It's round two for Secret City, an interactive alternate-reality game at the Braddock Library. | Features | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

It's round two for Secret City, an interactive alternate-reality game at the Braddock Library.

I stood on the lip of a drained indoor pool that was riddled with cracks and stains, contemplating whether to descend the water-warped steps into its pit. The lighting was poor, the air musty. But I was convinced the solution to the riddle I'd been given could be found within a strip of text wrapping around the pool's inner wall. 

I was playing an alternate-reality game at the Carnegie Library of Braddock -- a sort of treasure hunt, except the treasure wasn't at the end. It was a story fed piece by piece, via voice-mail, every time one of its component puzzles was solved. If I wanted to learn the next part of the story, I had to descend ... 

Such were the dilemmas posed by Secret City, an interactive game whose first round attracted me and about a dozen other players last June. And now a second round of the game is scheduled for two sessions on Sun., Dec. 13.

The architect, theatrical lighting designer Allen Hahn, created it during a residency with DeepLocal, an East Liberty-based media-design firm. 

A software program called Interface allows Hahn to send the game's 17 puzzles to Secret City players via text-messaging, and to monitor their progress, so he can send hints when necessary.

Many of the puzzles involve perusing books and newspapers at the library, or recalling history and myth. (The upcoming round, Hahn says, may take players outside of the library as well.) Players text solutions back to Hahn and, if correct, receive a call containing a segment of a fictional story.   

Hahn's international credits include a world premiere at the Royal Danish Opera and a show with the New York City Opera. Since returning, he's worked for Pittsburgh Public Theatre, City Theatre and Quantum Theatre.

Secret City is part of Hahn's search for "Theater 2.0." 

"I'm interested in taking a story, engineering it into a space, and determining how to enhance the story with design," he says. 

Hahn hasn't done much to physically alter the library. "I wanted to tap into what was already [there]," he says. "I want to think creatively about the meaning of places -- in what we already have."

Inspired by Braddock's history, Hahn wrote a narrative about the artistic pursuits of a Braddock steel-mill worker's daughter.

"The library is in the geographical center of Braddock, so it was very easy to imagine it as a repository of community identity," he says.

Hahn, a Carnegie Mellon graduate, moved back to Pittsburgh from New York about a year ago. 

 "I had a kid and an insane job and I couldn't form a relationship with this city," he says. 

But once he discovered the library, he says, "I was blown away by it and all that it could be."

The oldest of the Carnegie branches, the Braddock library -- which just marked its 120th anniversary -- feels much more cavernous than its exterior suggests. Secret City sends players through much of its seemingly forgotten majesty, including a dust-covered music hall and eerily unfinished attic.       

"[Secret City] is primarily about the relationship between stories and spaces," says Hahn. "I've always been tuned into the space I'm occupying and the life within that space."          


Secret City. 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Sun., Dec. 13. Carnegie Library of Braddock, 419 Library St., Braddock. Free. Register at

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