from St. Louis Public Radio
Crowdfunding and an alternate reality game provide a modern boost for ancient mounds
By MARY DELACH LEONARD
Monks Mound, the largest prehistoric earthen construction in [the Americas]
PHOTO COURTESY CAHOKIA MOUNDS STATE HISTORIC SITE
After word spread that the cash-strapped Cahokia Mounds Museum Society was crowdfunding to raise $7,500 to print brochures for the storied Illinois landmark — the largest prehistoric Indian site north of Mexico — donations poured in from down the road, around the globe and from a mysterious alternate reality.
More than 500 people pledged upward of $8,500 to the campaign on gofundme.com after St. Louis Public Radio’s storyon Feb. 23 made the rounds on social media. Many of the donors are players of Endgame, an alternate reality game created by Google’s Niantic Labs, which adopted the cause because Cahokia Mounds is one of the ancient societies included in the game’s lore.
Lori Belknap, the society’s executive director, said she was surprised and grateful when the Endgame players began driving the contributions upward. They used the hashtag #AncSoc to designate their connection to Ancient Societies, an Endgame website.
Belknap said the campaign touched a nerve.
“It says to me that a lot of people are passionate about our site and are appalled at what’s happening with funding — and how we’re affected by the state’s politics and budget concerns,’’ she said.
Unlikely allies from an alternate reality
The crowdfunding effort by the Cahokia Mounds Museum Society was slow-going until the Endgame players jumped in. The gofundme.com page, which was posted nearly a month ago, had about $550 in contributions when St. Louis Public Radio highlighted the need behind the campaign.
Brian Rose, community manager at Niantic Labs, says a player alerted Endgame to the story after it triggered a Google alert on Cahokia Mounds. Endgame issued a “call to action,” offering to match contributions of $5 or more marked with the #AncSoc hashtag, until the goal was reached. The players were also added to a beta list for a mobile game app that will launch soon.
Rose noted that some of the players live in the St. Louis area, but most of the contributors live across the United States, and some are from Europe and Australia.
“It was really great to see how quickly people leapt to action on this,’’ he said. “Players wanted to contribute because that’s sort of what the game is all about — rediscovering and supporting these ancient societies.”
Niantic matched about $2,100 in donations, and author James Frey, who wrote the Endgame trilogy on which the game is based, donated $1,000.
Rose said the challenge fit with the mission statement for Niantic Labs — “adventures on foot with others” — which seeks to build real-life experiences into its games.
“We were looking at how people were playing video games and it’s somewhat of a solitary hobby. Usually, people were sitting behind TVs or computer monitors,’’ he said. “We wanted to give people some encouragement or incentive — some reward to explore neighborhoods around them and to travel more and to rediscover their neighborhoods and find the hidden gems in their towns.”
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