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Fast N' Furious! The Underground World of Urban Night Games

It is midnight on a quiet, romantic beach in the outskirts of Tallinn. Couples are sitting in their cars whispering sweet nothings under a full moon; an idyllic moment. Suddenly, the tranquility is shattered as a new sports car drives past the lovebirds at full speed, leaving a dust cloud, and abruptly screeches to a halt. Instantly, four army-clad people run out of the car in different directions, each with a flashlight and each methodically looking everywhere; in dustbins, changing cubicles, and around light posts.

After 30 seconds one yells, "Got it!" and everyone runs back to the car. One opens a laptop, types something into the computer, and instantly they all start screaming, "We got it!!! We won!!!" As the lovers hold onto each other a little tighter, they are probably thinking, "Are those people crazy?" The answer may depend on what they know. These night hooligans are not criminals, but members of the Flaming Lamborghinis, one of the first Estonian teams to register in the revolutionary, urban game, Encounter!

Never heard of it? If you like the sound of an engine, speed, adrenalin and mysteries – this game is for you! Do you remember the film Game, a bit hit in 1997? The protagonist, Michael Douglas, receives a bizarre present from his brother; the first playing piece in a puzzle that consumes his life, and will not end until it is solved. Encounter is essentially the same kind of experience.

Encounter was created in 2001, by Ivan Maslyukov in Minsk, Belarus. Currently, 6,841 teams and 69,371 players are registered in 159 cities around the globe. The players are an eclectic group, with different professions, religions and ages (between 18-60), but all are united by one interest – the passion for adventure! On the surface, this is a game, but the real enthusiast prepares as though he or she is going to war, because each level is truly a battle of minds. Beware, the game may start to blend into your reality, making your eyes sparkle and taking your breath away, slowly drawing you in deeper, and deeper, and enticing you with its absolute unpredictability.

There are a few different types of night games, although the most popular is the collaborative combat version. Each team is divided into a coordination center and field players. The field players consist of car crews, and everyone in the group has access to the Internet, which is very important, as all assignments and communication in the game happen in the digital realm. Meanwhile, the coordination center is sending messages to the field players; where to go, where to do the dirty work, and where to find the illusive code, the central part of the puzzle. In each game there are approximately ten codes, hidden in uninhabitable locations: old houses, abandoned factories, and military bases.

The clue is concealed inside industrial locations, in pipes or in sewers, meaning one team member has to crawl up or down searching in the dark for a small object or scribbling of text. While one might think this sounds crazy, the real adventurer will run out into the night, armed with a flashlight, map and mobile phone looking for a thrill. The game starts each Saturday at 21:00 when the first assignment is received. It begins with a mysterious text message: "Police agent Birgitta Tirip, noticed the description of strange rituals in Kristina Bekker's diary: 'I was led to the water. My feet were cramped from the cold, but I kept on following my leader. It was too late to turn back. I heard the noise of a car behind me to the left, and could smell the sea. When my feet lost control, I was pushed into a strange cylindrical space. The last thing I saw were yachts on the horizon…'"

Then Birgitta Tirip sends another message from the coordination center, "Aha, it is clear! Send them to Pirita, the address is Regatti 1, and have them search for a drainpipe going into the sea. Let's send two crews this time – it is going to be a tough one!" She was right. After a few hours, wet, dirty, but nevertheless happy, the teammates converge to share their experiences together in the after-game briefing. The games last until the early morning, making the Saturday night activity much more fun and healthy, than a typical party in an airless nightclub! Not all of the Encounter games are so crazy. If you are not up for, or are simply uninterested in extreme adventure, try Photo Hunting. The goal of this game is to make ten interesting, high quality photos on a given topic, and it can be done during the daytime.

Another exciting, summer edition Encounter game is Wet Wars! In this game, everyone is simultaneously the predator and the prey. Once a player receives another player's profile, they need to be ready, because it means that another player has received their profile, and he or she is not only the hunter, but also the hunted! After the search, the prey can only be caught with a shot from a water gun. Once the prey is 'killed', he or she must provide the life-code, which is entered on a website, and provides the killer with the profile of their prey's assigned victim. Finally, the number of participants is narrowed down to two players, and they hunt for each other until one claims victory. There are many other games in the Encounter project, as well as other night games such as Dozor and Igra. Most games are free, but have a nominal fee if you would like to be an organizer. If you consider yourself an adventurous person, go to, www.en.cx, find your city, register and feel the adrenalin!

By Jana Belugina