Peace Through Understanding by Digital Design

The 1964-1965 World’s Fair was the largest and most expensive fair ever conceived and created, but only days after the last fairgoer passed through the turnstile to leave most of the many structures that brought joy to so many people were destroyed to leave a vast open space that is still relatively empty. Due to the mass annihilation of the fairgrounds, there is a sense of longing that remains and the proposed project is meant to help fill that void.

Once something is destroyed it is difficult to then piece it together in a meaningful manner, but with the assistance of computational technology and the internet new approaches can be disseminated for a larger audience to experience, enjoy and gain a better understanding. This significant event of the City’s history deserves current interpretation and through a text-based game, a new audience can learn about the 1964-1965 World’s Fair and the age it was created in as well as allow an older generation to delve into the digital realm.

Michelle A. McSweeney, CUNY, The Graduate Center (advisor)

Matthew K. Gold, CUNY, The Graduate Center (advisor)

Lisa Rhody, CUNY, The Graduate Center (consultant)

Kimon Keramidas, NYU (consultant)

CUNY, The Graduate Center Digital Fellows (support)

Queens Museum Staff (support)

Flushing Meadows-Corona Park was the location of not only the 1964-1965 World’s Fair but the 1939-1940 World’s Fair, as well. However, for those who venture into the Park today may find it as barren as when the land was used as a dump for ash and garbage before the Fairs were even conceived. But relics remain from the two Fairs in various locations around the Park. Some are easy to identify such as the New York State Pavilion as referenced in the movie Men in Black and can be seen from miles away, while some are as small as plaques and not as noticeable or easy to find.

There is currently work underway to renovate the New York State Pavilion and the Pool of Reflections, which is a sign of the significance of the structures to the local community and the city at large. But what is next for the Park? Will Robert Moses’ dream of making the Park more popular than Central Park ever come true? Only time will tell.

The proposed project is an attempt to recreate the 1964-1965 World’s Fair for a new audience as well as to rekindle memories of the Fair for those who visited over 50 years ago. The project will utilize code to create a modern approach to historical experience with text-based gameplay. The steps to create the program, along with the code and resources to create it, will be made accessible online.

The platform will be free and open to the public to explore, play and learn. The player will be asked to choose from one of four avatars to utilize while they traverse through the 1964-1965 World’s Fair experience. The avatars will be a representation of individuals from archival footage and materials distributed by the Fair, which could possibly be a kid from the neighborhood who sneaked in through the fence to avoid the $1 fee, a young international couple, a family of four or five from the Midwest, and grandparents with their two grandchildren from Manhattan. The avatars will begin with different monetary values and with the time at 12:00 PM. As the avatar is navigated through the platform the money amount and the time diminishes. The game ends when the avatar is out of money or the time reaches 6:00 PM. The individual in control of the avatar will learn aspects of the Fair’s many pavilions, their exhibits, events that took place at the Fair and around that time, and other relevant information about the pavilion if it still exists within the Park or elsewhere after the Fair.

The game will be hosted on either a public URL or through the Queens Museum website. The Queens Museum is significant for this project due to the building’s history within the Park and as an established art museum and educational center. The structure was first built for the 1939-1940 World’s Fair as the New York City Pavilion, after the Fair, the building was temporarily used as the home of United Nations General Assembly from 1946-1950, before renovated for the 1964-1965 World’s Fair to be the New York City Pavilion, again. The building has been used as a museum since 1972.

The text-based game will be created with a combination of software platforms and procedures. Important dimensions of the game are the time and money aspect. The time could possibly run twice as fast or faster, so the gameplay is at a reasonable length – 30 to 45 minutes. The financial aspect will be different for each avatar and will only be a few dollars. Most of the pavilions were free to access during the Fair. Another aspect that may be out of the scope of the project is an ‘experience’ outcome or a simple point structure. This, again, maybe out of the scope of the project, but would be an important aspect due to the creation of a leaderboard among friends, family, coworkers or classmates.

There are a few websites dedicated to the 1964-1965 World’s Fair, but there is not a gamification aspect of it. The sites are useful resources, but they do not demand the user’s participation to read through the sites many pages of content that a text-based game would entail. Text-based games have been created and played since shortly after the advent of the computer and they continue to be enjoyed to this day. A few of the possible software and tools to be utilized are Twine, Visual Studio Code, GitHub, Python, JavaScript, and HTML.

The project will consist of three main phases: research, prototype design, and development.

The team will conduct research on important aspects of the Fair they wish to include in the game as well as technical and pedagogical approaches to text-based games already in use. In regards to the research component of the Fair, there are several valuable resources available to students within the City. The most important records of the Fair are the New York World’s Fair 1964-1965 Corporation records at the NYPL. The collection consists of 1523 boxes of materials dated from before and after the Fair, with the bulk from 1963-1965. The collection is broken down in a description and a container list that can be found at the following URL: In addition to the collection at the Manuscripts and Archive Division, The Lionel Pincus and Princess Firyal Map Division have a small collection of maps of the Fair. One map that is of significance to the creation of the game is its Shell map. It informs of the average time the pavilions took to visit their exhibits and the average time it took to go from anywhere throughout the Fair. Newspaper and magazine articles written during the Fair’s two seasons will also be of importance. Other sources available to students are the numerous journals and books available on JSTOR, such as “The End of Innocence: The 1964-1965 New York World’s Fair” by Lawrence R. Samuel. Also, a physical book at the Mina Rees Library that has been a valuable resource is “The 1964-1965 New York World’s Fair” by Bill Cotter and Bill Young. Another valuable source by Bill Young is the website he created of the Fair. The URL is

The design phase will include the implementation and organization of the storyline. The player will utilize an avatar to pass through various pavilions at the Fair. Due to the differences in avatars, gameplay will be unique for each of them. Important dimensions of the game are the time and money aspect. Additionally, some avatars will go through the game at a faster or slower length of time than others. Also, the avatars will have different monetary values established to them at the start of the game. Lastly, although this may be out of the scope of the project, to have a reward system in place to award the player at the end of the game. This addition to the project would allow for a leaderboard among friends, family, coworkers or classmates who play together or against one another. The points could be derived from each of the pavilions the avatar visits.

The development of the game will entail code and weaving the stories together in a meaningful and concise manner that would be logically accurate to the site and time of the Fair. The software program Twine could be very helpful in this regard.

Outreach & Administration – create and maintain an online presence for the project and upkeep documentation online through GitHub or some other public repository of the steps, code, and resources.

Storyboard & Logo – create and maintain continuity of the story throughout the process and the creator of the logo.

Research & Design – maintain the historical accuracy of the Fair and work with storyboarder to work out aspects of the game to be coded.

Code & Distribution – create the code to run the game and ensure public accessibility after its creation.

3 thoughts on “Peace Through Understanding by Digital Design

  1. Travis Bartley

    While I love the idea of providing different avatars to explore the fair from various economic vantage points, I’m curious about the possible design issue involved with their implementation without an overarching incentive. Since the game is intended to provide an interactive overview of the fair, there would be a preference for choosing the avatar with more money to experience all the aspects of the fair. When you mention unique gameplay, are you intending to use the different paces as a means to balance this out across characters (i.e. poorer characters have quicker, superficial experiences while richer characters have slower, more in-depth ones)? Or do you intend to simply have a different narrative for each character?

  2. Emily Maanum

    I think this is a very cool and interesting project! I love the idea of gamifying a historical site to help others to explore and learn more about it. Going off of Travis’ comments it might be interesting to have the avatar randomly assigned to the user and later after going through the game the user can choose to use the other avatars not initially chosen to see how they would experience the fair.

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