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Online social networking takes a Risk with GoCrossCampus

Photo: Shahzad Ahsan/The Chicago Maroon

It’s always been something of an overplayed joke among first-years in Burton-Judson that the dorm resembles a castle and that if Mongol hordes were to besiege the campus it would be the best place to hole up. But starting today, people might start to take this joke a little more seriously. That’s because the University of Chicago round of GoCrossCampus.com, a strange amalgamation of Facebook, intramural sports, and a massively multiplayer online version of Risk, begins today.

GoCrossCampus began as a small project of a couple of Ivy League students and has since grown into a community of thousands who participate in regular tournaments. The Ivy League Championship alone attracted over 10,000 participants. (Princeton was the eventual winner.) The game revolves around a Risk-style strategy game in which different campus groups compete for territories which correspond to actual locations on campus. In the Chicago version of the game, the teams are organized by dorm. Each team has to recruit members, coordinate their efforts, weed out spies, and elect commanders.

The game itself is relatively simple. Players each start out with a single “army” which they can order to either move, attack an enemy territory, or defend a friendly territory. Participants play one turn per day, and any orders are resolved at the end of the turn. Because the game is so straightforward, and only a few minutes are required each day to maintain the army, the real battle often takes place outside the Internet. Some teams in past tournaments have taken their laptops to the local cafeteria to sign up as many people as possible. Since every new member gives the team another army, games are often won or lost based on how well the team networks.

This is obviously not a game for gamers. It’s not even really a game. GoCrossCampus is a social experience, more like an RSO. The game is difficult to critique because it’s like a well planned party—even if there’s great alcohol, a live band, and no cover charge, it’s bound to be a waste of time if the right people don’t show up.

The nuts and bolts of the game are more straightforward. The entire process is coordinated through a color-coded map on the GoCrossCampus website. (For the U of C, it’s uchicago.gocrosscampus.com.) The interface is simple and intuitive and takes only a few minutes each day to properly manage. The website itself is a little hard to navigate, but overall it’s very easy to imagine this game being a lot of fun if the right groups and spirit are involved. In many ways, it’s very similar to Scav Hunt: On the surface, it’s just a somewhat eccentric scavenger hunt. The goofy team spirit and mindless pursuit of a wacky (if pointless) goal are what make the game fun.

The game itself, however, could use a few upgrades. Apologies to any Risk junkies, but there’s not a lot of strategic prowess involved. GoCrossCampus is mostly based on numbers, so winning it isn’t like a war victory; it’s like winning an election. It could be argued that a more complicated game would defeat the universal appeal and ease of learning the system, but you’re talking to a generation of college kids that grew up playing Pokemon and now obsesses over World of Warcraft. Even a couple of extra features to mix things up, such as a defense bonus to smaller teams or one or two more units, would make GoCrossCampus much more interesting.

On the other hand, these kinds of complaints may be a little like bemoaning the lack of a first-person shooter mode for Facebook. GoCrossCampus strives to be a simple and easily accessible excuse for friends to get together and goof off while playing out amusing campus rivalries. In this respect, it’s difficult to imagine a setup better designed for the task. And in case there were any lingering doubts, GoCrossCampus is offering a $300 party as a reward to the winning team. It promises to be an interesting experience, which hopefully will grow into a campus tradition for those of us who will take any excuse to waste even more time on the Internet. Additionally, GoCrossCampus representatives have confirmed that while Burton-Judson may have the edge in any real-world combat, the many fortress-like façades in Hyde Park will have no effect on game play.

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