This Findlay Market Vending Machine Is a Portal to an Alternate Reality

Tucked away amidst market vendors lies a unique scavenger hunt experience, designed by a local creator hoping to expand your universe.

You’re right on time. The universe as we know it is in trouble. The institute of Chrononautics, Exploration, and Discovery needs trained Field Agents and has begun to recruit new trainees.

Photograph courtesy Michael Augustine

No, this isn’t the plot of the newest superhero blockbuster, but the newest artistic venture of Mike Augustine (Auggie), a local creator specializing in interactive, immersive projects. Inside Findlay Market, tucked away by Mama Lo Hizo, you’ll find the Hub for his latest mission: a vending machine primed to send you on quite the exploration.

For $10, you’ll receive a small box containing the first module of your Field Agent Training Program. Filled with puzzles, clues, and riddles, the cards build an experience straight out of a conspiracy fiction novel. No spoilers, but if you decide to enroll, plan to spend plenty of time investigating Findlay Market.

This is not the first phase in CXD’s mission. In fact, this is nowhere close to Auggie’s first project in this creative vein. Gaming, immersion, and innovation defines Auggie’s history as an artist. After spending six years on a pro card game tour, becoming a winning US Red Bull Mind Gamer competitor, completing an internship at the Vienna Center for Quantum Research, and taking a trip to the London Escape Room World Championships­­–this artist carries a great deal of experience. Currently, he’s enrolled in a three-month software programming intensive at Georgia Tech in addition to managing the CXD experience.

Auggie began building escape rooms at LPK, a Cincinnati design firm, in 2014 as a trends analyst. In a few years, he built rooms for his company and its client groups as a means for team building. Those experiences, along with inspiration from an alternate reality game in San Francisco, propelled Auggie to create an alternate experience of his own.

Photograph courtesy Michael Augustine

That’s when he became involved with People’s Liberty, a now inactive philanthropic lab that granted small chunks of money to community members looking to improve their area. Auggie applied for a grant, with what eventually became the first installation of the CXD experience and made it to the third round of judging before he was asked to apply for the next round. Forced to rethink and find the best version of his idea, Auggie applied again and was given a $10,000 grant.

“I spent another month or two kind of refining it… I wanted something that was going to be accessible and family friendly,” recalls Auggie. “This ended up being a four-stage project across six months.”

Photograph courtesy Michael Augustine

Unlike other alternate reality experiences with the goal to “get people into the world and off their devices,” Auggie’s motivations are primarily rooted in community building. Seeking to “create something that would incentivize people to check out the cultural hubs,” CXD 1.0 became a Cincinnati scavenger hunt prompting players to explore the area more deeply.

After the first installation, Auggie began to search for another iteration­–this time with scalability. Inspired by art-o-mats, vending machines that sell art, he designed a vending machine card game system that is highly interactive, accessible, and locale-specific.

Findlay Market is not the end of the expansion—Auggie plans on “launching city specific games,” with “each one of the vending machines will have a roughly identical training module one and two… entirely catered to that specific area.” Three cities are on his list­: Indianapolis, Columbus, and Louisville.

Cincinnati’s experience is soon to be updated: “I am hoping to get chapter two out by next month, I think there’s a pretty good chance of that happening.” Auggie’s next goal is to then get chapter one out in a second city. These expansions bring a great deal of commitment for Auggie, running the entire project individually. But that poses no threat to his passion.

Photograph courtesy Michael Augustine

“I do think that there are a lack of good incentivization protocols to get people to experience some of the things that the city offers for them,” explains Auggie. “I’m not the kind of guy who’s going to go to another city for a different hamburger… I would love to give people an opportunity to experience some cool things that aren’t on their radar.”

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