TorGame's Waking City

I've always been more Pac Man than Sim City, more MarioKart than Dungeons and Dragons -- this toots likes her role-playing offline, thank you kindly -- but there's something about TorGame's Waking City that's got me intrigued.

One part puzzlehunt and two parts urban alternate reality game, Waking City is a two-week game that uses Toronto as its gameboard. As teams work their way through the game's narrative-driven mystery, they will be taken through six local neighbourhoods. Sherlocks, gather round, for there will be puzzles to solve! Mysteries to unravel! Codes to crack!

It's about time something like this came to Toronto. Puzzlehunts are growing in popularity elsewhere: several universities (including MIT) hold their own games and corporations such as Microsoft are using them as recruiting tools. The cross-media appeal of ARGs have also caught the ever opportunistic eye of corporate America, with Nokia and ABC Television launching high profile examples in the recent past. Multi-platform ingenuity? Perhaps. Sneaky Big Business connivery? Ditto that.

The organizers of the first-ever 416 incarnation, however, make clear that they have no such agenda. TorGame is a local, non-profit collective dedicated to the exploration of Toronto's public spaces. And after catching up with David Fono, its founder, it becomes obvious that this is just a group of city-adoring merrymakers itching to share their love. Fono sheds some light on this mysterious, new-fangled approach to urban jauntyromping...

Where did the idea for this stem from?
I came up with the original concept based on my experiences with alternate reality games and puzzle hunts. I've had tons of fun with both kinds of games, and I figured it would be even more fun to put one together. Specifically, I thought it would be neat to combine the two genres -- have something that's really visceral and gets you moving around (like a puzzle hunt), but also has a really strong narrative that pulls you in (like an ARG). I also really love public space projects (of the newmindspace variety) and thought this would be a worthwhile contribution to that whole scene. To our knowledge, nothing quite like this has been attempted anywhere else.

When and where has your team played these sorts of games before?
We've all played a whole bunch of similar games. Several of our team members are big into ARGs, which are always going on online. Others have participated in various puzzlehunts -- these have become pretty popular in the last few years! Speaking for myself, I'm currently playing an ARG called "Catching the Wish," and the last puzzlehunt I participated in was the 2005 Microsoft Game in Seattle. There were eight of us in a van travelling around Puget Sound for about 48 hours with no sleep... it was pretty intense.

What was the overall driving vision behind Waking City?
Our overall vision is to encourage exploration of public spaces, and to help build community through fostering a better understanding of the city. And to do that in a very fun way. From a game design perspective, we're very focused on finding ways to convey a narrative that seamlessly blends into "real life."

What do you think players will get out of the experience?
1) A better sense of the city, from having explored it.
2) The feeling that they're the protagonists in an exciting story.
3) A lot of unforgettable memories.

Will there be interaction between the teams?Not so much at first. But as the game progresses, teams will be brought together more and more. Part of our driving vision is the idea of fostering community, and that's very much a part of the way the game will play out.

It's a two-week long event... how many hours a day do you foresee players having to allot to it? Is this something they can do on top of their jobs/life? Does the game culminate in some joint activity at the end?
It can vary, and we've been designing the game around people with differing time commitments. For instance, you don't always need to solve all the puzzles, and you can experience most of the story even if you only tackle about half of them. We're rewarding those who put a little more time into it with more insight into the plot, but we're being careful to ensure that everything will still make sense even if you do the minimum possible amount.

We also have a variety of live events, which either take place on weekends or in the evenings. Players will know about these events from the beginning so they can schedule accordingly. And at no point will we ever require that anyone do anything during standard work hours.

As for the finale... that'll be a surprise! I will say that we've got a pretty exciting partnership lined up, which should be right up our players' alley.

You speak of being dedicated to the idea of a "unified identity for Torontonians" on the TorGame site - what, for you, distinguishes Torontonians? What makes us special?
We've talked about this amongst ourselves, and everyone's got different ideas. We're not about trying to promote a specific identity, though. We're not trying to say, "this is what Toronto is." We're trying to encourage people to figure it out for themselves -- to get out there and see all the little nooks and crannies, and then they can come to their own conclusions. Because whatever Toronto is, we can be sure that it's totally unlike anything else out there.

What: Waking City
When: September 16 to
Cost: $27.80/team member. Team sizes must be between 4 to 7 people.
For more details, attend an info session: 7:10pm on Thurs, Aug 24, and Thurs, Sept 7, at Lillian H Smith Library (239 College Street, at Huron)

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