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The Game is a non-stop 24–48 hour treasure hunt, puzzlehunt or road rally that has run in the San Francisco Bay and Seattle areas since 1973. Its teams use vans rigged with power and Internet access and drive hundreds of miles from puzzle site to puzzle site, overcoming often outrageous physical and mental challenges along the way, usually with no sleep. Teams in recent games have been required to walk around the roof of the Space Needle, find a puzzle hidden in a live rat, and circulate a petition to ban dihydrogen monoxide from local ecosystems while dressed in superhero outfits.
Game founder Joe Belfiore has described the Game as "the ultimate test for Renaissance men and women."
The earliest roots of The Game can be found in games created in Los Angeles in 1973 by a graphic designer named Donald Luskin and longtime friend, Patrick Carlyle. Teams competed all night long solving puzzles across L.A. for a $100 first prize. The game was a mostly underground affair, but eventually drew the attention of the Los Angeles Times. and later the Walt Disney Company, who produced a movie, Midnight Madness, based on Luskin's game.
In 1985 Joe Belfiore (at that time a student at Clearwater Central Catholic High School) and his friends, inspired by Midnight Madness, created a race like the one in the film. They played four more games before Joe moved to Stanford University to go to school. With Stanford classmates Eli Ben-Shoshan and Andrew Reisner, he created the Bay Area Race Fantastique (BARF) which occurred six times before changing its name to 'The Game'. There are some interesting notes about the initial BARFs and number of teams that actually completed them due to the hyper-competitive aspect of the BARF format.[clarification needed] The term "Gentleman's Game" was used to describe the Stanford Game shortly after Joe Belfiore graduated, meaning there was no prize for winning, only bragging rights.
Two more events were held in the Bay Area before Joe Belfiore moved to Seattle to work for Microsoft, taking the official "The Game" with him (although the San Francisco Bay Area people still consider their games to also be "The Game"). Structurally, the two Games are identical, but the Seattle Games tend to be more competitive and require more technological gear. The post-Stanford Games were organized in Seattle, Napa/Sonoma, New York, Los Angeles and Las Vegas throughout 1995-2002.
Currently, versions of The Game (both full-blown and abbreviated foot-transportation-only) are organized regularly by Stanford dorm staff members as a bonding activity for their residents. Similarly, Microsoft continues running the "Intern Game" for summer interns, organized by Stanford Alums employed at Microsoft.
The general structure of The Game is a series of puzzle challenges, often called "Clues". Each challenge solves to the location where the next challenge can be found. During the course of The Game, a team will often travel all around a metropolitan area.
Usually there is an overall theme to the clues, or even a story that ties all the clues together.
The next Game each year would typically be run by whatever team felt the ability, chutzpah and desire to do so. In the early days of BARF and in the subsequent Seattle Games, the first-right-of-refusal fell to the team who won the previous Game. Future Game Controls (GCs) in the Bay Area tended to rely on the expertise of previous GCs and the so-called legitimacy of owning the "Captain's List". In the Bay Area there is no "Central System" or "Central Ownership" per se, but rather an autonomous collective of Gamers (a group of teams that communicate with one another) and a group-moderated site.
As the Game grew, it became increasingly more high-tech and more psychological in nature, a result of each Game trying to "outdo" the previous Games. For instance, a team member might find themselves stripped of all clothes and spectacles, be dressed in nothing but a hospital gown, have the next puzzle be written on the back of their neck in reverse lettering, and then be deposited at a strip club. Teams became increasingly competitive and would even break the rules and mislead other teams in order to gain an advantage, much to the fellow participants' and organizers' displeasure. Such teams can become blacklisted by the community at large and no longer find themselves invited to future Games. This nature of self-policing (decentralized control and word-of-mouth) prevents out-of-control teams from destroying the elaborate events.
The Game culture has spawned several spinoffs in the Bay Area, including the Bay Area Treasure Hunt (BATH), Bay Area Night Game (BANG), Park Challenge, Iron Puzzler, and Different Area Same Hunt (DASH). There have been several spinoffs in other parts of North America as well. There are three yearly games in New York City that are very similar to The Game: Midnight Madness, The Haystack, and The Great All Nighter. There is also a yearly game in Hot Springs, Arkansas also called Midnight Madness. Midnight Madness Brevard also puts on events many times a year in Brevard County, Florida. Midnight Madness Vermont hosts MMVT events several times a year as well.
During the 1999 Game, a bottle of bright green liquid was found at a game location in the New York City World Trade Center by a Marriott Hotel employee, prompting a partial evacuation of the hotel.
In the 2002 Game, "Shelby Logan's Run", player Bob Lord was severely injured after misunderstanding a clue and falling thirty feet down a disused mineshaft. The players were sent into the desert outside Las Vegas with a clue containing the cryptic warning "1306 is clearly marked. Enter ONLY 1306. Do NOT enter others." - arriving at the site from an unexpected direction, Lord mistakenly entered mineshaft 1296, not realising that the mines were numbered, and ignored anonymous, spraypainted warnings assuming that they were part of the game. The fall crushed several vertebrae and left Lord a quadriplegic, and a lawsuit was filed against the organisers of that year's Game, who were criticized for not mentioning the danger in the pre-game liability waiver. There was no Seattle-based Game for three years after the 2002 Game, although the Bay Area Game continued apace. The August 2005 "Mooncurser's Handbook" Game in Seattle, run by a group of twelve veteran Seattle Gamers, renewed the Seattle Game tradition, with a special emphasis on safety.