BELFAST — On July 11 the film “The More Things Change” premiered to a packed house at the Colonial Theatre in Belfast with all the picture’s stars in attendance.

Cast members of “The More Things Change” take a break from filming. Photo courtesy of Game Loft

The movie depicts a school day in the fictional New England settlement of Chartwell during the year 1852. At issue in the film is the reading of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” to students by their new schoolteacher. More specifically, the picture is focused on the reaction to this reading by students, parents and settlement leaders, all of whom seem split on whether the reading was appropriate. Themes of bullying and discrimination are also woven into the picture.

Sound familiar? It should, and everyone connected with “The More Things Change” hope the film will help others to think more deeply about their perspective in an evolving world, just as the students and community leaders were asked to do in the film.

The film project is the latest brainchild of Game Loft owners Ray and Patricia Estabrook.

“It won’t win any Academy Awards,” Ray said recently of the film, “but it got the kids thinking about that time in Maine history, and it was fun.”

The Estabrooks, through The Game Loft, have provided young people with enjoyable and educational opportunities for over two decades.

“I’m not sure what Belfast would do without them,” said Belfast City Councilor Mike Hurley at the film’s premiere.

Ray and Patricia Estabrook. Photo Courtesy of Game Loft

What began as a game store has evolved into the idea of connecting young people with history by allowing them to live it for themselves.

Game Loft offers traditional board games as well as card, role-playing and fantasy games. Photo courtesy of Game Loft

“We noticed some of our kids were struggling with history in school,” Ray said. “We knew they were smart so we looked for ways to teach them about Maine and American history in a different way.

“The fantasy, role-playing games are very popular,” Patricia said. “We created our own fantasy settlement of Chartwell, here in Maine.”

“We replaced the Dungeon and the Dragon with Maine and the United States.” Ray said. “The gamers play as a group going on an adventure.”

Initial testing of the game produced mixed results. History was settled, giving gamers limited options and the time span of the game was too long. Then Ray had a “eureka” moment on a trip to Campobello Island.

“We had been running the games according to received history,” Ray said. “It gave the players limited options. I got the idea to run the game not as a simulation, but to give the players full voice and choice with different outcomes. It was wildly popular.”

Chartwell Settlement is a second home to the Estabrooks. They created the characters that created the fantasy settlement.

“When we first started there was nothing there in Chartwell,” Patricia said. “It was just land. The players had to explore the area and build the settlement through the game.”

Adventures to Chartwell include aspects of Maine and American history that players are asked to consider and react to while playing. In this way, they are living history through their chosen character.

The project produced a collaboration with Mount View High School that awarded gamers partial history credits for playing. The Game Loft now has similar collaborations with Searsport and Belfast Area high schools.

“There are a number of community youth organizations working with the local schools,” Ray said. “That’s great to see. When we work together it benefits the entire community.”

Recently The Game Loft has partnered with I KNOW ME, a nonprofit youth organization that provides students from Mount View, Belfast and Searsport high schools with unique educational, service and cultural opportunities in Maine.

Students work to assemble a makeshift raft during a Game Loft/I KNOW ME team building exercise. Photo courtesy of Game Loft

Nearly all of the cast of “The More Things Change,” are part of I KNOW ME as well. Ray saw the movie as a way to get more people involved in an adventure in Chartwell.

“When you play the game, there are only a certain number of characters,” Ray said. “With a movie there are additional jobs, like gaffer and set design, so we could get more people involved.”

Each actor was given an index card with several traits of their character, but the entire film operated without a script.

“It forces you to think,” said actor Jeremiah King, who plays bully Obidiah Fletcher in the film. “You have to consider your character’s perspective, which may be different than yours. It was a great experience.”

For the Ray and Patricia the film was a labor of love.

“In many ways,” Patricia said, “we’ve been living in Chartwell most of our lives.”

“To see them bring Chartwell to life, for real,” Ray said, “they gave us the best gift of our lives.”