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Live-Action Gaming Experience Takes Players All Over the Loop

By DNAinfo Staff on December 8, 2012 8:35am  | Updated on December 9, 2012 8:03am

DOWNTOWN — Rooms filled with hidden clues and instructions. Alliances with strangers. "Shootouts" in a crowded State Street Macy’s.

No, this isn’t real espionage, but a sprawling live-action adventure called "Spy Game," created by 28-year-old Andy Patton, founder of Chicago tour company Waxwing Puzzle Co.

Waxwing games resemble murder mysteries and scavenger hunts that often require teamwork and strategizing to win. It’s the surprising twists Patton introduces throughout the games, including new rules and location changes, that make them unique.

“I want to make games that bring people into a story and put them into these weird ethical situations where they have to make real choices,” Patton said.

Players can also customize events, and Patton has hosted some unusual birthdays, including a 10-year-old’s spy-themed party that took kids dashing through the Loop while they pretended to be secret agents. The party, one of Patton’s favorites, ended with a climatic water pistol battle overlooking the city at the top of the Willis Tower. He’s also customized games for bachelor parties and corporate events.

Patton said he was working out the kinks and adding new roles to “Spy Game,” his newest creation. Without giving too much away, a group of players meet in a designated spot marked by an object, such as a candlestick, then follow cryptic directions and uncover clues. They form teams and eventually take aim at rival players with water and laser guns to win. A September game, for example, had players squaring off against each other in the Macy's on State Street.

Though Patton said sometimes the public games had attracted the eyes of security guards, he hadn't had any major problems. "We tell them it’s a scavenger hunt, and they kind of smile and walk away," he said. 

His first game debuted in January after Patton moved to Chicago from Columbia, Mo. Patton began with “Labyrinth,” which takes players beneath the Loop in the expansive Chicago Pedway. He also hosts a murder mystery game called "Speakeasy," in which customers inhabit secret identities, such as an FBI agent or Al Capone himself. They then have to con and scheme their way into figuring out other players' identities without revealing their own.

Patton came up with Waxwing after playing a scavenger hunt on vacation in Portland, Ore. He has the help of just one full-time staff member and eight others who occasionally play roles.

Secrecy is a major part of what makes Waxwing fly, and customers usually have little idea of what they’re getting into. Players can spend half the game just figuring out the rules.

Waxwing has no office or an official space to play. Patton gets creative by renting rooms in bars and making use of public spaces.

After helping Patton host a game at his Bang Bang Pie Shop in Logan Square, 27-year-old co-owner David Miller said it offered an antidote to the typical weekend night out.

“It’s interactive and something people can do with friends rather than sit in a movie,” Miller said.

One “Spy Game” player said Waxwing appealed to his sense of nostalgia. Bob Rose, of University Village, said he and his wife came across the company online while trying to find the types of interactive games they recall playing in a time before smartphones, Xboxes and social media.

“We used to really enjoy that kind of fun,” Rose said.

The games ask players to work together to win, and Patton said it was not unusual for customers to  get drinks after meeting at one of his excursions.

“This is how I designed [the games] to function, to connect people with their community geographically and connect people with their community personally,” Patton said.

He said he has big plans for Waxwing’s one-year anniversary in January and eventually wants to take players all over the city. But true to form, Patton is staying mum on the details.