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Welcome to Plan-It You

Atop a watchtower, you survey the fantastic landscape. At your side is a wizard — strangely familiar yet otherworldly — who inspires your next step. Is it sailing the Sea of Creativity with a muse or training as a warrior in the Temple of the Senses?

The initial glance suggests you're inhabiting an alien planet, but looking deeper reveals that the planet is, in fact, you. Or as an Ashland television producer calls it: Plan-It You.

After two years of translating a custom day-planner into an Internet role-playing game, Cynthia Salbato is gearing up this week to launch Plan-It You and its real-life fitness challenge. She hopes the 13-week trial run gains enough momentum in Ashland to achieve the game's ultimate goal of changing communities by guiding individuals' actions.

Physical health seemed the logical place to start.

"It's totally personal," Salbato says. "There's accountability built into it."

Participants log onto www.planityou.com and obtain their virtual passport, used to determine baseline body weight, measurements, blood pressure, activity level, diet and more.

As players set and accomplish goals, they log progress in their passports, and the game calculates a score. Part social networking tool, passports can be private, visible only to friends, or open to the public.

Participants interact in real life during monthly "milestone" meetings that encourage players to share their experiences and seek support. A talk show that airs at 9 p.m. Mondays on RVTV, local public-access television, provides tips from Plan-It You characters and local fitness experts.

"We're going to be upping the ante a little bit with our show," says Salbato, who produced the series.

Viewers will see that familiar wizard come to life as Derrick Lee Weeden, one of three Oregon Shakespeare Festival actors cast in the roles of game avatars. Salbato says she courted Weeden for the part more than a year ago when she saw him play Prospero in "The Tempest."

"If he tells you to do something, you would definitely think twice before you didn't do it," she says.

Presiding over the fitness challenge, OSF actor Kevin Kenerly plays the warrior. With his guidance, players choose a warrior's name, battle through their fitness regimens and finally compete in Ashland on April 18 in the Great Warrior Race, which Salbato describes as a mini version of CBS's "The Amazing Race."

"Your score rolls into your community's score," she says.

It's these real-life scenarios that set Plan-It You apart from other role-playing games like Second Life or even social networking sites like Facebook, Salbato says.

"It has to feel relevant to your life," she says. "You get to change and grow as your game changes and grows."

The game, itself, changes focus in April, debuting its "green" component. Salbato's own desire to track her environmental impact provided much of the inspiration. If she could see the impact of an entire city using less electricity or fossil fuels, Salbato, 47, figured she'd be more motivated to change her habits.

"That's when this game is going to get really exciting is when we start playing the green game."

Community events may include a citywide litter clean-up, says Shelley Lotz, one of Salbato's advisors and member of the Ashland Conservation Commission. Composting, recycling, reducing junk mail, installing more efficient light bulbs and plumbing fixtures — even gardening and buying local food — will be among the game's numerous eco-savvy activities Lotz adds. Players again earn points and measure their conservation efforts against their neighbors'.

"I think it's really going to help people get on board and do more," Lotz says. "It's fun."

Praising the concept, Lotz says Salbato's approach is right on target with all the advice on goal-setting she's heard at professional conferences. The fantasy and role-playing aspects should make Plan-It You appealing to younger crowds, she adds.

"What you want to do is really focus on one thing for a month," she says. "Not just one day a year."

Earth Day will engender a number of sustainability initiatives in Ashland, as well as encourage residents to use online tools to calculate their carbon footprints. Plan-It You, however, puts all the parts and pieces already on the Internet into a cohesive sustainability model, Lotz says.

"I thought it was really brilliant."

Salbato acknowledges that Plan-It You treads a fine line between real life and the virtual world. Designed and programmed on a shoestring budget largely by local talent, the game is intended to entertain but not to the extent that people play all day and never venture outside, Salbato says. The sudden and widespread popularity of Second Life gave her hope not only that Plan-It You would take off, but that people could accomplish so much in life by simply playing themselves instead of pretending.

"You're just basically thinking about your life in a story context."

In contrast to some popular role-playing games, failure to accomplish tasks doesn't spell doom for players' virtual personas. Plan-It You can help participants understand that embarking on a fitness challenge, for example, may not have been appropriate if their lives are consumed by financial concerns, says Corbet Unmack, a member of Salbato's advisory board who also plays the game's genie guide.

"You don't ever really die," he says. "You just end up taking another path."

Formerly an avid gamer, Unmack predicts that Plan-It You's core interest group will be adults in their 20s and 30s. The social networking aspect may attract slightly older or younger players while the community events should entice people who would otherwise have no interest in gaming, he says.

"I don't think the whole world is going to go virtual."

Planning to launch Plan-It You in Eugene later this year and Portland early next year, Salbato says she is counting on Ashland residents for feedback. Once they're engaged, she expects players will create their own games with endless variations and possibilities. There's no cost to use the site or participate in related activities.

Drawing on 20 years working as a technology architect and just as long as a gamer, Unmack says he believes that, unlike games offering only an escape from reality, Plan-It You imbues the physical world with a bit of magic.

"It allows people to see that the real world is the adventure."

Reach reporter Sarah Lemon at 776-4487, or e-mail slemon@mailtribune.com.

Welcome to Plan-It You