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Live-action Clue in Wilson Library gets spooky to make the library less scary

Clue in the Library

Participants in the Clue event in the fall of 2018

Photo by Aleah Howell

Was it Colonel Mustard with the candlestick in the conservatory? This might sound familiar for anyone who grew up playing the board game Clue. Twice a year, students have the opportunity to relive the childhood game by participating in the live-action version hosted by the Wilson Special Collection Library. 

Once in the fall and once in spring, students form teams of four or five participants to solve the supernatural mystery in the library. Teams spend about an hour and a half gathering evidence, interrogating suspects and interacting with maps as well as special collection library materials in order to make their best guess at the suspect, library item and room where the action occurred. 

This spring’s game will take place on Wednesday, April 10 and will be the 14th edition of the tradition. Community engagement librarian Emily Jack has worked with the planning committee since the inaugural game in the fall of 2012. 

“We had this idea of creating an opportunity for students to engage with the library and to interact with the library in a way that is fun and in a way that is at a time that is dedicated just for them,” Jack said. “That naturally led to the idea of a game and because a lot of students hold this impression of Wilson as a kind of mysterious place, the game of Clue matches to that idea really nicely.”

Live-action Clue is played on all four floors of Wilson Library and even involves game pieces from other resource centers at UNC, like pieces made with the laser cutter in a makerspace. 

“It’s been really neat,” said Alison Barnett, co-chairperson of the planning committee and businesses services coordinator for UNC Libraries. “It’s another aspect of University Libraries that we are able to bring into the game. That’s what we really try to do, is bring in everything that we can, that the libraries across campus have to offer.”

The game is facilitated on a mobile app created by former UNC librarian Luke Aeschleman, who worked in the software development department. 

The top three teams win gift cards of varying amounts to local shops in Chapel Hill. Previous years’ prizes have included cards to The Yogurt Pump, UNC Student Stores and other restaurants on Franklin Street.

Librarian LeTroy Gardner is in charge of staff recruitment for the 2019 spring game. Faculty members are needed to play characters in the game, serve on the planning committee and monitor game play for any attempts at cheating. Gardner said he has seen some intense contests in the past. He said that during the fall Clue game, many participants go all-out and dress up in costume during the Halloween season. 

“I’m always excited just to see the players and how competitive they are,” Gardner said. “Some of them take it more seriously than others — they’re into it, they’re searching every nook and cranny in Wilson Library, they’re getting upset with their teammates if they’re not holding up their end of the bargain.”

Despite the fierce competition, the real purpose of the game is to give students an introduction to Wilson Library. 

“A lot of times we hear through surveys that students are afraid to visit Wilson, thinking that because they don’t see actual books, that it’s more of a museum,” Gardner said. “The Clue game was an opportunity to bring students into the building and show that, yes, you can have a library where books are kind of tucked away in the stack in the background but still make it interactive and enjoyable.”

Jack said that she enjoys watching the participants uncover library secrets while simultaneously uncovering the mystery.

“As I watch the players playing the game, I always see them discover something new in Wilson Library that they find surprising, that they find is worth coming back to visit again,” Jack said. “For me, that’s the most exciting part of the game.”

Barnett, who was first recruited to role-play Miss Scarlet in 2012 and has stayed involved ever since she graduated from UNC. She said she found Wilson Library intimidating, but hopes Clue will change this for current students. 

“Luckily, this allows students to get a different perspective and maybe actually step foot in this building that has a lot of resources and study spaces and different kinds of events that the students are allowed to come to and participate in,” Barnett said.

Gardner said the game is so popular that it is a part of the UNC experience. 

“I think it’s kind of had one of those grassroots followings, where the word of mouth has generated interest where it’s becomes one of those things where a student’s four or five year career at UNC isn’t complete without playing Clue at least once,” Gardner said.

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