I love the iPad game The Room. I wish it had a little more of a story though.

So I'm building my own analogue, story-based adventure: A one-off physical, mechatronic box. Puzzle pieces will open drawers that reveal documents (and other electronic surprises) that weave together a time-travel story in which the players have the opportunity to change the outcome of the protagonist’s life.

‘Victor Penny’s Box’ is loosely based on the true (though little known) story of a local amateur inventor who spent five months in the 1930’s under Army guard, isolated on a small, otherwise deserted island in Wellington’s harbour (somewhat like Alcatraz). Rumour has it he was developing a death ray, but nobody knows for sure. Soldiers with bayonets were instructed that any intruders on the island were to be shot on sight.

Victor Penny was transported to the island by the police in a dramatic dead-of-night dash, after a mysterious assault (possibly an attempt to steal his papers) left him hospitalised. (I have my own theory about what really happened.)

My box is going to have moving parts, and a surprising reveal of a time machine!

So far it’s taken a ridiculous amount of thought and planning. And there’s more to go. There is no earthly logical reason for me to have made this; it’s just something I felt impelled to do. It’s kind of an unprecedented, weird thing, so there’s also no obvious venue for the experience.

It’s designed to be played with a group of friends, over a drink and casual conversation. The same kind of context as a board game. I’m hoping it finds its way to arts festivals and possibly a residency in a charming cocktail bar somewhere. It’d be perfect as the centrepiece for a special dinner, too.

The box is going to have about 20 drawers and will be packed with sensors. I’ve written the story; i.e. the documents that will be discovered (in a particular order) and the technical surprises. Now it just needs to be built – and I'm bracing for the uncomfortable encounter between vision and actual physical reality!

AuthorLeonie Reynolds