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CAID presents Soul City

By F. Carlton Peeples
Special to the Michigan Citizen

DETROIT — Contemporary Art Institute of Detroit, in partnership with University of Michigan Dearborn, is developing a game that’s educational and fun. The groundbreaking game, Soul City, will prominently feature art, landmarks and situations unique to life in Detroit.

The game idea was conceived by young adults who worked at the CAID last summer through a program run by the YMCA and funded by the City of Detroit.

Program participant Shereta Smith presented the concept, and the group led by Gallery Director Jaclyn Strez started working on something that became much bigger than themselves.

“Jackie inspired the kids to think big (and) they did,” says Aaron Timlin, CAID president and CEO.

The game leads users through various levels that include downtown, the cultural center and Brightmoor community, as well as the Motown era and the Underground Railroad in a time travel sequence.

As the game grew and its details became more intricate, Timlin and Strez said they knew it was time to get some help on the project. Enlisting the knowledge and leadership of Dr. Phillip Olla, board chairman and U of M Dearborn professor, was a key move for the would-be developers.

“The concept is to describe Detroit (experiences) through their lens,” says Olla, who has a Ph.D. in computer science and is vice president of technology for CAID. “Some of the game play levels (such as) the food desert (and) youth violence are day-to-day experiences for these guys.”

Olla went on to say the group is proud of the city (shown via the history and culture levels), but they really want to show Detroit from their perspectives not what is typically portrayed in the media.

Olla started working with them and eventually found the right university class to develop the game — a capstone course at U of M Dearborn.

The game will highlight some of the cultural and historic events in Detroit as well as economic opportunities that are emerging from growing and branding local food products and from young tech savvy businesses.

The purpose of the game is to provide a playful tool that will allow users an opportunity to learn about Detroit, its culture, people, struggles and triumphs. Soul City is on schedule to be released in September 2013.

According to Olla, it will be based on an online gaming platform, which means that anyone with a computer and Internet can play. The game can easily port to mobile devices in the future, so users can incorporate location-based gaming.

“What we are looking for are artistic and creative partners on the project to help create and develop the art for the game,” said Timlin.

For more information about the game or to get involved in producing artwork for it, visit


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