By | on March 3, 2015

Dr. Frank Lee, associate professor at Drexel University’s Westphal College of Media Arts & Design and former Geek of the Year, has some big ideas for the city.

Lee, who set world records by playing Pong and Tetris on the Cira Centre, now wants to create a city-wide video game inspired by H.G. Wells’s scifi classic, “War of the Worlds.”

He developed the idea along with Adrienne Mackey, an adjunct Drexel professor and director of Swim Pony Performing Arts. Together they developed a proposal to submit to the Bloomberg Philanthropies Public Art Challenge, a national initiative to support innovative public art projects.

Winning ideas from three cities will receive $1 million to bring the project to life — and Philly isofficially in the running.

The idea for an interactive, tech-enabled game has been building up for some time, inspired in part by the enormous screens installed in the lobby of the Comcast Center, Lee recently toldGeekadelphia.

“Looking at that screen, I began envisioning [a display] showing a big satellite image of Philadelphia.” From there, he conceptualized a game based around a swift and dangerous alien invasion, with a call-to-action for local residents to join forces and defend our city. For example: a distress call is broadcast via Twitter and text message, and those in or near Rittenhouse Square jump to defend the area from imminent invaders. Game play will take place around local landmarks and hotspot neighborhoods, and only a unified force can beat the enemy.

Part large-scale video game and part live theater, it’s a way for residents to interact with the city in a whole new way, Lee says.

While Pong and Tetris are both interactive, “the interactivity was limited to two people at a time. So in the end only small number of people interacted with the games,” Lee says. This new idea, is designed for very large groups of people — potentially thousands, or tens of thousands at a time.

“My artistic vision is to transform cities and cityscapes into something so radically different such that people will not only interact with and see their city, their streets, their buildings in a new way, but interact with and see each other in a new way… I think not only will this be a celebration for Philadelphians, but it will draw people, tourists and fans to experience something new and unique for the very first time.”

In December, “War of the Worlds: Philadelphia” was selected as Philadelphia’s official submission to the Bloomberg challenge out of 65 other ideas. The challenge moves on to the finalist stage this month, and final grantees will be announced in early May.

“If we do get to move forward with this project, I hope to show the world that Philadelphia is at the center of a revolution of mashing up art and technology,” Lee says. “And it is the geekiest and the most creative city in the world.”

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