Samantha Henderson ’07 chased her target down the hall of the fourth floor of Bingham, brandishing her weapon while other Trumbull freshmen looked on with a mix of horror and amusement. The confrontation culminated in a wrestling match for the gun on the floor of the target’s suite. No blood was shed. It was a dart gun.
But Trumbull is one of the few colleges that still uses dart guns in its games of “Assassins,” in which a player tries to eliminate other members of his residential college in an attempt to be the last man standing. Responding to concerns from college masters and individual students, many colleges have modified their versions of the game to be less violent or have banned the game entirely.
Calhoun College, currently in the midst of its Assassins game, is using hand-shaped water guns because of Master William Sledge’s concerns about the safety and appearance of the darts’ sloppy, low-velocity trajectories. Not only can the darts cause injuries, Sledge said, but they can also appear too realistic. In the past, police officers have actually pulled real guns on Yale students playing Assassins carrying objects that looked like real guns, Sledge said.
Although Sledge called the police run-in a “misunderstanding” due to poor lighting, he said the incident nonetheless made it important to consider the appearances of a game involving objects that look like guns.
“I surveyed the other masters and some said they were uneasy with the use of the guns,” Sledge said. “No one was able to say it didn’t represent a problem.”
Calhoun Student Activities Committee co-chair Liana Epstein ’05 said she did not expect the game to be so controversial.
“I understand the concern. But we are twenty-somethings and can almost own a real gun,” Epstein said. “It seems kind of silly, even though the school has liability concerns. They could have a little faith in us.”
Sledge also said he did not like the name “Assassins” and asked the students to consider using another name without violent implications, but said he would never ban the game solely because of the name.
If Calhoun decided to change the name of the game, it could take a hint from Silliman, which is currently playing its version of Assassins, renamed “Silliwet.” Sillimanders use water guns shaped like sharks, dolphins and whales instead of anything resembling a gun. Jason Farago ’05, the Silliwet coordinator, said Silliman stopped using gun-shaped guns last year when the Silliman game coincided with the American invasion of Iraq. Some students, including Farago, were uncomfortable with playing a semi-realistic killing game while real deaths were taking place overseas.
“The master thought [the change] was a good idea, but it was very much students who proposed it,” Farago said.
While Farago said the violent aspects of the game were “sort of integral” to how the game works, he is happy with the changes that have been made. He also said using these Silliman-issued water-shooters levels the playing field, making the game more fair.
“People were getting their big terrifying water guns before, but now you have to use your little fish or aquatic mammals,” Farago said.
While some colleges adapt the game to de-emphasize the violent aspects, Timothy Dwight college simply does not play it. Master Robert Thompson did not accept a proposal to play the game this year because he felt it re-enforced violence, Timothy Dwight SAC co-chair Crissaris Sarnelli ’06 said.
“I think it would be a fun game, but I see where they are coming from,” Sarnelli said. “We don’t want to create paranoia. People get caught up in the game.”
Trumbull College Council president Reuben Grinberg ’05 said that their game, which ended a month ago, went “perfectly fine.” With about 80 students playing, one student decided not to play because the violent nature of the game was against her beliefs. Grinberg said Trumbull would consider changing the game if more students became concerned about the violent overtones of the game.
Largely, though, students said they had not thought much about the implications of the game. Saybrook SAC co-chair Phil Levin ’06 said Saybrook plans to have a game of Assassins later in the semester with water guns — probably gun-shaped — but no concerns have been raised so far by either Master Mary Miller or by any Saybrook students.
“Everyone seems to have a really good time doing it. It really brings the college together,” Levin said. “I don’t really think it’s a manifestation of violence; it’s more of a game of tag.”
But for some students, Assassins is much more than a game of tag. The most serious players have been known to stay in their rooms for the duration of the game, ordering in food to avoid dining halls and cutting themselves off from friends — or potential enemies.
“It’s fun and silly for a little while, but you don’t want to divide the college for very long,” Grinberg said.