Capture the Pheon: The Smithsonian’s Latest Alternate Reality Game Debuts September 18

Smithsonian Pheon logoTwo warring factions, the Staves and the Knaves, try to restore balance after intruders from the “real world” (the Seers) have upset their virtual world called Terra Tectus. From the makers of Ghosts of a Chance, the Smithsonian’s new game Pheon will debut this month with a live event at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, in Washington, DC, on September 18, from 12pm to 6pm. In addition to creative activities, the live event will feature clues somehow encoded into a belly-dancing performance.

A modified version of Capture the Flag, Pheon will divide participants into one of the two factions, and an online questionnaire will determine if you are a Stave or a Knave. Individual players and teams will complete various missions and tasks related to the museum’s art collections to earn points and advance the game’s plot. Players will go through three levels of play (Neophyte, Acolyte, and Lamplight Council) before they reach the final stage and are able to “write” missions to challenge lower-level players. Gameplay will be enhanced by character interactions, with the ultimate goal of capturing the Pheon, a virtual talisman that will restore balance to Terra Tectus.

Like the Smithsonian’s previous alternate reality game, Ghosts of a Chance, Pheon was designed by John Maccabee of the San Francisco-based ARG development company CityMystery and Sean Mahan, creator of the “collaborative production game” SF0. But, according to Interpretive Programs Manager at the Luce Foundation Center, Georgina Bath Goodlander, in terms of “stories, background, and overall gameplay . . . the two games are very different.”

Even though Pheon will highlight the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s collections, it will be playable around the world. In Goodlander’s words, “The game is mission-based, with missions designed around our collections, but what you need to do in order to fulfill most missions should be possible from any location. We’re hopeful that the game will not be localized to DC and we would love for it to branch out beyond America, too. We want people to experience our collections through the game from wherever they live, and especially if they are not able to visit us in person.”

After the DC launch event, the game will be available to play, primarily through Facebook and Twitter, for one year. For a more local experience, an in-museum version of Pheon will be available by appointment after November 1, and like Ghosts of a Chance, the localized version will feature a multimedia scavenger hunt incorporating text messaging and other tasks related to the museum’s exhibitions.

UPDATED TO ADD: While the site containing Pheon‘s challenges is no longer available, archived photos from the event are available on the game’s Flickr account.


  1. modelmotion


  2. Jane Doh

    OH, so that’s how the bellydance code will work. Thanks, Nina. 😀

  3. karry

    I live in montana…hope there is a way to participate.