An Army of ‘Toy Geeks’ Is Invading Jakarta’s Malls
The question for Jakartans is not whether to go to a mall or not, but which mall to go to. The city’s malls provide prescribed activities with little room for creativity — eateries for dining, stores for shopping and cinemas for watching movies. The element of imagination required to play in an open expanse of grass or at the water’s edge is lost among the escalators, shop fronts and promotional banners cluttering the malls.
That is, until now.
Enter Mall Wars. A group of toy enthusiasts in the capital has taken the enclosed sprawl of the mall and turned it into a playground, reclaiming the open spaces eaten up by the city’s shopping centers. Dressed in combat gear and armed with an arsenal of Nerf blasters — toy guns loaded with foam rubber darts — Mall Wars players have begun to invade Jakarta’s shopping centers, bringing a touch of fun to the city’s stuffy mall culture.
The game is simple: Each player starts with six darts and aims to collect as many more as possible in a 20-minute round. Players who are shot must sacrifice a dart to their opponent. Players who run out of darts are out of the game. Like a flash mob, Mall Wars players descend on open spaces inside the city’s malls to play rounds on certain days, organized online and by text message.
The Mall Wars headquarters can be found at Kampoeng Mainan (Toy Village) in Blok M Square, South Jakarta. The original Mall Warriors started off playing rounds of Nerf tag among the community’s toy stores at Blok M, but expanded their battleground to fX Entertainment X’nter, Epicentrum Walk and even the upscale Plaza Indonesia.
The concept is similar to the popular Humans vs. Zombies game played on university campuses around the world, wherein the designated “humans” duel in extended Nerf-blaster and water gun battles against the “undead,” the team members distinguished by a bandana wrapped around their arm or head.
Like Humans vs. Zombies, Mall Wars draws a specific crowd — kids and self-proclaimed toy and comic geeks eager to role-play their favorite heroes and villains in a simulated battle. The costume element of the game dips into Jakarta’s growing cosplay culture, encouraging participants to dress-up to play the part. To match the costumes, which are inspired by horror, fantasy and action films, as well as sci-fi classics like “Star Wars,” most players also like to customize their weapons with spray paint and additional fixtures.
Players have so far ranged in age from 2 to 42, with kids slowly overtaking the adults in numbers. Manu Achman, 10, came to the last Mall Wars event with a group of friends from school.
He owns about seven Nerf blasters, some modified in army-green paint to “look cooler” in battle. Manu won two trophies at the event — one for the battle rounds and one for the trolley jousting, whereby players shoot at each other from moving shopping carts.
“The more people that are there, the better,” Manu said. “I hope my friends from school come again next time.”
With all of those potential customers running around, mall managers have started to pay attention, providing designated spaces for games to take place and helping to organize scheduled appearances by Mall Wars players in costume.
Local staff members of NewBoy Indonesia, the country’s Nerf blaster distributor for US toy company Hasbro, spotted videos of the game on YouTube and the company is supplying a full line of Nerf blasters to the community’s headquarters.
“It seemed like a good opportunity for us to get involved in Mall Wars,” said Manmeet Singh, director of marketing and sales for NewBoy. “We thought that if they were already using Nerf, then why not get some synergy and work together?”
The community aims to hold more games for young players in the coming year, with a monthly “Kids in Kommand” event planned for elementary to junior high school students.
“From a Hasbro perspective, we don’t mind people painting up the Nerf blasters,” Singh said. “But we wouldn’t recommend that people modify the darts to make them faster and so on.”
Toys City at Pondok Indah Mall I in South Jakarta has also invited a team of Mall Wars players to make an appearance at the launch of a new line of Nerf blasters this weekend.
Sunday, Dec. 4, from 3 p.m.
Toys City, Level 3, Pondok Indah Mall I