I Once Produced an Unlicensed Stage Adaptation of Touch Detective

Video games undoubtedly store memories the same way songs and other works of art do. Oftentimes, a song will unsuspectingly creep into your ears and rocket you back to a specific time in your life.

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When I stumbled upon Touch Detective 3 + Complete Case Files in the Nintendo Switch store, it gave me the same jump scare that Natalie Imbrulgia’s “Torn” might give someone at a grocery store checkout. That is to say, seeing Detective Mackenzie and her sentient pet mushroom Funghi grace my screen again unlocked the specific memory of the summer that I wrote and staged an unlicensed adaptation of the Nintendo DS game.

Let’s start with the game itself. For those unfamiliar, or perhaps not quite as transfixed by the game as me, Touch Detective was a cozy mystery about a child detective named Mackenzie, her quirky friends, and quirkier arch-rival, The Cornstalker. It was fun and of its era, leaning eponymously into the Nintendo DS’ touchscreen mechanics. I was already older than Mackenzie myself when the game debuted in 2006 and even older by the time I adapted it into a stage play, but it’s not too hard to articulate why I connected with it. Touch Detective was chock-full of endearing characters and a whimsical sensibility; it was one of those properties where you could just tell the creators were having fun making it. So, I decided to cash in on a little of that fun for myself.

Now, I’m never one to shirk from embracing my cringiest self, but this adaptation of Touch Detective wasn’t entirely born out of a sheer, unbridled fanaticism for the franchise. In fact, “Mack Attack” – yes, that’s what I titled my magnum opus – wasn’t staged in my backyard until roughly four years after the release of Touch Detective 2 1/2.

Three characters from Touch Detective 2 1/2.

As the old guard in a neighborhood lousy with children, a few friends and I decided to host a week-long theater camp of sorts in the summer of 2011. Our scrappy, makeshift theater camp run by high school students scratched the same itch as a lemonade stand. While many love to symbolically tout the notion of selling Minute Maid on the curb as some sort of sacred inauguration into capitalism, anyone who’s ever had a lemonade stand as a kid knows the truth – it was just a fun way to kill some time with friends on a hot summer day. Leaning into that notion, we didn’t charge money for our camp; we only asked that the kids interested in participating in the play lend us a week of their time. And what unofficial summer camp would be complete without an unofficial adaptation of a Nintendo DS game nobody had ever heard of?

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Sure, my fellow camp counselors and I could have selected an existing play for our inaugural theater camp experiment, but I was not at all remised to discover that Detective Mackenzie had camped out somewhere in the back of my mind. Much like Nancy Drew and Encyclopedia Brown, there’s an inherent wish-fulfillment and whimsy baked into the notion of a kid detective. For kids who love playing make-believe as spies or veterinarians, there’s something aspirational about children’s shows where the protagonists have grown-up jobs, and for adult audiences, there’s humor in that same premise. In my mind, this made the all-ages story of Touch Detective the perfect candidate for our camp.

While not quite a visual novel, Touch Detective is a narrative-heavy game and thus lent itself well to adaptation. Fellow Touch Detective-heads know that its mysteries unfold in episodes, so naturally, “Mack Attack” abridged these arcs to streamline the story. Though the end result met somewhere at the crossroads of adaptation and fan fiction, the cast boasted a bevy of Touch Detective characters, including the now-titular Mackenzie, Cromwell, Chloe, Penelope, Inspector Daria, The Cornstalker, and even my dad in a cameo role as Mayor Tom.  

Though the play was the byproduct of a very specific type of video game fandom, the theater camp itself ran more conventionally. We spent the week blocking scenes, running lines, learning a choreographed dance, crafting sets and costumes, and just having an overall silly time. When the week was up, the story of Touch Detective was officially brought to life for the cast’s friends and family. Though I never hid the fact that “Mack Attack” was an adaptation, most of the adults who brought their own beers and lawn chairs to my backyard that night were unaware of the extent to which an unsung Nintendo DS game inspired the delightful chaos they witnessed.

Though I dubbed “Mack Attack” my magnum opus with full-throated sarcasm, I do believe the play was a testament to the messy art of hyperfixation. Sure, some may deride it as “cringe,” but there’s something kind of special about being wholly possessed and inspired by something you enjoy. To this day, I love hearing about people’s latest obsessions and the specific manner in which those interests have inadvertently hijacked a part of their lives. Much like the potent nostalgia embedded in certain melodies, revisiting games can elicit more than just the memories of playing the game itself, but the ways that loving it left delightfully bizarre aftershocks in our lives.

Touch Detective 3 + Complete Case Files is available now.


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Author
Tara McCauley
Nerd at large, Tara McCauley's happiest playing or writing about tabletop role playing games. Tara joined The Escapist in October 2023 as a freelance contributor. She covers such TV shows as Fargo and games/fandoms like Dungeons & Dragons. In addition to The Escapist, Tara has gushed about her favorite pop culture topics at CBR, MXDWN, and Monstrous Femme. When she's not writing or rolling dice, Tara can be found catching up on her favorite sitcoms, curled up with a horror comic, or waxing poetic about the WNBA.