For many students at Berkeley High School (BHS), the game Assassin is seen as a tradition, held near the end of each year for mainly juniors and seniors. However, for many, the game is also confusing and mysterious, known only from vague references and warning emails from the BHS administration. While for some, a timer going off in the middle of class means something important to the game, to others, it’s just a strange occurrence in their English class with no discernible meaning.
Assassin begins when students who want to play sign up with the organizers in groups of three, with one team captain, which can alternate week to week. For the next week, teams are assigned another team to “kill.” This can be achieved through salting someone’s drink, planting a timer so that it rings while on the target, or spraying them with water. Each of these tactics have specific guidelines as well. For instance, the person placing a timer must be out of the room when it goes off, and water gun attacks have to be on the target’s neck. If one member of a team is taken out, the rest can continue, as long as it’s not the captain, in which case the entire team is out. After this first week is over, the next round begins for all teams still alive.
For those playing, these weeks can be ones of combined adrenaline and stress, but many players felt it has been a positive experience so far. “If you know what you’re signing up for, it’s really a thrilling crazy time,” said one anonymous BHS student who was a part of the game this year. Another anonymous player agreed, saying it was positive and exciting. Throughout the game, players may find themselves taking elaborate routes to get places or simply staying at home to avoid being targeted, but the time is “filled with adrenaline and evil plotting,” said the first student. What the majority of students will recognize about Assassin, even if they’ve never fully learned the rules, is that the administration dislikes it. In an email sent out to all BHS juniors and seniors on April 23, Dean of Students Kiernan Rok clearly stated the possible consequences for participation in Assassin. “Because of these serious concerns about safety, property, and disruption to the learning environment, consequences including possible suspension will be issued for students participating in ‘assassin’,” he wrote in the email.
Other members of the administration, such as Principal Erin Schweng and Director of Student Activities John Villavicencio have agreed with this statement, specifically saying that the main reason that suspension is a possible punishment is because of the disruption to classes and learning environments the game causes at BHS.
Schweng also mentioned her worries about a “sense of entitlement” she perceives to be related to the game. “I would challenge students to think about who is playing the game, what racial and social groups, and how entitlement to disrupt classroom and campus plays into all of that,” said Schweng.
For one student playing, while they feel the worry about disruption is “completely understandable” they believe that suspension as a possible punishment is “extreme.” They added, however, that this drastic possible repercussion encouraged them to just go “all in” to the game, as they were already involved in it.
As for rules around the game at school, water-related attacks are not allowed on school grounds, though salting drinks and planting timers are still on the table, according to one anonymous player. This is also true for other designated areas, such as someone’s workplace.
Both Villavicencio and Schweng commented on the underground, secretive nature of the game. “My other thought is for future organizers to come out from the underground and think about how they could work with the school to put on a similar contest,” said Villavicencio. Schweng also encouraged students to work with the school in the future, citing that the Spring Carnival last year was a good example of students and administration working together. However, Schweng also acknowledged that this nature of the game is part of what she believes makes it fun for students. “The game is a really exciting tradition,” said an anonymous player.
It’s clear that even with the threat of suspension, the game has continued for this year, though discussed and planned in more hushed tones. Even so, timers continue to go off in classes, and students continue to plan their next attacks. Players and students alike still see the game as an exciting, positive tradition and a staple of spring at BHS. “Assassin will never die,” one anonymous player said. “The student passion and collaboration adds a weird aspect of community to the whole school, in an unexpected way.”