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Experiencing the history of the St. Croix River by video game

A scene from Tombeaux shows a piece of what players will experience in this interactive historical game created by Dave Beck of UW - Stout. The game will premier at The Phipps as part of the Heart of the River exhibit. Submitted photo 1 / 2
Dave Beck UW-Stout photo by Brett Roseman2 / 2

The history of the St. Croix River is at the hands of players in a new interactive video game experience named "Tombeaux", unveiling at The Phipps as part of the Heart of the River exhibition.

Created by UW-Stout Professor and School of Art and Design Director Dave Beck, the interactive experience will be unveiled Friday, Sept. 14 as part of the Heart of the River exhibit at The Phipps.

The game encompasses 300 years of history, as well as looking into the future of the river. Though it is played on a device like a video game, Beck said it doesn't have the same goals associated with most games. Players will walk through the different eras of the river's history, taking in what they see in the 30-45 minutes of play time.

"My hope is they will forget they are playing a game, but instead experiencing an interactive, historical movie of sorts," Beck said.

Beck has always had a strong passion for history, as well as the environment and preservation. He chose to use his skills as an artist and creator to focus on those interests, and draw attention to important issues.

Tombeaux was created after Beck spent a month living on the St. Croix River in an artist residency with the St. Croix Watershed Research System.

"The heart of it was inspired by the river," Beck said.

Beck spent his time during the residency at the cabin of James Taylor Dunn, the author of a book that first inspired him to learn more about the river.

"It almost felt too good to be true," Beck said. "It all was just too perfect to be true and I thought I really need to take hold of this and continue that vision."

The project took four years to create.

Now the game celebrating the St. Croix River will be premiering in a spot that overlooks it.

"It's so perfect to be at The Phipps," Beck said.

Beck connected with Phipps Visual Arts Director Anastasia Shartin years ago about the project, and the two felt this interactive experience would fit well with the exhibition highlighting the 50th anniversary of the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway, which provides federal protection of more than 250 miles of the St. Croix River.

During the exhibition the game will be playable, and a few artifacts will also be on display.

Beck said he wants the game to be an educational tool for those who may not know much about the St. Croix River, as well as those in the area to better understand the river.

"I hope that for some it's an eye-opening experience about what the river once was, as well as what the river could be someday," he said.

Though Tombeaux is set around the St. Croix River, Beck said the issues that it focuses on are ones that can be found on rivers throughout the country.

"This could be Any River, USA," Beck said.

The game will be available for download after the exhibition. A fee for the game will be donated to the St. Croix Watershed Research Station.

Rebecca Mariscal

Rebecca Mariscal joined the Hudson Star Observer as a reporter in 2016. She graduated from the University of St. Thomas with a degree in communication and journalism. 

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