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Six games about architecture

I went look­ing for a few recent exam­ples of games that deal with archi­tec­tur­al themes in some way. I pulled these most­ly from a few of the major street games fes­ti­vals that are out there, such as Come Out & Play, Hide & Seek, Igfest and You Are GO!

Just from this small sam­ple size it is appar­ent that there are many ways to deal with a city and build­ings in a game. You can use the phys­i­cal lay­out of a space, or the sto­ries cling­ing to a place. You can use games to dis­cuss urban process­es, or map not only phys­i­cal but also psy­cho­log­i­cal geog­ra­phy.

Any­way, here’s six games that I found.

Physical space as plaything

Cross my Heart + Hope to Die

Pho­to © Lia Bulaong

Cross my Heart + Hope to Die is inter­est­ing first of all for the pro­files of its cre­ators. Eric Zim­mer­man is well know for being the co-author of the sem­i­nal Rules of Play, as well as for hav­ing cre­at­ed a num­ber of inter­est­ing games such as SiS­SY­FiGHT 2000. For Cross My Heart + Hope to Die, which pre­miered at the 2010 Come Out & Play Fes­ti­val in NYC, he col­lab­o­rat­ed with archi­tect Nathalie Pozzi. The result is a game in which the phys­i­cal lay­out of space plays a major role. Play­ers rearrange the walls of the life-sized labyrinth in which the game takes place. Even though these walls are in fact not much more than semi-trans­par­ent drapes, and as such wouldn’t obstruct move­ment, they are enough to sig­nal par­ti­tion­ing of space. They also pre­vent play­ers from see­ing all that is going on, while still giv­ing them a hint of what is close by.

Urban processes as subject

Gentrification: The Game!

Pho­to (cc) Kate Raynes-Goldie

Gen­tri­fi­ca­tion: The Game! by Atmos­phere Indus­tries attempts to emu­late the social process of wealth­i­er peo­ple mov­ing into low-income neigh­bor­hoods. The game pits play­ers against each oth­er in the roles of locals and devel­op­ers. Devel­op­ers imag­ine ways in which they would rede­vel­op exist­ing build­ings. Locals take action to halt the process of gen­tri­fi­ca­tion through var­i­ous means, such as protests. Play­ers track their process using a mobile app which feeds back the changes to the build­ings — the imag­i­nary gen­tri­fied cityscape. This is very close to what I imag­ined a real-life ver­sion of Golf­stromen’s Gen­tri­fi­ca­tion Bat­tle­field would be like.

Rulespace versus meatspace

Visible Cities

Vis­i­ble Cities, by Hol­ly Gra­mazio and Kevan Davies, is a rel­a­tive­ly straight­for­ward check­point chase game but with an inter­est­ing twist. Although check­points are all phys­i­cal­ly in the same area, the game rules group them in var­i­ous “uni­vers­es”. Play­ers and chasers can only inter­act with each oth­er if they are in the same uni­verse, even though they can phys­i­cal­ly per­ceive those that aren’t. In this way, the game ele­gant­ly shows how our expe­ri­ence of phys­i­cal real­i­ty is not only gov­erned by the atoms it is made up of, but also to a large extent by the prin­ci­ples of gov­er­nance we social­ly agree upon. This reminds me of Chi­na Miéville’s love­ly book The City & The City.

Place-inspired storytelling

Brooklyn's Green Wood Cemetery

Pho­to (cc) Aaron Bras­hear

Necrop­o­lis Fam­i­ly Tree, by Coney, makes great use of the mean­ing of a spe­cif­ic place by chal­leng­ing play­ers to tell sto­ries inspired by a memo­r­i­al site. More specif­i­cal­ly, by explor­ing a grave­yard in search of imag­i­nary long-lost rel­a­tives. Although the con­nec­tion between the space, the game’s theme and play­er actions is quite lit­er­al, I pre­fer this over the loca­tion-based games that can be played any­where and in fact have no real inter­play with the place a play­er is in.

Mapping sentiment on the streets

Walking Smiles

Pho­to © Present Attempt

Walk­ing Smiles, by Present Attempt, is all about map-mak­ing, which isn’t any­thing new for urban games per se, but the map cre­at­ed by play­ers wan­der­ing the city in this case records smiles received from strangers. Thus it isn’t a lit­er­al map­ping of phys­i­cal space that emerges from the game, but a map of sen­ti­ment, of emo­tion­al space if you will. It looks like the game’s run­ners go out of their way to map the data received from play­ers in as many inter­est­ing ways as pos­si­ble. For instance, they build a chart of smiles per minute as the game pro­gress­es.

The image of the city as puzzle

Pieces of Berlin

Pho­to © Invis­i­ble Play­ground

Pieces of Berlin by Erik Burke & Lynn Maha­ras is about look­ing at the cityscape and com­par­ing what is seen to draw­ings of build­ings on trans­paren­cies. I guess a game like this will only work in cities with a high image­abil­i­ty rank­ing. I have seen quite a few urban games that incor­po­rate clues in the form of city pho­tographs. But the use of draw­ings here appeals to me for their ambi­gu­i­ty. It empha­sizes gen­er­al shape as opposed to details. It also allows for some more free­dom on the game designer’s part with regards to which parts of the city to show and hide.

Now, I would kill for a chance to bring these games togeth­er, and play them all in the same space. It might be worth­while to col­late play­er expe­ri­ences and see how these games allow for alter­na­tive entry points into the expe­ri­ence of a city’s fab­ric or how they enable peo­ple to shape their city.

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4 Comments

  1. Posted August 12, 2011 at 12:47 | Permalink

    Hey Kars. A minor clar­i­fi­ca­tion on cross my heart. In that the play­ers are the walls rather than rear­rang­ing them. Each team has block­ers who cut off inter­sec­tions and reshape the labyrinth. One of the great things about that game was the rich, visu­al nature of the fab­ric and the high design val­ues in the game. It is a great case for game design­ers to col­lab­o­rate with archi­tects because I think this cre­at­ed a much stronger expe­ri­ence.

    And fun­ni­ly enough I’m just read­ing The City + The City right now, and vis­i­ble cities has a very sim­i­lar cen­tral idea. Though a game based on Miéville’s breach idea would be inter­est­ing. Chal­leng­ing the play­ers to see or unsee oppo­nents.

  2. Kars
    Posted August 14, 2011 at 14:38 | Permalink

    Thanks for clar­i­fy­ing that bit, Dan. It’s a shame I wasn’t there to play the game, it’s great you got that oppor­tu­ni­ty. And I agree with your point that there is val­ue in col­lab­o­ra­tion between game design­ers and oth­er design dis­ci­plines. I’ve had great expe­ri­ences work­ing with ‘prop­er’ graph­ic design­ers myself, for instance. These crafts aren’t to be under­es­ti­mat­ed. Oh, and per­haps we get the chance to talk more about a breach game at DiGRA?

  3. Posted August 16, 2011 at 13:44 | Permalink

    Breach­ing is an inter­est­ing idea. Espe­cial­ly as many social games also play with some­thing like Garfinkel’s notion of breach­ing exper­i­ments.

    I won­der if Miéville coined the term based on Garfinkel… he does have a PhD in Pol­i­tics so he may be famil­iar with the con­cept.

    Its a DiGRA date!

  4. Kars
    Posted August 18, 2011 at 12:05 | Permalink
    “Garfinkel’s notion of breach­ing exper­i­ments”

    You don’t hap­pen to have a ref­er­ence for that, do you? In any case, see you at DiGRA.