During the twilight years of the 19th century, a collective of Massachusetts residents organized a series of tea parties dedicated to the appreciation and conservation of the region’s local wildlife. These parties eventually led to the foundation of the Audubon Society. Around the same time, a more magically inclined group of researchers and preservationists founded the American Society for the Protection of Magical Creatures, as a cryptozoological counterpart to the Audubon Society.
In October 2018, Green Door Labs and Stark Participation Design invited players to join in the creation of the ASPMC through the gaslight fantasy immersive production Save the Munbax at the Eustis Estate, an historic mansion where early members of the Audubon Society met. Over the course of an evening, visitors to the estate traveled back to the 1890s and worked together to help save the Northern Crested Dimmoth Munbax from extinction. This is a familiar playground for Green Door Labs, known for Club Drosselmeyer, an annual immersive performance that combines immersive theater, puzzles, and swing dance for a 1940s era period drama for a period-appropriate holiday party.
When Covid19 rendered many artists, writers, and freelancers in the entertainment sectors unemployed and under-employed, Green Door Labs resurrected the ASPMC and brought it into the 21st century to serve as a home for “original, story-based online puzzle hunts”. Under the game’s framework, the ASPMC sends players on family-friendly, modular missions that can be played independently, but also fit within a singular shared storyworld that is accessible to all. Initially funded through a Kickstarter campaign, the society’s first mission went live in late July, with two more missions slated to follow in the coming months.
Dragging a Victorian Era Magical Preservation Society into the 21st Century: Worldbuilding For All
While the Society initially blossomed into a national movement powered by tens of thousands of concerned citizens, the organization’s membership contracted to a “small, insular nonprofit” where a handful of maginaturalists and magiconservationists toiled on in relative obscurity.
While prior outreach efforts were focused on a “successful astral projection outreach” campaign, certain board members successfully lobbied for the creation of a non-magical website, as well as the beginnings of a social media presence.
The Society’s Twitter account in particular showcases the company’s growing pains at adapting to the modern era, with legacy member and social media manager Thelonius Hemenway having to deal with his Aunt Carol’s shared login credentials occasionally turning the feed into a text message chain. For instance, after giving a presentation on social media to the ASPMC, the following exchange took place.
While the ASPMC’s Twitter account documents the organization’s slow and hilarious acclimation to digital communications, the website features an ever-growing digital log of the organization’s magical archives, such as an artistically rendered case file on the mycolotl.
These case files provide basic data around the various cryptids, paired with collectible cards that succinctly summarize the findings. For instance, the mycolotl’s card highlights how the creature subsists on a diet of eggs and emotions. Individual missions focus on expanding the ASPMC’s knowledge base, and the reward for completing the first mission is unlocking a new card to summarize the mission’s discoveries.
The Mysterious Moodus Markings: Conspiracy Corkboards Make Everything Better
The first ASPMC investigation to release is the case of The Mysterious Moodus Markings, where prospective members partner with a variety of magical researchers to investigate a series of markings left in the area. Each of the magical researchers provides a a video introduction to the particular challenge they’re working through that allows players to investigate an element of the Moodus Markings in puzzle form, complemented by a follow-up video congratulating puzzlers and summarizing the findings as they proceed.
Research tasks can be completed in any order, and completing all five of the main puzzles unlocks a final meta-puzzle that draws on everything players learned, to expand the ASPMC’s base of knowledge. The puzzles themselves are accessible for entry-level puzzlers, and stay true to the narrative theming.
Drawing on the practices of narrative puzzle experiences like Curtis Chen’s Waypoint Kangaroo prequel and mail-order puzzle hunts like PostCurious’ The Emerald Flame and Traipse’s Grey Matter Sodality, every puzzle is paired with a series of hints to guide players through difficult puzzles if they get stuck, so that puzzlers can get nudges along the way.
The game’s in-page hint structure requires a bit more suspension of disbelief than alternate reality games typically ask of players, but the narrative design behind the puzzles themselves makes it all too easy to get lost within the story. This is compounded by some puzzles’ tendency to move outside the main ASPMC website into other corners of the internet in order to solve.
The true hero of The Mysterious Moodus Markings, however, is the conspiracy corkboard, which provides structure to the narrative. When players solve the introductory puzzle, they are presented with a corkboard featuring magically animated Polaroids of the various experts, along with red string tying Moodus Marking sightings to their respective locations. As each expert’s puzzle is solved, the corkboard is populated with more and more evidence collected, as a tactile representation of progress through the investigation.
The Game After the Game: Traces of Cryptozoo
After completing The Mysterious Moodus Markings, players are congratulated with a digital collectible card featuring the fruits of their research, and are provided a handful of family-friendly activities that make use of the knowledge learned along the way. This makes perfect sense within the context of the narrative, but also provides ways to extend the narrative into public spaces, to make the real world a little more magical. While it’s easy to draw comparisons to the similarly cryptid-centered Cryptozoo that encouraged players to run around doing entry-level parkour to locate cryptids, the practice used to be fairly common, ranging from Last Call Poker‘s Tombstone Hold’em to Find the Lost Ring‘s Lost Sport of Olympia. It’s refreshing to see this element of alternate reality games that used to be a staple of the genre, especially for an experience geared more towards the narrative puzzle experience.
But Wait, There’s More: New Investigations Coming Soon
The Mysterious Moodus Markings was created by Daud Alzayer, Errol Elumir, and Karyn Alzayer and is available for purchase on the ASPMC site for $30. Future investigations include the The Notebook of Dr T Mandrakeseeker by Sharang Biswas, Matthew Stein, Annie Cheng, and Emily Robertson (aiming to deliver a more challenging puzzle experience ideal for small groups) and Tracking the Urban Porter Mink by Kellian Pletcher, Matthew Briggs, and Brian Pletcher (a location-specific experience that combines a scavenger hunt with letterboxing elements in Somerville, Massachusetts). Additional investigations will be added to the ASPMC’s Investigations section as they become announced.