The Wizards of Trinity Bellwoods Games a Favourite Hangout
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The Wizards of Trinity Bellwoods Games a Favourite Hangout

A new mobile video game invites players to explore the popular park's ecosystem through a whole new lens.

Walking through Chris de Castro’s video game, The Wizards of Trinity Bellwoods, a person might just get a different sense of the familiar west-end park and summertime meeting spot. In the game, players take on the role of the park’s omnipresent can collectors, renamed “wizards” for their magical ability to make empty beer receptacles “disappear.” As one of the wizards, players explore the park, follow park revellers who the game playfully refers to as “hipsters” to collect their empties, trade in the cans and earn money toward items for their homes. de Castro sees the game as an anthropological study; even the game’s rules reflect the social hierarchies of the real-world park.

“As a wizard, you can’t actually touch the hipsters,” says de Castro. “Because if any of the can collectors actually got too aggressive with any of the hipsters … that’s socially not allowed.”

De Castro, an animator who moved from Ottawa to Toronto in the early aughts, has watched TrinBel become the cultural hub it is today, and that includes the day-drinking hordes mirrored in the game. As the game progresses, the park and surrounding area follow the real-life boom that brought the park to its current brimming capacity.

“When the wizards started showing up in the park over the years when the park got busier and busier, they became this staple,” he says. “You notice them there but you don’t think about them.”

The game, which he created in just two years with support from the city’s vibrant indie game development community, is now receiving its finishing touches. Through a Kickstarter campaign (ending August 27), supporters are invited to become the game’s hipsters-literally.

“The goal is that everyone you meet in the park is based on a real person,” he says. De Castro explains that the aim is to draw attention to the park’s dynamics rather than to cast judgement on any of its visitors (“hipsters,” he clarifies, refers to really anyone who hangs around in the park and is young). Over time he’ll add the slack liners and drum circles, the dog bowl denizens, the baseball teams and events like the Antique Bike Show and Portuguese festival. Friends of Trinity Bellwoods-sponsored trees may eventually appear, too. Even the game’s cans are modelled on those of local breweries like Mill Street and Steam Whistle, plus the obligatory PBR.

But who are the real wizards? It was through Mandarin-speaking friends that de Castro began to get their backstories.

“One of them who’d come regularly brought his family to the park while he was collecting cans. He put his daughter through school [with the money he made],” says de Castro, whose own family immigrated to Canada from the Philippines before he was born. Both of his parents worked long hours (his mother worked 16-hour days) and he was often left alone with his grandmother. Knowing how hard his own family worked allowed de Castro to envision the wizards’ home lives.

“I feel like I know this story, and it’s the same kind of story I grew up in,” he says. “I’m well aware that by being second-generation Asian, I do have privy to tell this story. My parents immigrated here, my grandmother was an immigrant. This is part of a story I think I can tell.”

De Castro says he hasn’t received much backlash or accusations of cultural appropriation around the game’s depiction of wizards and hipsters.

“I was handing out stickers to some people in the park and they were like, ‘oh, you’re Asian… I thought it was cultural appropriation, or kinda racist.’ I could see that,” he says. (Anticipating that discussion thread, one of de Castro’s first posts in a blog about the game addresses the appropriation question.)

Though de Castro has spent much of the last ten years working in film, he thought the game format would be most effective for telling the park’s story. Instead of a documentary following someone’s life, the game medium allows players to explore for themselves.

De Castro says there’s no mandate or message to his exploration of TrinBel as “its own little sandbox.” Rather, he insists that it’s more of a model of the details of an urban park.

“It isn’t this controlled or crafted and curated thing,” de Castro says, noting that the game doesn’t have a simple “win the game” narrative like other video games, nor does it involve a film-like story arc.

“It’s this organism where everyone who needs to be in a park, who wants to use that space, is welcome to it,” he says. “Then everybody just negotiates. When you’re in the park, how do you act properly? Like, ‘don’t mess with the wizards, because they’re awesome and they’re doing good stuff. Don’t be a jerk, so we can all keep having a good time here.’”

As for the user experience, de Castro received encouragement at the Toronto Comic Arts Festival in May when after some kids tried the game at his demo booth.

“Their parents would come over, I’d explain it to them and they perk up: ‘I go to the park. I bring my kids there. I used to drink in the park as well. I know who you’re talking about.’ I realized I was doing something right.”

Designed principally for mobile devices, The Wizards of Trinity Bellwoods will be available through Apple and Google’s app stores once it’s released.

“I hope everybody has the opportunity to be part of it,” he says. “I love all the people in the city and I know all the crazy, interesting, diverse people and I want to show that off. I want to show off Toronto.”