Internet Manhunt Begins in Berlin

Tuesday, August 15th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

BERLIN (AP) — In the latest twist in reality entertainment, a mysterious fugitive went underground Monday in a city once famous for Cold War espionage. His mission: to evade capture by Internet bounty hunters trying to collect a $10,000 prize.

Organizers are hoping that thousands of amateur sleuths in Berlin and around the world will take up the chase. If they fail to find him, the fugitive keeps the cash.

On the run is a Dutch sports teacher named Roger who beat out 9,000 rivals for the starring role in ``RealityRun.'' The organizers, ExtraMile AG, hope the event will attain cult status among the world's Internet users and attract the interest of TV and film producers looking for a hit like CBS' ``Survivor'' and ``Big Brother.''

The runner sets off with $2,500, which he can spend as he wishes. While he can check into a hotel, he is not allowed to use transportation that would stop a hunter from approaching him and claiming the bounty. That leaves just a bicycle or his feet.

``I'm not nervous. But I don't speak much German and I've only been to Berlin once before, and that was back in 1982,'' the fugitive, masked to hide his identity, said before disappearing into the undergrowth in a city park.

To lure him out of hiding and give his pursuers a chance, the organizers require him to complete daily tasks chosen by visitors to the game's Web site,

Would-be bounty hunters can visit the Web site for tips about the runner's whereabouts and watch as his portrait is slowly revealed day by day. The site also carries live pictures from an apartment where Roger will field questions from online hunters every evening, but cannot stay for more than a few hours.

Roger is wired with a microphone. Pursuers calling a telephone hot line or downloading sound files can try to figure out where he is from voices or background noises picked up by the mike.

To claim the bounty, a hunter must confront Roger on the street and shout out his own name and telephone number so that it is picked up by the microphone. Non-Berliners can nail Roger and pocket the money by tipping off one of two online sleuths employed by ExtraMile to increase the pressure.

``We've reinvented 'hide-and-seek' by creating a show that runs 24 hours a day for 24 days on the Internet. Maybe the game can become the Formula One of the Internet community,'' said Ruediger Kreklau, creative director of ExtraMile.

Later manhunts are to take place in cities selected in online polls. Vienna currently leads the voting, ahead of Amsterdam and San Francisco. Successful RealityRunners are then due to go head-to-head in the final in New York in August 2001, where the bounty is to be raised to $100,000.