Preservation road: Role-playing game will light up Dumbo streets

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It is “History Detectives” meets the historic district.

A high-tech game will hit the cobblestone streets of Dumbo on July 18, where participants posing as a team of detectives will comb the area for clues that will help build a case for historic preservation. The free role-playing fun is intended to get people looking at their surroundings more closely, said one of the designers.

“It’s all about how to get people interested in space again,” said Adelle Lin, who developed the game with fellow designer Alex Garkavenko. “We’re really interested in gentrification and our game is a playful take on this thing that’s happening everywhere.”

In “Who’s That Loft,” players will carry ultraviolet torches and scour a portion of the neighborhood looking for markings made with invisible ink. When the special light uncovers one of the stamps — which might be placed on building walls, on interesting architectural elements, or even on the ground — players snap a photo of it on their phone.

Each uncovered marking represents a clue about the history of the site, which will help to convince a fictional developer to preserve it, explained Lin.

“They’ve hired us investigators to find the history and the characteristics that make the place unique,” she said.

After collecting all the clues in a given area, players go to the game organizers, receive a puzzle piece, and move on to the next area. The puzzle pieces fit together to form a photograph of an actual Dumbo building, with some historic facts on the back.

Lin hopes the game will make people notice details about the neighborhood, to understand what makes it special.

“We want to draw attention to the fabric of the neighborho­od,” she said.

“Who’s That Loft” is part of the Come Out and Play festival, a night of innovative street games and outdoor video games that will take place beneath the Manhattan Bridge archway and at other locations around New York City. Other games at the Dumbo site will include “Musclebound Glory,” in which participants compete to come up with the best ’80s action movie-style zingers, and “EXO: Arena,” where players can use their iPhones to play laser-tag — minus the lasers.

The amusements at the festival are intended to bridge virtual and physical worlds to create new kinds of experiences, and new ways for people to have fun.

Lin sees her game as doing just that.

“A lot of times game designers are focused on creating an intimate experience with a screen,” she said. “We want to make one with a physical space.”

“Who’s That Loft” at the Come Out and Play Festival (beneath the Manhattan Bridge archway off Anchorage Place between Pearl and Plymouth streets in Dumbo, July 18 at 7 pm. Free.

Reach reporter Matthew Perlman at (718) 260-8310. E-mail him at Follow him on Twitter @matthewjperlman.
Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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