Modeling the WPA Experience in an Online Game
Filament Games, based in Madison, WI, has been working with Spark Media on a concept for a cross-platform game to put young people in the shoes of the 1930s WPA writers as they went from joblessness to national service, putting American life into a series of guidebooks. To start, the designers have crafted in Soul of a Place a slice of the WPA experience documenting life along the Lincoln Highway, the interstate precursor to Route 66, as it goes through Pennsylvania. There WPA workers contended with hostile locals, legal threats (one town didn’t like how it was portrayed in the WPA guide and the city council planned a lawsuit) and the difficulties of depicting a massive teapot diner roadside attraction in Bedford, PA.
Not far to the south of Bedford, incidentally, stood the town of Chaneysville, already a ghost town by the 1930s and later immortalized in David Bradley’s prize-winning novel, The Chaneysville Incident. It tells the story of a black historian in the Bedford area who uses the historical detective tools employed by the WPA writers to uncover an incident involving his father’s death, racial tensions and a deeper mystery.
In another part of the game prototype, users have the task of assembling a newsreel about the Chicago World’s Fair.