Things To Do
For free monthly updates, event invitations and exclusive deals, sign-up for our newsletter!
September, 2010, Page 48
Photo by Sean Kapera Photography
Greg Shaw, creator of The Citadel
A new live action game for grownups brings
mystery, intrigue and spy-movie action to the streets of Downtown Phoenix.
Phoenix is doing much better – much cooler – on the urban hipness index than it was 10 years ago, but in some key departments, we still come up alarmingly short.
For example, can someone explain why Phoenix proper doesn’t have an art house movie theater? Or a good place to get Indonesian food? Or a retired porn star running for public office? (Sure, we have J.D. Hayworth, but it’s just not the same.)
All that stuff aside, Phoenix does boast at least one cool urban accoutrement that you won’t find in L.A., New York or Chicago: We have The Citadel.
This meticulously rendered puzzle of live actors, dummy websites and spy movie memes was created by Greg Shaw, who broadly calls it “immersive fiction.” Participants have called it a “board game on steroids” and a “movie with a pulse.”
“We’ve been searching for a label to put on it,” says Shaw, a self-described forty-something Texas libertarian. “To my knowledge, there’s nothing out there quite so immersive where you’re talking to real people, moving in real space, solving real puzzles. I’d love to come up with a tidy acronym for it, like MMO, but immersive fiction will have to do for now.”
Shaw planted the seed for The Citadel about two years ago when he created an interactive birthday event for his stepson. Drawing up a scenario involving spies, cloak-and-dagger intrigue and a trail of clues scattered throughout the family’s central Phoenix neighborhood, Shaw challenged the boy and his friends to unravel the mystery and find their agency “contact” (in reality, a friend who agreed to play the part).
It was a smash. And Shaw says he had as much fun as the kids.
“Word about it spread around school,” Shaw remembers. “Parents started asking about it. So I determined that I would evolve the idea into something that I could make a living with. A viable commercial entertainment.”
First order of business: fleshing out the story to appeal to adult audiences. To this end, Shaw added a mysterious corpse to the narrative and a serpentine plot involving illicit Middle East oil schemes. He also wanted more complexity and texture. He added film editing, digital animation and web design to his background in musical production to make the game pop.
Since The Citadel is played in public, Shaw also has accomplices: business owners, actors, landlords. In its current incarnation, the game starts at the Pie Factory mixed-use art space off Grand Avenue, where a dispatcher briefs teams of four “agents” on the mission (unraveling the corpse/oil scheme mystery) and hands out ID cards. Armed with morgue photos and other material, the team follows a clue to a diner up the street, then an office building, then a coffee shop, and so on.
Meanwhile, Shaw monitors the action via cell phone. If the players hit a snag, he gives them a push – often by activating actors planted at the scene. (Until a stranger approaches you in public and discretely presses a zip drive into your palm, you haven’t really lived.) There are encrypted communiqués, low-speed car chases and a jarring encounter in one of the city’s – ahem – less reputable inns. It’s all scripted and entirely legal while being intrinsic and propulsively random, players report.
“When we were out in public, I found myself looking people over to see if they were spies or just regular folks,” says Phoenix stylist Amina Call, 30. “I actually enjoyed that. It helped me suspend my disbelief.”
First staged early last year, the original version of the game ran a solid nine hours. Shaw has since pared that down to about four hours, which he says pushes “the operational threshold” of most people playing an interactive game. The game is still in its soft-launch, beta-test phase but will soon get a formal rollout with an aggressive marketing push.
The Citadel isn’t cheap to produce or play, so the clientele has been mostly “professionals and people in their mid-20s to 40s… not the college kids” that Shaw initially expected. And he acknowledges that prying people away from their laptops is probably a bigger challenge to the game’s survival than its $150-a-person price tag.
“To me, it’s just about telling a story in a way that no one else does,” says the visionary game-maker, who hopes to someday franchise his gadget-savvy immersive fiction model to other cities. “Hopefully that will get people to leave their computer consoles. It remains to be seen.”
For more information, call Mission Lane Network at 602-795-0300 or visit citadelphoenix.com.
© 2007 Copyright Phoenix Magazine 15169 N. Scottsdale Road Suite C310 Scottsdale Arizona 85254
Travel & Outdoors
Best of The Valley
Phoenix Home & Garden Magazine
Advertise With Us
Web Site Design