‘The Optimist’ game gets real, taking players to Tam O’Shanter, one of Walt Disney’s own favorite hangouts

in Disney, Entertainment, Theme Parks

Disney fans playing along with The Optimist alternate reality game have been swept up into a world twisting facts of Walt Disney, the first Imagineers, and the 1964-65 World’s Fair with a healthy dose of fiction. And already in the game’s first week, it has quickly moved beyond characters’ web sites and Twitter accounts and into the real world.

The endgame of the 6-week experience isn’t yet clear. The Optimist is slowly unraveling what seems to be a science-fiction story of secret projects that will somehow culminate at the 2013 D23 Expo in August. But before then, players are promised a chance to hunt around the Los Angeles area, including at Disneyland, to discover clues to what mysteries lie behind a character named Carlos Moreau’s writings purportedly purchased by the Walt Disney Co. decades ago.

Far too much has progressed in “The Optimist” to summarize here. For that I offer our ever-growing live document keeping track of every important detail along the way (and a great place to catch up for those new it all).

But worth noting specifically is the game’s first outing beyond the blogosphere, as main character Amelia a few days ago posted a picture of a napkin:

Any big Disney fan will immediately recognize “The Tam” as The Tam O’Shanter, one of Walt Disney’s personal favorite restaurants, where he frequented with some of the earliest Imagineers. The phone number written on the napkin also leads to a recorded message that mentions “The Snug” – an area of the Tam.

And with any alternate reality game, everything is a clue to something else. So it quickly became clear that a visit to the Tam was necessary to progress. Sadly, I’m across the country in Florida, but over the weekend I did send Jeremiah Daws to the restaurant for a little sleuthing and to immerse himself in a bit of Disney history along the way.

The Tam O’Shanter is a lovely Irish restaurant and pub located just 6 miles from the Walt Disney Studios. It’s been around since 1922 and has a rich history even beyond Walt’s frequent visits. But for those playing The Optimist, a trip to the Tam is all about Disney’s connections there.

Inside the dimly-lit environment, patrons will find friendly staff, delicious food, and a lively atmosphere complete with live Irish music.

A little hunting will land visitors at Table 31: Walt’s table.

It doesn’t take much effort to find, labeled clearly with a plaque.

Those making a casual visit to the Tam are likely to order something tasty at this point, perhaps one of their famous desserts, such as the Chocolate Souffle or Sticky Toffee Pudding.

But I had sent Jeremiah there on a mission. And he succeeded in finding a few clues left behind by, well, whoever is behind The Optimist. Disney says it’s a partnership between Walt Disney Imagineering Research and Development and the Walt Disney Studios. And as the story unfolds, that much is certainly clear, telling tales of behind-the-scenes secrets at the World’s Fair involving strange noises and, possibly, nuclear devices – maybe even a groundbreaking form of transportation.

So what did Jeremiah find? Plenty, beginning with a few familiar drawings carved into Walt’s table along with some cryptic messages, seen in the video below.

Video: The Optimist game takes over Walt’s table at the Tam O’Shanter

Some of the carvings are easily recognizable, all tied back to the ’64-’65 World’s Fair. There’s the Primeval World, currently seen on Disneyland’s railroad but original part of Ford’s Magic Skyway at the Fair.

There’s also a pair of “it’s a small world” dolls – another attraction that debuted at that World’s Fair.

But with those dolls, and throughout the table’s surface, are interesting messages, like “IASW FEB 14 is OB1C” and “Contact Carlos about ‘Tomorrow’.”

And nearby, newly-hung artwork offers a depiction of Walt Disney and Imagineers Mary Blair, John Hench, and Bob Gurr going over what appear to be World’s Fair plans.

Now for those playing the game, this all has meaning. The artwork has the web site disneycartography.com at the bottom, leading to a new character named Wallace. The codes scratched into the table will surely lead to some new detail some time soon. (All that continues to be explored in our live document.)

But the more interesting story is in the inclusion of the Tam O’Shanter, a location that certainly has important connections to Disney, but also exists as its own establishment. Though it’s not Disney-owned, they are clearly playing along.

Jeremiah talked about the game with the Tam’s staff, who he described to me as amazing – from the greeters to the wait staff – friendly and welcoming.

One waiter in particular, Will, was particularly excited to help. After procuring a reservation for Walt’s table, Will brought over paper to offer a chance to do rubbings of the carvings.

Will noted that Walt’s table was taken away from the Tam around two weeks ago, returning with the little metal plaque and the etchings. At first he thought some kid had done it, but then realized they artwork must be something important.

And so through the current creativity of Walt Disney Imagineering and the Walt Disney Studios, the Tam O’Shanter continues to become a part of Disney history, bringing back the days of Walt’s own visits while engaging fans with the most modern of gameplay.

This is indeed only the beginning for The Optimist, as “Amelia” has promised to mail out World’s Fair records to a few randomly selected players.

And Wallace says he’ll personally be at the D23 Expo in June. Some speculate that this whole game ties in to the upcoming film “Tomorrowland,” from under the helm of Brad Bird and Damon Lindelof, starring George Clooney. The story will wrap up in August, perhaps with some of these big names making an appearance for the grand finale. But in the meantime, players continue to be enthralled online and off, using the game to relive fond memories of the past and to the explore worlds of today, tomorrow, and fantasy.

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