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Virtual mysteries await Richmond sleuths

By Hannah Scott, Local Journalism Initiative reporter

Published 3:51 PDT, Tue July 28, 2020

Last Updated: 10:52 PDT, Thu July 30, 2020

A robbery in the fishing industry has just taken place, and sleuths are scurrying to resolve the conundrum.

In the “Steveston Maritime Mystery,” one of three games centred on Richmond and created by Alberta-based Mystery Towns, players must solve 20 clues to discover who stole the nets from Fisherman’s Wharf.

Mystery Towns has also created virtual scavenger hunts in downtown Richmond and at McArthurGlen Designer Outlet. It has been developing similar adventures throughout BC and Alberta over the last three years. 

“We always look for places that people can interact with,” says Mystery Towns founder and director Andrew Nickerson. “We always say whether you’ve lived in town 20 years or 20 minutes, we’re going to find you something you’ve never seen before.”

When developing new games, Mystery Towns collaborates with local partners to learn what areas they want to showcase. In the case of the Richmond games, they worked with Tourism Richmond to choose locations, as well as collaborating with local businesses.

“We never do anything remotely—we go and find everything ourselves,” says Nickerson. “So in this particular instance we spent a week on the ground in Richmond.”

Over the course of the week, around 1,000 photographs are taken for each game. Development teams walk around to find unique details, then develop a route with specific clues.

The COVID-19 pandemic threw a wrench into the games planned for Richmond. The Steveston adventure had just been launched, and the other two were set to launch in early spring.

So Nickerson and his team pivoted, changing elements of the games to make sure they could be played while maintaining physical distancing guidelines. Then they re-launched the games, which he says have been popular even during the pandemic. 

Players do not need to enter any buildings in order to play the modified games, which focus instead on building exteriors. Hints are available if you’re stuck—but these cost time penalties, which are added to your final score. Teams compete for the fastest completion time through the Mystery Towns app.

Scavenger hunts provide a fun way to interact with local communities and history, while being outside and staying physically distanced. Nickerson says he’s also seen an increase in the number of families playing.

“We hope to really take advantage of that,” he says. “We are a really good, fun, family-friendly activity.”

A charged smartphone is required to play the game (iPhone 5s or newer; Android 4.4 or later). Data or WiFi is required to download the app and activate your game, but not for the rest of the scavenger hunt.

For more information, or to purchase a team game pass (one to four players recommended, $39 plus tax), click here.

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