By Pamela Stravitz, news correspondent
The group was running late, but Mack Cameron collected his team and left to check on the aliens down the hall.
Cameron stepped into the large group that had formed in the lobby of Cambridge’s Microsoft New England Research and Development Center on Nov. 14.
The Union Jack-clad United Kingdom team played the British national anthem from a Bluetooth speaker. Thirty people stepped into MegaGame: Front Lines, where they assumed the role of Earth’s defenders for the next six hours.
MegaGaming, popularized in Europe, is a mixture of Model UN, board games, tabletop games and live-action roleplay.
MegaGames were created by Paddy Griffith, founder of Wargame Developments, in the mid-1980s. The subject of the game can vary from politics to science fiction to heroic fantasy, with each participant assuming their role accordingly. There are six countries involved: China, Russia, Brazil, the United States, the United Kingdom and Japan.
“There are two kinds of people who play MegaGames,” Ming Zhang, a member of the Russian team, said. “One gets increasingly delighted as chaos ensues and says, ‘That moved way too fast.’ The other gets increasingly angry and says, ‘That was too crazy.’ But both say, ‘I wish I could do it again.’”
Within the countries are five roles: head of state, foreign minister, military commander, head scientist and deputy head of state, last of which acts as the nation’s spy. In another part of the building, a room of resource-deprived aliens decide Earth’s fate over a game of extra-terrestrial poker. It is the players’ responsibility to solve the problems caused, such as mass panic and destruction – and keep them a secret from other players.
This panic often takes the form of riots, quelled by the military commanders. Rebekah McLaughlin, assuming the role of military control officer, said the conflict is like the scene in “Independence Day” of meticulously fending off intergalactic invaders, but there are various alien scenarios so players can play multiple MegaGames without spoilers.
“Human commanders have conventional units and alien interceptors to attack with,” Ryan Volz, McLaughlin’s co-control officer, said. “But Earth has its own conflicts and secret goals, too.”
The aliens aren’t the only enemies in the game. While countries can choose to make alliances, some MegaGames have seen more domestic than extraterrestrial destruction.
Often, teams are randomly assigned, but the players of Russia and China knew each other through gaming and were brought together for the MegaGame a month earlier by Zhang. Other players and game controllers had personal ties with the event’s organizer, Cameron. All of this action, however, could not be completed without those like Cameron working control.
“I was surprised by the sheer amount of work that must have gone into constructing this experience,” West said. “There were scores of puzzles designed for scientists to work on and more than 100 different bits of information and state-secret scenarios floating around.”
Mike Aubuchon, 34, flew in from State College, Penn., to participate as Russia’s foreign minister.
“It’s an excuse to come up here and hang out with people,” he said. “It’s the world’s greatest team bonding experience.”
Photo by Scotty Schenck