There's a new iPhone game that's primed to let you release your inner Winona Ryder, she of sticky fingers — but instead of stealing from Saks, you're stealing from anyone around you.
Once you download the PKPKT (pronounced "pickpocket") app, you become a thief on the prowl, secretly robbing from innocent folk as you walk down the street. If someone who also has the app enters within the 100-foot range around you, their honeypot is up for grabs, and you can snatch some bills from them. But if you're too busy to notice, anyone can steal from you. PKPKT brings out the evil in us and, suddenly, a city-wide game of Assassin is at hand.
PKPKT's motto is simple: "All Pockets Are Your Pockets." Download the app to your iPhone 5 (or 4s, as long as it's upgraded to iOS 7), and turn on Bluetooth as prompted. Each player makes up a screen name and picks an avatar from a selection of simple graphics: ghost, anchor, burger, tombstone, etc. You start with $1000 of fake money in your pocket. The game will show you the number of potential victims in the vicinity, and the purse-snatching begins. By clicking on a player's avatar, you have the choice of stealing — in $10 increments — and taunting them over chat, because what's the point of stealing if you can't gloat about it afterwards, right? Or, you can block a stranger on chat at the exact moment it works best to your advantage. "Why did he block me?" thinks the stranger you've just jacked brutally. They will never know.
The key to the game is you don't have to be logged in to play. Thanks to your iPhone's Bluetooth low energy capabilities, if you download the app, you're technically always online, ready to mug or be mugged. But you can't be robbed blind over and over again: the same thief can only steal from you once every twenty minutes.
I downloaded PKPKT while home for the holidays in Montana, where the iPhones are few, and iOS 7 is practically nonexistent. The app enlightened me to the reality of vacationing on the dark farm: "So," the app taunted me, ominously. "No one is around, boring. Invite your people." My people — with iPhones — happened to be my little sister Hannah and her college boyfriend. If the game's capabilities seem limited (and they are), it was certainly popular for an afternoon in my house, where we'd been mainlining Seinfeld for the past week.
In the real world, the game itself is less appealing than its premise: Can you spot a thief in your midst? Among the scores of blank faces, who is the evil one? With a professional pickpocket — or his cinematic counterpart, such as Matt Damon playing the bumbling nerd lifting wallets in Ocean's Eleven — you might never know who conned you. But here's where the technology comes in, which is also very appealing: Can you spot the perpetrator in the crowd, the person within 100 feet robbing you, once they start chatting with you? To my mind, a game that is just a matter of clicking the "steal" button and then waiting 20 minutes to do it again doesn't qualify as a game at all. But when you get to chat in between? Let's just say I'm hoping someone in the baggage claim area of JFK has PKPKT. Seems like a good way to split a cab with someone equally devious.
Image by Michael Erazo-Kase
Kaitlin Phillips is a writer living in Manhattan. Her work has appeared in Vice, New York, and n+1.
[Correction: This app is not available for the iPhone 4]