After Month of Play, Highlighter Assassin Comes to Close With Gillespie’s Win

Freshman Alexa Gillespie, who recently won the high school’s Highlighter Assassin game. Photo by Max Kaminski.

Sophomore Posy Brown was waiting in the library chatting with senior Ike Cymerman, her target in the GDS high school Assassin game. He had already spotted her, so she couldn’t get him out the usual way by making a one-inch highlighter mark on his skin. Instead, while they were griping about the game, Brown unintentionally caused Cymerman to reveal his target, eliminating him.

Highlighter Assassin is an annual GDS tradition which returned this school year after being interrupted due to the COVID-19 pandemic. People interested in participating were able to sign up for the game on Sept. 19, and play officially began Sept. 27. 232 students participated, and the game ended Thursday Oct. 28, when freshman Alexa Gillespie assassinated senior Jamie Lewis.

Lewis recounted that he was talking with a friend at the water fountain in the Internet Cafe and decided to take his sweatshirt off. “She came up behind me and got me three or five minutes after,” he said. “She was on top of it.”

Gillespie won with 15 kills, but none of the other frontrunners had more than five. According to Gillespie, they managed to survive so long by laying low and staying out of public places. “Hiding was the best strategy, instead of being active,” Gillespie said. She said that Lewis was hard to assassinate because he avoided the Forum and other exposed spaces.

To encourage stealth, the rules of the game lay out that if a target sees their assassin and says “assassin, I see you,” they are temporarily safe for the duration of their interaction. Gillespie found that effective use of the “assassin, I see you” rule was the thing that hindered her most. “My hardest kill was probably [junior] Izzy Evers because she was on my volleyball team and she knows exactly what I look like,” she said. “There was no opportunity because she always saw me and said ‘assassin, I see you.’”

At first, the game moved rapidly. 150 students were eliminated on the first day, and by the third day, only 50 students remained. Senior Ben Freedman volunteered to organize the game this year, managing signups, keeping track of all participant’s targets and kills, and mediating any rule disputes. “The first two weeks were a bunch of filling in spreadsheets,” he said.

The game shifted substantially as it neared the end. After Oct. 8, the pace slowed substantially and there were only five assassinations. Freedman was surprised by how long the game took. “There were like five days when nobody got killed,” he said.

Gillespie noted that because of how long it took, many of her friends tuned out and stopped paying attention to the game. “I feel like everyone expected it to last a week, and then, when it didn’t, people got bored of it,” she said. 

Number of students still in Highlighter Assassin at the outset of each week, as well as the number of assassinations each week. Chart by Adam Leff.

For the first week, many participants showed up to school covered from head to toe. Allowing students to cover up and requiring the highlighter mark to be on a target’s skin may have contributed to the slow pace of the game. Students wore gloves and hoods, even during the first two weeks of play, when highs regularly exceeded 80 degrees. 

Although hordes of students trying to mark each other’s arms with highlighters may seem like the perfect recipe for disruption, there were rules in place to prevent it from interrupting class time and important school events. Students were immune during class, and Freedman sent out update bulletins during the club fair and all-school assembly specifying that those events were safe as well. “It gets stressful at times, but people are really good at following the rules,” Brown commented.

Although teachers were invited to sign up, no teachers ended up participating. Math teacher Beth Stafford, who played in a similar game in college and participated in the GDS game in the past, said that it seemed like the players were enjoying themselves this year. “I love that people who are into it are willing to stake people out and have these amazing kills,” she said. When she played in college, the person who got her out “had come to my field hockey practice and hidden behind a tree,” a mile off campus.

Freedman noted that teachers may not have seen the sign up email because he sent it to the class folders, which not all teachers receive, and did not realize his mistake until the game had already begun.

Freedman plans to run the game again in the spring to give those who missed out an opportunity to play and those who had a good experience another chance to compete. “A lot of people told me that they didn’t realize that it would actually be as fun as it was,” he said, adding, “Hopefully next time we can get teachers.”

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