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Shaping the city with urban games at Visible Cities #03

Last week I had the pleasure of being able to speak at Visible Cities, which is a series of events on emerging technologies and the city. The third edition looked at urban gaming and brought together architects, designers and technologists to explore how these games can be used to shape cities. Michiel de Lange kicked the evening off with a nice overview of the various categories of urban gaming and James Burke finished the evening with a presentation of VURB‘s project in TrouwAmsterdam called Urbanode. In between, I had the chance to share some of the work we’ve been doing here at Hubbub.

I proposed several ways games can be used to make a change in cities and tied each of them to a past project. I also discussed a few things we learned with each of them.

Mega Monster Battle Arena™ – a mashup of music theatre and gaming – created a context for community involvement in a cultural production. We had a broad range of people from the local community involved in all aspects of the production, but also (most importantly) in the performance itself.

  • The way to combine a story and a game successfully is to find a structure that can accommodate both. We did this by drawing inspiration from martial arts movies such as Enter the Dragon, which mix story bits with fighting set pieces.
  • It can be helpful to conflate the fictive space with the physical place of a performance, as we did by setting the story in an arena. This gives you the excuse to involve the audience without breaking frame.

Change Your World – a team-based street game for youth – was a safe environment in which players can develop real-world skills. This was just a fun game to play on face value, but had embedded in the rules ways to encourage participation.

  • We had a lot of benefit from the flags we employed. Being physical artifacts, they had a lot of affordances that were readily available to us. This you don’t get in software, where you need to build every property of an object yourself.
  • We did not instruct players on how to play the game (that would have been boring). In stead, we gave them a goal and tools and set some boundaries and let them discover the best way to play.

Koppelkiek – a social photo collecting game – created a meeting place for diverse individuals in a troubled neighborhood. The game provided an excuse and a framework for strangers to have brief interactions with each other.

  • It’s not easy to reach a neighborhood as a whole. The way we gained access was through key figures in the area’s social scene. They became ambassadors for our game.
  • The trouble with a purely pervasive game is that it isn’t anywhere in particular and does not consist of readily identifiable events. We decided to mix in fixed places and events to manage the game’s dramatic arc.

So that’s what I talked about mostly. It was nice to be the pragmatic one at an event, for a change. The discussions we had throughout the evening – about the impending gamepocalypse, for instance – were stimulating as well. Thanks again to Juha for the invitation. And if you’re into urban computing and haven’t been there yet, make sure you head to the next event.

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One Comment

  1. Posted April 16, 2010 at 14:14 | Permalink

    Our pleasure, and thanks for your recap!