Precinct 11/2011

Razorhurst rebooted

A cutting-edge game is drawing in a new audience
Jessica Warriner reports

Dodging gangsters, collecting sly-grog and nursing battle wounds - it was all part of a normal day for the razor gangs of Darlinghurst.

From the 1920s to the 1940s Darlinghurst was notorious for gang-wars and razor attacks, ruled over by vice-queens Kate Leigh and Tilly Devine. Gangs and their leaders walked the same streets we walk today - and it's now possible for gamers and history lovers (along with Underbelly fans) to step back in time using a GPS game called Razorhurst.

"Razorhurst - the name itself... is a virtual world," said Richard Fox, creator of the game. "It's a word that was used back in the 20s and 30s, and it refers to this place and has a dark, forboding feel about it."

Mr Fox's game involves Kate Leigh assigning players a mission to collect sly grog, after her own stash is destroyed. When players reach certain locations in Darlinghurst with their GPS device, new scenes are triggered.

"Within the GPS game, there are locations that you go to collect sly grog, and encounters you have on the way there. You can be attacked by gangsters who you can physically run away from, or you can stand there in the same location and use the 'fight' button on the device to fight them. However you may lose some of your virtual health and if that happens you can go to St. Vincent's Hospital to recover, which ties the game world with the real world," Mr Fox explained.

The idea for the Razorhurst game came from Mr Fox's own surroundings. He lives in Surry Hillls and was interested in the history of the area. While working on other visual projects he began to imagine the world of Leigh and Devine.

"A lot of the buildings are still around and at night you can imagine those stories happening." Mr Fox said.

The game began in 2007, and evolved from a mobile treasure hunt to a fully interactive GPS adventure by 2008. Mr Fox spoke at forums on locative media (digital media triggered by a location on a GPS), and worked with other organisations to develop the game further. Scenes with actors were added, along with extra narration.

Mr Fox based the game partly on Larry Writer's book, Razor. He also credits exhibitions at the Justice and Police Museum with uncovering photographs that added a new visual element to the game.

Mr Fox said Razorhurst has attracted varied audiences, all looking for a different experience.

"We've had younger people who were more interested in games, competing against each other to get the highest score, and there are other people who were around at that time, or knew people who people who were around at that time, and they're interested in the actual stories."

There has been a huge increase in interest in the Razorhurst game since the latest Underbelly series, Underbelly: Razor, and players can book sessions online. There will be a Razorhurst iPhone app available soon.