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Game On: Hundreds Spend the Night at the Library to Play Futurist Game

Hundreds of gamers are getting ready to spend the night in the stacks of the main branch of the New York Public Library on Friday. Although she said she didn't know what the game would be like, 19-year-old Sarah Sklaw said she didn't plan to nod off.

"A treasure hunt with writing involved. That's what I know. By the end, we're supposed to have written a book!" said Sklaw, a Tulane University student from Brooklyn. "I love the library. I'm convinced there are, like, Indiana Jones-esque tunnels built underneath it."

Sklaw and 499 others between the ages of 18 and 35 were selected from a group of over 5,000 applicants to play the library's "Find the Future" game from 8 P.M. on Friday to 6 A.M. on Saturday. The game/scavenger hunt is part of the library's celebration of the centennial of the Stephen A. Schwarzman building.

During the first part of Friday night's game, players equipped with laptops and smartphones will roam the library's 70 miles of stacks for clues.

"Your phone will give you clues to where the treasures are located in the library," said Jane McGonigal, 33, who the library recruited to design the game. "And then, you'll follow these clues, and then come face-to-face with these really historic and inspiring objects."

McGonigal, who is the author of "Reality is Broken" and an alumna of Fordham College at Lincoln Center, said that her team worked with library curators for six months to identify 100 objects, or treasures — like the Declaration of Independence and the stuffed animals that inspired A.A. Milne to write his Winnie the Pooh series — that would be part of the "Find the Future" game.

Once players use clues to find an object, they must write about the treasures. For the Declaration of Independence quest, for example, "Your writing quest is actually to make your own declaration: 'What do you feel passionately about — that you think there should be a declaration made to share with the world and inspire others?'," said McGonigal. "And you have to get 37 people to sign your declaration, just like Thomas Jefferson did."

Jane McGonigal (right) instructs her gaming crew on how to write 500 postcards from the future.

By the end of the game, the hope is that gamers will complete all 100 quests. At the end of the game, the quests will become a book that will be added to the library's general research collection.

"The book that you write is 100 ways that you've been inspired by the treasures of library," McGonigal (pictured at right) said. "To think big ideas and create bold futures."

She said her team chose 500 of the most creative, aspirational, interesting contestants from answers they wrote, in 140 characters or less, to the question: "How do you want to make history and change the world?"

One of the winning contestants, Jen Bokoff, 24, who is a board game enthusiast, wrote she would ride a printed airbike around the world and blog about it.

Bokoff said she was expecting the unexpected during the game.

"We haven't been told much at all, other than to not bring too much, that they'll have food and coffee there all night," she said. "And that maybe we need a flashlight."

Another winner, Katie Lynn Klaus, 28, answered the question this way: "By 2021 I want to be the first person a new adhesive made of peanut butter and Velcro that is both hypoallergenic and fire proof."

Cody Walton, 32, will also be playing on Friday night. Although "Find the Future" will be his first major in-person game, Walton said he thought he could handle it.

"I've enjoyed games my whole life, ever since my dad bought our family a Vectrex game system in 1983," he said. "I started playing games then and never stopped. For most of my life these came in the form of electronic and video games — Nintendo, Sega, Sony, etc. But in the last few years, thanks to events like PAX and PAX East, I've acquired an appreciation of tabletop games and traditional RPGs (role-playing games). It's not such a big jump to go from playing D&D (Dungeons & Dragons) with five friends to 'Find The Future' with 500 people."

Another winning contestant, Allison Meier, 26, said she had never played an alternate reality game, but she looked forward to it and liked that the New York Public Library had organized it. 

One of the postcards going to one of the 500 gamers participating on Friday night.

"To bring in new mobile technology — but you're still preserving this traditional book — is really cool," said Meier.

McGonigal said E.L. Konigsburg's book "From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler" about a brother and sister who end up spending the night at the Metropolitan Museum of Art was one of her inspirations for "Find the Future."

Kiyash Monsef created the game, and it was designed and developed by Playmatics and Natron Baxter Applied Gaming.

Before the game, the team was frantically filling out 500 postcards (like the one pictured above), which contestants can hope to get on Friday.

Contestants not chosen to sleep over at the library on Friday night can play the game online or on a smartphone beginning on Saturday, May 21.