Greg's originally from Texas and complains he can't lose his "pesky twang," but his accent is subtle. He earned a degree in choral music education from Lamar University in Beaumont, but after substitute teaching, he decided he didn't want to teach. He moved to Phoenix 16 years ago and worked various jobs in music studios and media production before starting his gaming company, Mission Lane Network.

Sonja, 38, is originally from Tennessee. She moved to Phoenix 13 years ago and earned a degree in interior design from ASU. She met Greg about eight years ago at a church function, and they married a year ago, in a small ceremony on a mountain at Pointe Tapatio Resort in Sunnyslope.

"Sonja wanted to be on a mountain, because if you did it at a church or whatever, that could change into a shopping mall," Greg says. "But a mountain will always be there."

courtesy of MIssion Lane Network

"When the zombies come and all the annihilation happens, you can always go back," Sonja, a petite redhead with bright blue eyes, jokes. "Buildings fade away. Mountains are pretty stable."

The mountains of Phoenix are a motif in the Shaws' lives. They had their wedding on one, they named their company (Mission Lane Network) after a road that leads to one, and the idea for The Citadel was hatched while they were hiking on one.

Sonja was used to Greg's thinking out loud and bouncing ideas off her. It was routine for them to take long hikes together, chatting up and down the sides of Camelback Mountain. So she wasn't surprised when, on a hike one day in January 2008, Greg started talking about a business idea.

Greg said he was thinking about starting a company — "something like an event." Sonja said it was great that he wanted to be an entrepreneur and that "event planner" sounded great. Then Greg said, "I'm thinking a live-action adventure spy game," and Sonja said, "What?"

She now jokes that she almost fell off Camelback when he said it. Greg had recently resigned from a job as a developer for local media company ProAction Media; Sonja continues to work as an interior designer. Though they have no biological children together, they have five combined from previous marriages — Meghan, 24; Jonathan, 22; Lizzie, 16; Michael, 13; and Jaiden, 7.

Starting a live-action spy game company would cost money, and it sounded kind of crazy at first: People would pretend to be spies for 10 hours while driving all over the Valley, stopping at various places for clues to a mystery, all while communicating with imaginary intelligence liaisons through expensive laptops and high-tech gadgets. And they would want to pay hundreds of dollars to do it.

"There were a number of ideas floating around, and I fought most of them," Sonja says. "Anyone who's seen Greg and I knows I fight his ideas tooth and nail."

But the more Greg talked about it — the complex storyline he wanted to develop, the actors he wanted to hire to interact with players at public locations, the multi-media and technology he wanted to include — the better it sounded. Sonja gave Greg her full support, which sometimes included curbing his enthusiasm to keep him focused.

"Greg just kind of bull-mooses his way through. 'Let's just do it, don't need to think about it,'" she says. "Just throw it together, grab everything up, and run out the door. It's about the doing, the moving forward, the experience."

When Greg Shaw was about 12, he saw something in the 1973 film adaptation of the book The Three Musketeers that would become a metaphor for his life. The hero, d'Artagnan, is on the third floor of a building when he sees his enemy below.

"And without thinking, he jumps out the window," Greg says. "He lands on some scaffolding, so he's okay, but I can remember as a kid, going, 'Wow! Awesome!'"

"That's Greg," Sonja says. "He jumps out of windows, but there's always scaffolding. He always hits with his feet."

Greg wanted to be involved in the local independent film community. The Citadel started, he explains, with the advent of his company, Mission Lane Network, in January 2008. The company takes its name from Mission Lane, a street in Sunnsylope that leads to a mountain with four pillars.

"I don't know what they're there for, but I would always pass by these pillars, and it would help me focus," Greg says, on his own "mission," which in the beginning was to be a film production company. He admits he knew little about film and even less about live-action adventure games. He originally created The Citadel as a training project for film production, based on three things: a short spy game he created for his stepson's 10th birthday, the 1997 movie The Game, and a film titled The Man Who Knew Too Little.

In The Game, Michael Douglas plays Nicholas Van Orton, whose younger brother buys him an interesting gift for his 48th birthday — participation in a mysterious game that invades his everyday life. The multi-layered game is staged by a company called Consumer Recreation Services, and it takes Van Orton on an intense psychological ride that sends him from San Francisco to Mexico to the tops of skyscrapers as it chips away at his sanity. The 1997 espionage comedy The Man Who Knew Too Little stars Bill Murray as a participant in a dinner party spy game who unwittingly gets wrapped up in a real mission.

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7 comments
J.M.
J.M.

I found this article because I was just sitting in my house thinking up the same idea and googled to see if anyone else had done it yet. Dam.

Greg Shaw
Greg Shaw

Hi Marcia. The game is designed for four players, but you could play it with one, two, or three players if you like. The per game cost is $380 regardless of team size. We would consider 5 players in certain situations (4 students and an adult) but our testing showed us that teams larger than that had a hard time keeping things together throughout the mission. Our contact info is in the article if you'd like to book a game with us. Thanks!

Marcia Heitz
Marcia Heitz

Sounds a little scary for kids... but my husband and I would love it! How many can play?

George
George

Cool idea! Paying to be a spy for a night. Awesome!

Mike Wells
Mike Wells

Wow, this sounds pretty damned cool. If this becomes a viable business, I might just have to play next time I come to Phoenix to visit family. Great story, too, gives background on role-playing, LARPS and alot of other stuff.

Good Luck with The Citadel, I hope it works for you guys.

Gotta try this
Gotta try this

It sounds like virtual reality without all the computers. I can't wait to play this game. Sign me up.

Julie Coleman
Julie Coleman

This sounds like a totally fun night out...something definately different than dinner and a movie. My husband is such a geek, he'll love it too.

 
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