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Go with the flow at Aquanesia

October 5, 2018

This weekend, stay “current” on water issues - unless you get too “tide.”

On Saturday and Sunday, several organizations team up to present Aquanesia, an interactive, educational game set on and in Rochester’s parks and trails.

Set 100 years in the future, Aquanesia tasks teams of two to five with cleaning out local lakes and rivers. But as the players move around the city, they’ll also get clues about a form of amnesia that makes people lose their memories of the past century.

Watersheds may not be the the most thrilling topic to base a game around. But recreation – “not a series of didactics” – is the way to get people to care about natural water systems, Steve Dietz, the co-director of Northern Lights MN, said.

Water runs off of lawns and landscapes, drains into waterways, and eventually makes its ways to wetlands, lakes, or oceans, picking up pollutants and organisms along the way. Similarly, Northern Lights, the Rochester Art Center, and the Zumbro Watershed Partnership hope that as players bike along Rochester’s trails, ideas about water conservation and cleanliness will trickle in.

“As you’re getting each of the clues, you’re almost subliminally learning about these principles,” Dietz said.

Players will bike around Rochester’s parks and trails, and meet characters who’ll lead them through activities that have something to do with water education.

They’ll clean up invasive algae so a Water Taxi driver is free to row again and help a carp hunter who’ll teach the “city slickers” about threats to native fish species.

So how did something like this come about?

In 2014, a trial play of a watershed game called “Ruination” debuted in Minneapolis, Dietz said. Set 300 years in the future, it envisioned the Twin Cities as a dust-strewn wasteland. The sets were designed for one location, and it would have been difficult to move the game anywhere else.

Four years and one Minnesota State Arts Board grant later, the polished, tightened version is ready to go anywhere with a watershed nearby.

Last weekend, it visited Grand Rapids (pictured), Dietz said.

Aquanesia is estimated to take two to three hours to play and stretches over about a seven-mile course.

But the very best part may be at the end.

Sheila Dickinson, the interim curator of art and public programs for the RAC, said that once players have amassed all of their clues, they’ll access a “secret space” called the Source.

“That’s the gem,” she said. “It’s an artists’ environment in the center.”

It won’t be a secret after this weekend, though.

The art exhibit will stay on the third floor of the RAC for about a month after Aquanesia packs up and moves on.

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