ManHunt: hide and seek for grown-ups

ManHunt: hide and seek for grown-ups

the love of it talks to Harry Man about playing hide and seek in London and how he has reclaimed the capital as one big playground.

What is ManHunt?

ManHunt is the best thing ever! It’s a game of regressive Hide and Seek for adults. It much like the traditional playground games of Forty Forty, Kick the Can, Sardines, Cops and Robbers and British Bulldogs.

You gather in a circle and, via rhyming elimination, players are sent to run and hide one by one. The last person left has to close their eyes and count to forty. They must then find another player and tap them. Each player who is tapped becomes a ManHunter until everyone has become a ManHunter. The last person to be caught is the winner.

We play over a radius of one or two city blocks in London. Previous games have happened among the sprawl of Christmas shoppers, outside the Royal Albert Hall, dodging party goers around the Gherkin and in front of Critical Mass. It’s all about clambering over obstacles, hiding in bushes, hiding in plain sight and reclaiming a bit of the city, especially an iconic public space, as our own, It’s a great way to meet new people and to see parts of London in a brand new light. Oh, and it’s free.

What are the rules?

There aren’t any rules per se, it’s mostly common sense. Wearing an armband identifies you as a player – so that’s helpful, but if there’s only ten of you, it’s easy enough to remember.

If you run outside of the boundary you become a ManHunter. It’s brilliant when you end up being cornered by some bollards, and on one side there’s the boundary and on the other a galley of encroaching ManHunters and YOU are the fugitive.

If you climb up onto a church roof or up a particularly tall tree then we don’t want people accidentally hurting themselves in pursuit of a player so we made a rule to say that in order to win the game you must be captured at ground level. There’s nothing stopping a player from hiding in a tree for most of the game if they so choose.

Then there are all the other things like telling someone to maybe not play around the massive box of lit dynamite, if we’re playing in a zoo and the person who has to count to 40 is a silver back mountain gorilla then we could be hiding for _some_ _time_, if there are berries in the playing area that look like they might be poisonous I would suggest that you don’t try to eat them. Likewise with our trophy, try not to eat the trophy.

How did it all get started?

ManHunt has its roots firmly in hide and seek variant games played at schools throughout the world, and gradually with advent of social networking sites like MySpace, Facebook and Twitter this has started to enter more and more into the adult world.

I was very fortunate to meet a Canadian girl during the course of my masters degree called Emma Hooper. I have to credit her with bringing the game across the Atlantic. While I was over in Canada we played a game with her in Edmonton Alberta, which was run by Adam Waldron-Blain. It was a huge game of over eighty players. I was amazed. I’d never played the game before and it was hilarious, wacky and great fun to play. No one was particularly physically fit, everyone just mucked in and got on with the mayhem.

So Emma set up a game in Bath, I was admittedly, somewhat sceptical that anyone else would show, but I was keen to play. Emma was persistent and, sure enough over time, more players came. We ended up with a fairly consistent core group of ten players, some from the Masters course we were doing and there were musicians, writers, mathematicians, actors and artists of all ages right down to teenagers and right up to the over fifties. Eventually the time came when I had to move to London for work. I joined a large publishing house and I set up my own splinter group of ManHunters. ManHunt London was born.

On the ManHunt website it mentions ManHunts in Slovenia, Canada and USA. Did you set these up too?

Wow! I wish I could say that I did! It’s great to see links to all of them up on the site. I like to see what they’re all up to and to get good ideas for games and also it’s great to have a network so that when a ManHunt player travels anywhere in the world, hopefully they can find a game near them and play! Ninja-themed ManHunt anyone?

Why do cities make great playgrounds?

The biggest benefit is to be able to take a place where you have been forced to work all week and remind yourself, that as much as it can seem like a prison, it can also be a place of joy, history and wonder. The delight in not having to take the place so seriously is tremendous. I don’t want to have to pay forty quid on a massive bender with rubbish music in a crammed bar to forget the week. It seems unhealthy. I’ve been inside all week! I want to be outside!

Why do you think adults still love playing hide and seek?

Because even though we age physically, mentally and emotionally our innocent desire to go out and play endures. People love to play. We don’t hunt for our food anymore, we have the sandwich shop around the corner from work to do that for us, but we still crave a bit of that thrill and that ecstasy of running around.

What do you get if you win?

You get our trophy the Robot of Righteousness. It’s made out of cardboard (that’s the tradition – the trophy has to look bad). You keep the trophy for a week, your name goes down on the Robot’s chest. Players also play for the glory of winning ManHunt. Er… sorry to all those folks who thought they might win something useful. I suppose you could always use the robot as some sort of scarecrow if you put a bit of string around him and dangled him out of your window… above your garden… full of… wheat?

How do passers by react?

It’s a real mixture. Confusion, fascination, some come and join in. People will also try and either help a player by hiding them (say under the bench the passer by is sitting on), or they will misdirect ManHunters allowing the fugitive to flee. Sometimes we get stopped by police or by security and I tell them what we’re doing. Generally this is met with good humour. I’ve yet to select a really duff site for play. I suspect if we played in a police station, or during a prison riot, or a jumble sale, or on a motorway we would end up with a slightly less appreciative crowd.

Where are some of the best places you’ve played and what is your all time ManHunt highlight?

The best place by far was Marble Arch – it was a slightly chilly evening making it comfortable to play in, Marble Arch itself was stunning and around it are so many bushes, trees, and low walls and the fountain. Then you couldn’t hear rustling in the bushes because of the traffic and it was a really good number of people, which always makes it more interesting. Around the gardens of the Imperial War Museum was pretty good too, lots of space in which to play, those two guns (the highlight of that game was a chase along, around and over the guns – brilliant!).

I wanna play, I wanna play! When does the next ManHunt London season kick off?

We start our next season in late April, early May 2010, depending on when we can get the core players together for the next game. Keep your eyes on the website, join us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter. Obviously don’t just keep your eyes on our site, I only get the chance to update it once a week so inbetween updates you can do other things to… eat, sit for a while, talk to people, hold a jumble sale…

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