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- Game designer Sam DuBois, in hardhat, and his mother Nancy DuBois, aka “Mary Johnson,” in scarf, with other co-creators.
DuBois is a bit of a natural trickster, and enjoyed people's confusion and bewilderment by the game, which was essentially a very complex and lengthy theater piece involving two entire story lines being managed simultaneously as the Key Keepers and Johnson's counter team.
Chris Treadway posted on Facebook about some of the fliers, only to eventually discover that it was part of DuBois's game. "I really liked all the acknowledgement of local history," he said. "I found the original announcement for the game very intriguing and that's why I suspected what I saw on the bulletin board was connected to that. Sam is very astute about things and I thought it was a very clever promotion." Treadway knows DuBois from the Albany Haunt. "I hope he does something like that again it was I have to say very advanced and one of the better business type promotions I've seen."
The game involved several avenue businesses, and engaged dozens of people. DuBois made it his personal mission to engage people with Solano Avenue stores. The Albany Twin was obviously involved, and rented the space to the game, which a manager said was a "cool event." It is unclear whether all of the employees harassed by Johnson were aware of the reason for their abuse. Flowerland employee Carrie Schulze who gave participants in the game clues says, "We like to do anything to support people coming in and out of the businesses on Solano Avenue... It was kind of fun to have a bunch of people."
Chamber and Avenue Association Board Member Tod Abbott said both groups thought DuBois' game was an interesting way to bring people to Solano Avenue. Abbott participated in the game and says he loved it, particularly a part that involved a hike at the Albany Bulb. But admitted there was some controversy around the game. "The signs scared some people because they didn't realize it was a game, and there was some contact I think with city officials that were kind of in character and they didn't know the context." Abbott said some people were also concerned about Johnson's state of mind.
Indeed, Johnson, played by DuBois's mother Nancy, was the character who most alarmed people. She never broke character, even when Albany resident Amy St. George posted on Facebook that fliers were probably about the Albany Haunt, and Johnson responded "This isn't benign." St George, who lives down the same from DuBois, calls him a "prankster kid" and suspected his involvement. But she thought that Johnson was genuine, and questioned her own conclusion that it was all a harmless game.
DuBois said he developed Johnson based on a stereotypical Albany resident. "She doesn't even live in Albany in the best part," he said. "She was like the quintessential Albany citizen, which we kind of poked fun at — only in the most positive possible manner." Johnson's character was very deeply developed in DuBois's mind. She was a native Albanian, a journalist, and a dog lover running a business for human dog treats that people can share with their pets. "She kind of seems crazy, and she kind of is, but there's a lot more too it than that. She's a very sweet individual who cares a lot about dogs and Albany and just sometimes a little too much." Despite the character being completely "absurdist," to go with a game that DuBois described as a comedy, a lot of the acting from DuBois's cast was improvised, and Johnson's character ran wild.
"I had a lot of people not thinking she was an actor," he said. "At one point, one of our actors who hadn't met her and then ended up together as they were assembling the torch, they didn't realize she was fake, which I hadn't really thought to brief them on. So that was really entertaining for me."
DuBois recruited Peter Maass after having been helped by him with planning and zoning issues for the Albany Haunt. "Some of this was sort of a way to both encourage him to keep his creative ideas going but also anything that could bring a little interest in life and to Solano Avenue," Maass said. "I think as a councilmember it was a great idea."
However, Maass agreed to help without being told about his characters' villainous role. "I was one of the villains in the game, which I didn't fully understand until I got into it." Maass said. "I wanted some kind of papers or lockbox back and then somebody was revealed and it turned out I really wanted to be the mayor of Berkeley?" he said. Maass confirmed that he does not, in fact, want to be mayor of Berkeley.
DuBois was happy to have him. "Me and him share kind of this understanding that there is a need for public part and for interactivity and immersiveness in small communities," DuBois said. "Sure, Disneyland exists and other larger productions ... but people need similar forms of entertainment that are not staring at computer screens and cell phones."
Overall, the game was well-received, with the exception of a few people who thought the city really was in danger. On Reddit, one concerned citizen wrote that they kept seeing posters about defending Albany on Solano Avenue and asked whether it was some sort of weird conspiracy.