stay in the game.”

Galloway, who explained that the tradition is less of a big deal in upperclass dorms than it is for freshmen, spoke about the effects of Assassins from the perspective of a “game master.”

“It has a very disruptive effect, and I say this in the kindest way,” Galloway said. “It rustles everyone necessarily for a good week and gets everyone’s juices flowing and gets them out of their rut for a while. It’s like a good jolt in the system for a brief amount of time.”


Contact Kylie Jue at kyliej ‘at’ stanford ‘dot’ edu.

About Kylie Jue

Kylie Jue '17 was the Editor-in-Chief for Vol. 250. She first became involved with The Daily as a high school intern and now is a CS+English major at Stanford. A senior from Cupertino, California, she has also worked a CS 106 section leader. To contact Kylie, email her at kyliej ‘at’ stanford.edu.
  • Guest

    How did this make the front page of the Daily?