If science fiction movies have taught us anything, it’s that it typically takes a widespread and concerted effort to turn aside a space alien invasion. So as Drexel’s Entrepreneurial Game Studio prepares its citywide, interactive gaming iteration of the H.G. Wells classic “War of the Worlds,” the team is looking for some help.
One year into its William Penn Foundation-funded project to create a massive interactive experience based on the iconic science fiction novel — that also inspired a gripping, staged radio broadcast — the developers have put together a framework for the game and are ready to tap into the city’s creativity to help flesh it out.
Arianna Gass, program manager at the EGS in Drexel’s ExCITe Center, took some time to share a few updates on the project, which is slated to mix gameplay with live performances. She also divulged an upcoming opportunity for the public to get involved in the planning (plotting?) of the invasion — a “game jam and public art think tank” event on Dec. 17 hosted by the EGS.
How has the vision for the project evolved since it was first announced about a year ago?
The first year of War of the Worlds was really time for our team of collaborators — some are professors here at Drexel, some are independent artists in Philadelphia — to meet up, and start developing a common language around this project. We needed to develop a process for collaboration internally, as well as set some of the parameters for the overall project.
We’ve determined some of the ways in which we’d like to deviate from existing War of the Worlds narratives (H.G. Wells’ book, Orson Welles’ radio broadcast, etc). The thing that’s evolved the most is really our methodology — how we’d like to build this game. WOTW is built on the idea of co-creation. At first, we were excited to build something, then share with community centers and find our audiences through them.
But one of our collaborators, Liz Green from Arts Approach, suggested that we do things a bit differently. We’re interested in actually working with community members to build the experience — we’ve done some background work, but we expect that the bulk of the development of this piece will actually be informed by community members. So we’re asking organizations that have expressed interest in our project to take a part in the creative side, not just the execution of the piece on game day in 2018.
How many people will it take to pull off a big project like this, with a citywide scope?
It’s innumerable. Right now we have about 15 collaborators and a handful of potential community partners. Likely we’ll have hundreds of people helping us out to make this day of play happen.
What are some challenges that people might be surprised by when it comes to creating and executing a participatory game this big?
Learning authentic engagement and honoring existing arts and creative initiatives in communities. And it’s not just paying lip service to community collaboration, but actually investing time in communities, building trust, then asking for their opinions. You have to invite them into the room and listen to what they have to say about the project and its relationship to their neighborhoods.
What sorts of questions are you looking to answer and/or ideas are you hoping to procure from the game jam and public art think tank event?
We’re starting the day off with a few prompts, which I can’t reveal quite yet, but we’re interested in finding out what other people in the larger Philadelphia tech communities think! We have some basic tech and some structures we’ve been working with — we’re ready to open them up and see what other people do with them.
What other opportunities will there be for people to contribute or participate in the planning and execution of the War of The Worlds project?
Tons! We’re hoping to work with community centers in neighborhoods outside of “Greater Center City” after this preliminary jam. Our opportunities will focus on communities that live or work in Brewerytown, Mantua and Olney, and will potentially expand to more neighborhoods as the project grows. We’re always looking for input from people involved in community organizations around Philadelphia. If you have a group of people who are interested in our project, we want to hear from you!
What are the next steps for the project and what is the timeline for completion looking like?
Our next steps involve getting to know more people interested in playing our game, learning more about community organizations who might be interested in hosting events, and working collaboratively on game jams. We are currently still on track for game play in October 2018, pending funding.