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North Vancouver students, schools clash over ‘Gotcha’ game

School district issues warning; teen organizer defends pranks

The North Vancouver school district is warning its grad classes against playing a traditional game that sometimes involves public nudity, saying it could be illegal and have long-term ramifications.

But students and some parents say “Gotcha,” which has been played by graduating students in North Vancouver for more than a decade, is simply harmless fun and the schools should back off.

For the uninitiated, Gotcha derives from an older game called Assassin. Students pay an entry fee and are assigned an individual “target” – another student who has signed up for the game.

As the weeks go on, the players must physically tag their targets in a public place.

If you have been tagged, you can stay in the game by one of two ways: paying another $20 to the pot or by stripping nude within 30 seconds, and you can only re-enter the game twice.

The eliminated player’s target then becomes the next target of the person who tagged them.

Students cannot tag each other inside school or while they are at work.

Each week, the students can make themselves immune to tagging by wearing “safety” gear of escalating silliness, like bathrobes or swimming goggles, in public.

The last player in the game wins the pot.

But the potential for public nudity and worse – including someone taking photos and sharing them online – prompted a recent warning from district principal Brad Baker.

“To students, this game might seem like a harmless grad stunt, but it is actually quite alarming, inappropriate, illegal and could have lifelong consequences,” Baker wrote in an email to parents.

“While the act of undressing in public is unacceptable, it is particularly alarming that students are capturing photos on their smartphones and, sometimes, sharing the photos on social media. Once photos are captured digitally and shared in the online realm, it’s virtually impossible to retract them,” Baker wrote.

With many graduating students not yet 18, the players could even find themselves subject to child pornography charges, Baker added.

Sutherland Secondary Grade 12 student and game organizer Chris Small said he understands the school district’s concerns but he made it clear that sort of behaviour won’t be tolerated.

“It’s obviously something I addressed at the beginning of the game. I said if any sort of misconduct like that happens, the game will be shut down immediately and all the money will be donated (to charity),” he said.

About 80 students, a 50-50 split between male and female, paid to take part in the Sutherland game, resulting in a pot of more than $2,000.

About 50 players are remaining. Small estimated about 75 per cent of the 60 people tagged so far have chosen to strip at least once.

Small said kids in his generation have been thoroughly lectured about the risks of social media.

“Teenagers will be teenagers. It’s certainly an age where you do stupid things but we get so much education on not posting photos and the dangers of social media nowadays that we all certainly know better. Whether people choose to abide by those guidelines or not is ultimately up to them,” he said.

Small said he’s never heard of any incidents of Gotcha players running into trouble with the law or with nude photos being shared without consent.

“Everyone’s just having fun. That’s what the game is for – just having fun,” he said.

Small’s mother, Susie Wilkinson, said the administration’s letter to parents was offensive. She wrote back asking them to retract it.

“I thought it was really a hard line to take and they could have been way more positive about it, especially when it comes to comments about social media.

“These kids have grown up in the social media age. They know what it’s all about. They understand the consequences. At this age, if they’re making the wrong or illegal choices, then sure, they need to suffer the consequences but that’s their choice,” she said.

“I said ‘Did you never have any fun when you were a kid?’”

Wilkinson said none of her fellow Sutherland parents have expressed any worries about the game.

Jesse Miller, a social media educator who has given talks at all of the North Vancouver secondary schools, said the school district is right to be concerned.

Miller recalled a case from almost 20 years ago in which Handsworth students were caught on tape streaking across the Lions Gate Bridge.

“That was 1999 and there was a VHS cassette that was circulating around because these girls had to streak across the Lions Gate,” he said.
“These kinds of events are new and the notion that there’s not going to be anything on the Internet just seems ridiculous to me because that’s not the world they live in. And they should be aware of that. …

“It doesn’t matter if it’s an in-school event or an out-of-school event. These technologies allow people to document anything.

“To be fair, if people are taking their clothes off because they lost a bet, the phones are going to come out.”