Misha Collins’ rule-bending, record-breaking scavenger hunt has a new name, a new look and a new message. The man behind the madness spoke with Hypable to share some insights about the event formerly known as GISHWHES.
After a little scaremongering last summer – the 2017 event was promised to be “the last ever GISHWHES as we know it,” leaving acolytes to wonder if a busy Supernatural schedule and his many charity projects may have left Misha Collins with less time and energy to facilitate the Hunt in a hands-on way – Collins revealed that the internet’s most infamous week of magic and mayhem was not, in fact, done away with for good. Rather, 2018 saw a relaunch of GISHWHES in a new and improved package.
At its core, GISHWHES 2.0 is still the same concept. There will still be a huge international scavenger hunt this summer (July 28 to August 4, to be precise, and registration is open now) where teams will submit to the mercy of Misha as they compete to complete a behemoth list of tasks. If you’re in it to win it, there will still be a winners’ trip – an adventure vacation to a destination of his choice, this year New Zealand. But there are a few features of the GISHWHES rebrand that make this year’s Hunt the start of something quite different.
For starters, there’s the title – Collins and co docked half the letters from the world’s most awkward acronym, which stood for The Greatest International Scavenger Hunt the World Has Ever Seen, and cleaned it up to GISH, officially adopting the shorthand that most regular players (or “gishers”) already used to refer to the Hunt. This shorter, simpler moniker came with a new logo and some fun new functionality, including an app, which launched in April and includes updates from Collins, a direct message service, and a location map which allows gishers to connect with others in their city.
The GISH app also serves as a platform for one of the biggest structural changes of the Hunt’s reinvention. There’s now the opportunity to participate in challenges – ranging from digital puzzles to in-person meet-ups – that utilize the app’s features year-round, for fun and for free. Misha Collins spoke with Hypable late last month about some of the finer details of his new world disorder.
Last year, when we covered the Rainforest Trust campaign, there was a lot of hype from you and a lot of sadness from participants about that being the last ever GISHWHES, and there were not a lot of solid answers about what the future would bring until fairly recently. What happened there? What was the original plan, at the time you made that announcement? What developments were in the works, what was the mindset, why was it time for a change?
Misha Collins: I have always wanted GISH to be as disruptive as possible. I like the idea that people around the world would be loathe go to the grocery store during the Hunt week because they know it’s going to be mayhem. Our ultimate objective with GISH is to create a little healthy, positive chaos in the world: to wake people up and break them out of the routine of their life or their thinking— even if only for a moment. This applies to both the participants of GISH and the rest of the world around them. On the surface, it’s just a unique way to have fun with friends (old or new) for a week… but at the risk of sounding self-important, I like to think for many, we provide an experience that gives people that fresh perspective on the world or themselves.
But regardless of our intentions or the impact, if GISH itself becomes “routine” we start to get in our own way. We’ve been around for several years now, doing the same thing more or less, and we thought it was time to fluff the proverbial pillows. We weren’t exactly sure at the time of how deeply we were going to change it, so when we had an opportunity to merge with a really interesting gaming company that seemed like it could make GISHWHES grow exponentially, I jumped at the opportunity. That was why GISHWHES as we knew it was going to end.
But then we got a good ways down the road with our new partners and I realized we might be losing the things I loved about the Hunt. So we decided to pull out and just make some changes on our own. So we built an app, changed our name from GISHWHES to GISH, we are building the community into a year-round experience, and we are fine-tuning the week of the Hunt itself to make it bigger and more impactful. There you have it.
April saw the rebrand and the launch of the app, including a new way of engaging with GISH community – local challenges, chatrooms and of course, the announcement of the 2018 Hunt. What inspired these new aspects of how the Hunt works? What has changed or is going to change about the Hunt this year, and what are you most excited about in terms of these changes or opportunities, on a functionality or technological level?
Over and over at conventions, I heard from gishers how they loved meeting new people with our game. People have made lifelong friends and even found their soulmates through GISH. I also heard many say that they would love to play, but didn’t know anyone in their community with whom they could play. So our primary objective with the app was to create something that could connect people all over the world and bring them together in surprising and unique ways. We also wanted to provide people with a “GISH Lite” experience that would give them a feel for the Hunt so they could dip their toes in the waters to see if they liked being a part of our community.
We also have a few new features on the app that are in development. I’m not sure if they’ll be ready by the Hunt, but I think the community will enjoy them… and the Hunt itself has also been reworked to include varied team sizes, use of the app in some cases (though you can still access and play it from any computer with Internet access), and shifting of the nature of many of our challenges… along with other surprises still in the works.
The name is also less of a mouthful. Any aims behind that – like making it easier to understand or more marketable?
We shortened GISHWHES to GISH because, let’s face it, GISHWHES is a terribly challenging name to pronounce, remember and see, and while I liked that it was as unwieldy as possible, I kind of got sick of having to spell it out for people every time I mentioned it. (Spelling is not my strongest suit.)
I also heard, somewhere along the way, that there was a plan for “the end of GISHWHES as we know it” to mean transforming it into a fully digital thing, but evidently, that didn’t end up panning out.
We explored all options as we figured out what this year’s Hunt was going to be like. Ultimately, after a lot of soul-searching and many nights of reflection, we decided jello would definitely have to be involved in some meaningful way. That monumental decision paved the way for the rest of our plans.
After GISHWHES 2017, you ran a huge feedback survey regarding why people get involved with the Hunt. What were your biggest takeaways from that, and what has been incorporated into the rebrand?
People want to connect, do good, and have fun. I’m sure there’s a good message in there for how to live your life in general, but I haven’t really had time to grasp it. I’m still reflecting on it, though.
Obviously, you’re the figurehead of this situation, and there are also some huge prizes to be won. Some of the feedback questions focused on those aspects (of winning, or the Hunt’s Misha-centricness) and how important that was or wasn’t to players. Was there ever an aim to for you to step back a bit or pass it over to be more communal, or for the entire thing to be less prize-based? (Basically what I am trying to ask here, in the most compassionate and least combative way possible, is “Are You Comfortable Having This Be About You, Even Though It’s Really About Community, And Was There A Point Where Taking Yourself Out Of The Equation Seemed Like A Better Tactic To Achieve What You Want People To Truly Experience?”)
I object to being called a figurehead! I prefer the term “frontman.” But yes, I would love for the Hunt to have a life of its own above and beyond my involvement. I want to it to become a holiday celebrated worldwide that people look forward to regardless of my involvement or any prizes; a time where everyone looks forward to the week as much as they dread it. I do, however, love every aspect of it as it currently exists, especially creating the challenges and seeing Gishers’ work, so I’ll be the man behind the curtain for as long as the community will have me. After that, I’ll probably try to compete and win it. (I’m not above bribing the judges.)
Let me put this all together. The non-Hunt challenges, free access, random short contests seem to set the stage for GISH to be a lifestyle – a chance to constantly participate and connect with others and with you, year-round. This is something of a surprise, as I think after the “final GISHWHES” announcement, some people expected a dialing back, not an expansion. Yet what we see here is more – the Hunt plus constant connection and year-round Gishy opportunities.
This question is totally leading the witness, but have I got this right? Is this an attempt to transmute the GISH effect to a lifestyle, a constant perception shift for people, rather than a once-a-year “gimmick”? Not that I actually think it’s a gimmick, but from my observation, it seems like GISHWHES was something that gave people temporary permission to behave or think in a certain way, and that maybe for some players, outside those confines, they climbed back in their box. It was something they did, rather than something they were.
To me, your aim has always seemed to be more about fostering a permanent cultural shift, and the idea of constantly being challenged in this way seems like more of a movement, a “new normal” that will influence people to take these steps all the time, rather than needing the “excuse” of the Hunt. Anyway. You know what I’m getting at, I think.
You should answer more of my questions. Nice work.
Is Charlie [Capen, Collins’ humorously beleaguered VP of strategy for GISH] sleeping? Drinking enough water? Feeling comfortable his role as a law-abiding member of society? Charlie, blink twice if you need help.
Charlie’s been a great asset to the GISH team. The GISH ship is a wobbly vessel to navigate at the best of times, and I’ll admit I tend to reverse course at the 11th hour & throw everything into chaos. (Sorry, guys.) All of the GISH team are phenomenal— hardworking and brilliant with just the right amount of masochistic tendencies, so I feel fortunate to be able to collaborate with them and work them into their inevitable early graves… But now that you mention it, everyone on the team probably needs to drink more water and sleep more. (We should probably look into that.)
So that’s GISH, in all its new and shiny wrappings. As Collins mentioned, this year, teams are more flexible to fill out – anywhere between 9 and 15 players can register as a full team, or participants can sign up solo or as an incomplete team and be matched with other players to make a full group. Teams can elect to be competitive or non-competitive, and will be invited to complete as many items as they want to from a list of approximately 200, which will be announced on the first day of the Hunt.
A GISH task could come in any shape or form, but historically they lean toward unusual artistic endeavors, public performance, disturbance of the peace, random acts of kindness, charitable giving, political activism, problem solving, and above all, creating connection – whether that’s delving into the past with an elderly relative or chasing every lead available to gain access to a Large Hadron Collider.
We wrote in detail about the history and spirit of GISH during the lead-up to last year’s Hunt, and you can read the full article, or this excerpt, for more context: “The heart of GISHWHES seems to lie in Collins’ thrill at using his platform to show people the freedom and sense of wonder they can experience when they allow themselves to eschew norms, be present and step outside of their comfort zone – to do things they may have been too shy, scared, or embarrassed to do in the past, and to leave the world better, kinder and weirder than they found it. In short, Collins is sort of an experience dominatrix: he consensually pushes participants through the trappings of humiliation or societal restraint into a mental space where they’re allowed to tap into a base joy. GISHWHES gives them the permission that they may need.”
But in the days since we spoke to Collins about the 2018 rebrand, he’s also ushered in something of a regime change, a shift in attitude towards the Hunt. In a rather moving statement, Collins addressed his own inner conflict about GISH, explaining how the crash and burn of the current political and social climate have been shadowing his ability to throw himself with abandon into the whimsy that the Hunt has previously relied upon. So instead of focusing on the frivolity of GISH, this year, Collins is instead inviting his tribe to help him “set the world on fucking fire” and become an army for good.
It speaks volumes about Collins’ priorities as a public figure that he felt that a statement like this was a necessary responsibility. It’d be different, maybe, if GISH was all he was known for, but it’s not – his efforts to improve the planet are tireless and wide-reaching. Having registered a 501(c)(3) pretty much the moment he was cast on Supernatural, he’s the founder of Random Acts, a non-profit dedicated to conquering the world one random act of kindness at a time, which takes on projects huge and small to help communities, individuals, and larger organizations.
Outside of his own charity, he’s constantly engaging in other forms of activism – a former White House intern under Clinton, Collins pursued a political career in his 20s, and now uses his platform as a celebrity to fire up others, including, during the 2016 cycle, a guerrilla tour of a number of swing states: just getting in a car, showing up and inviting people to meet up with him to talk about voting.
Collins has put into place real change, from inception to execution, in countless ways. If you weigh up his net positive impact on the world, GISH could easily be granted a free pass to be “just for fun,” a vehicle for personal freedom and creativity and a different kind of enrichment to strengthen people with. But given that the state of the world is so rapidly and unignorably spiraling downwards, it seems that even the escapism angle is too complacent, in Collins’ eyes.
It should be noted that GISH has always been a force for good beyond the personal development of players. Collins’ video statement mentions a few of the huge achievements and lives saved that the Hunt has been directly responsible for, including raising money to relocate refugee families, donations of blood and bone marrow, environmental preservation, hospitals and shelters supplied, and thousands of other acts of change for good in local and global communities.
GISH has also always included an flavor of activism. Aside from the element of civil disobedience wired into the Hunt’s very DNA, gishers have been requested to challenge authority and raise awareness about political issues, including voter registration and support of the She Should Run initiative. But this year, under the tagline “Rebel With A Cause,” it sounds as though GISH will dedicate itself even more to making an impact through chaotic good, and push those factors and contributions of each year’s Hunt even further into the sun.
Collins’ message for GISH could not be clearer. “In our current global climate, this year’s Hunt isn’t just fun, it’s a catalyst for change. And in these dark times, we all need that change— that light— more than ever,” he writes. “You are a part of a movement, an uprising— in the truest sense of the word. We are going to rise up and pave the way for compassion, adventure, joy, and creativity. Together, we’ll lift up the world around us and shake things up— for good. You are the very definition of civil unrest… and creative rebellion.” To GISH, Collins wants to emphasise, is a rebel act, to GISH is to heed a disruptive call to arms, and it’s not just a silly game anymore.
What’s less clear is what this means for the Hunt’s content, whether it represents a change in how participants will be asked to mobilize and spend their energy. GISH always makes a hell of a lot of noise, it always has elements online and off that cause passers by to stop and ask questions, or otherwise engage in some way. It may be that those highly public elements could have a different focus, one with even more of an activism bent – Collins did mention that the GISH rebrand would involve “shifting of the nature of many of our challenges.”
Or, much like the quirks of human nature we explored while talking about the permissive elements of GISH for the participant, this paradigm shift about the Hunt’s meaning and significance could be less about the practical elements, and more representative of Collins’ desire to rewrite public perspective about what GISH means, and what about it should matter, and why people should recruit and enlist, as he draws back the curtain on the deeper truths about what he wants to foster in his community.
Leaving aside the nitty-gritty details of what the Hunt’s list of items might include, one thing’s for certain: the 2018 event is sure to be a powerful one, more dedicated than ever to waking up the world and shining light into dim and dirty corners. And if GISH is an army for good, then one battle strategy in Collins’ war against the darkness is already being fought – the 2018 GISH registration period has included, from the get-go, a lifesaving charitable endeavor.
In the final week of 2017’s registration period, GISH partnered with the Rainforest Trust to buy up a crucial slice of Nepalese forest, the habitat of dozens of endangered species, and protect it from development. With one acre donated per sign-up, GISH saved over 40,000 acres in total – double the original goal. This year, animals a little closer to home (for most of us) are the focus of the GISH registration campaign – upon launching the 2018 Hunt, GISH pledged a portion of funds from every single registration to help the Lucky Dog Animal Rescue, a 501(c)(3) charity dedicated to rescuing dogs and cats from kill shelters and the global meat trade. GISH aims to bankroll the rescue of 1000 creatures by the start of the Hunt.
GISH registration is now open, and has been extended to close at 11:59pm Pacific Time on July 17. It costs $21.08 to play – which covers administration as well as the aforementioned donation – but if you can’t afford the registration fee, you can apply for a “Gisholarship” – which equals free Hunt registration paid for by another member of the GISH community. Gisholarships also count towards the animal rescue campaign, so players and non-players alike who wish to support can donate registrations anonymously, or gift registrations to friends.
If you want to join Misha Collins in his crusade to be a rebel with a cause, you know what to do. On your marks… Get set… GISH!
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