Gamified Urban Codesign Practice. How videogames can help us to shape our cities
Housing and its representation
Houses, from mobile huts to city condominiums, are a fundamental component of human life. Structural and conceptual ideas about home also serve as key components of defining a particular culture. Houses function in our imaginary and in our play; the house is the icon for “home,” whether one lives in a condo, duplex, or houseboat. The fantasy-projection
of playing house, and the propensity for making miniature houses and household goods, is at least thousands of years old: play houses have been discovered dating from Ancient Egypt. It seems human nature to recreate our domestic surroundings in our play,
In the West, especially in the United States post World War II, the house has been the glorious icon of the American dream, representing class fluidity and the (few) egalitarian promises of capitalism.
Together with cars, the house has been considered as the ideal commodity of the fordism era.
House as ideology
The suburban home was created in part as a response to women’s working outside the home and the perceived collapse of traditional family roles; from the industrial
revolution to World War II, the West has witnessed various liberations and subsequent domestications which work to domesticate women by the insistent demands of the household.
Videogames about housing
Thus the house serves as both a situation for gameplay and a theme within games.
little computer people
(also known as House-on-a-Disk) is a 1985 video game by Activision.
Little Computer People is considered the first mainstream life simulation game. There isn’t much interactive gameplay to the title. Instead, the player watches a little man as he goes through his daily rituals. The player can interact with him, such as giving him commands or giving him presents, and sometimes the character will also engage interactions with the player. Each copy of the game generates its own unique character. The house, instead, always is the same.
With Little Computer People, there was no end goal beyond seeing a simulated life play out.
The Sims was worldwide and the game was translated in 14 different languages, and it is the most popular game featuring domestic space.
it offers the ability to create a virtual house, wherein players control
characters as though it were an interactive, intelligent dollhouse.
Game as Negotiation
According to scholar Mary Flanagan: “the space of the game is a site of negotiation
between the real and the virtual domestic experience; it ironically, yet wholeheartedly, embraces suburban-style consumption and domesticity.”
The goal of the game is to keep your Sim characters happy, fed, clean, and nurtured. Sims
players work to make their initial pre-fabricated virtual home their own. Players are given a default, modest bedroom home when beginning the game, complete with yards, mailbox, flowers, some shrubbery, and an outdoor patio. The standard house in The Sims is allocated to players equally across player and character class, race, and ethnic lines; it represents a particularly “standard” in domestic American architecture, yet
simultaneously is supposed to embody a player’s individuality by presenting the opportunity to add on to and enlarge the house, purchase appropriate furniture, and take up a pastime such as reading or watching television.
Games as a tool for education and civic engagement
Video games, while having established themselves as a sector of the cultural industry capable of generating huge profits (Ukie, 2017), have demonstrated the ability to reach maturity as a medium of communication and as a language.
Case study 1: Games of The Commons (goods)
«Games of the Common» is a project of the cultural association ArsGames to promote the creation of video games based on open data. The project has been developed within the framework of the 2016 «Repte Canòdrom» call for proposals promoted by the Barcelona City Council. by the Barcelona City Council and has positioned itself as the project with the highest score as stated in the Official Bulletin of the Province of Barcelona of 8 March 2017.
The project has promoted the development of open source video games using open data and the link between citizen associations, universities and the game development community as a model of open co-design of social practices with a high technological content.
Open data Sets
The 424 sets are presented under 5 categories – territory, population, city and services, administration, economy and enterprise – each of which is composed of different subcategories. sub-categories.
For this project, dataset have been selected from the subcategories «tourism» and «housing».These topics represent issues of primary importance in the social and political life of the city of Barcelona at the time the project was developed.
Bearing in mind the objective of linking the production of video games with the local community of the city, it was considered necessary to incorporate themes that the city’s social movements were already working on through grassroots activities.
The 4 games developed under the Games of Commons project have been developed by University students and than validated by grassroot communities
Data-games have served as inspiration and background design concepts for our project.
Research questions related to data-games can be grouped into three themes (Friberger et al., 2013):
- Exploration, learning and playability: defining and searching for the best methods to explore data sets within a playable dynamic.
- Data selection and access: identifying which types of data are best suited to be used for game creation.
- Game design and development: establishing algorithms and strategies for transforming data into game content.
EXAMPLES OF DATA GAMES
(Friberger and Togelius, 2013) Open Data Monopoly is a board generator for the classic board game Monopoly that creates boards (and cards) based on UK demographic and geographic data.
OPEN STREET RACER
(Michele Ermacora and Anders Mousten, 2013) OpenStreetRacer is a racing game based on data from the Open street Map service of the city of Copenhagen.
Outcomes of the project
Under this project 4 different videogames have been developed.
PinPamPoom is a video game for mobile devices (Android and IOS) that emulates the game of pinball in the setting of the city of Barcelona. The composition of the board is based on the user’s geolocation, and is built from queries to the open data system, thus dynamically generating part of the content or behaviour of the game elements. During the development of the game, the player is put in the context of a city inhabitant who encounters problems specific to the city, the neighbourhood where he/she lives or the one he/she is in at the time of the query, using the points achieved as currency to gain access to various game elements and constantly comparing with data such as average rental price, average rental area and number of tourist flats.
FlatSweeper is a game inspired by the classic Minesweeper game (Donner, 1989) with the addition of being based on real rent data in Barcelona. The game proposes the search for a flat in the city of Barcelona, avoiding homes that exceed the average rental price according to the neighbourhood in which the game is being played. In this way it will be possible, by playing the game, to find out the average rental price for each neighbourhood in the city.
Rambla Rush is a 2D vertical runner game with a narrative inspired by Eduardo Mendoza’s novel “Sin noticias de Gurb”, originally published in 1991. In the game, the player controls a small alien who runs through Barcelona’s Rambla, dodging obstacles in order to keep as much money as possible. At the end of the race along the rambla the player will be placed in a flat in one of Barcelona’s 20 neighbourhoods by comparing the money kept throughout the level with the average rental price per neighbourhood. The dataset on the number of festival-goers in the city of Barcelona for each month of 2016 has been used instead to calculate the density of people per month and thus generate the obstacle density for each of the 12 levels of the game.
The Last Hope
The Last Hope is a game that arose from the collaboration between the serious games workshop of the Faculty of Fine Arts of the University of Barcelona, coordinated by Dr. Joan Morales, the students who participated in the 2017 course and the Arrels Foundation. The game is a simulation of the day-to-day life of a homeless person. Its aim is, on the one hand, to invite the player to put themselves in the shoes of this individual to experience first-hand the problems faced by this group and, on the other hand, to connect this experience with the available data on the homeless population in the city of Barcelona. In the specific case of this game, it was not possible to use any of the City Council’s open datasets, as at the time of the game’s creation there was no open data on the topic. Therefore, the creators relied on the data collection work of the Arrels Foundation, which operates in Barcelona and the rest of Catalonia, providing assistance to the homeless.
The 4 games have been displayed at Sónar festival, to the general and specialized public. Before that, the four game prototypes underwent a validation process during an open day called «Playlab – Playing in Common», held on 10 June 2017 with the support of Barcelona City Council. The aim of the day was to promote a space for meeting and discussion between the community of creators and the social actors who work on issues related to games in the territory.
A focus group of 20 players, activists and video game professionals was formed. Qualitative tools and methodologies from discourse analysis and their representation in cognitive maps were used.
The first instrument was an emotional map model related to the issue of housing -in the case of the games FlatSweeper, Rambla Rush and PinPamPoom- and homelessness -in the case of the game The Last Hope-. Emotions were analysed in relation to the topic before and after playing with each of the 4 games. As a result, in some cases, presenting data such as the average rental price of housing in a specific neighbourhood in Barcelona helps to move the emotions of the players towards a more positive environment on an empathetic and awareness level. In the specific case of the FlatSweeper game, it can be noted how users go from «surprised» or «amused» to clearly stating «learning prices» once they have tried the game. The game The Last Hope generates strong empathy with homelessness after playing the game.
The second instrument used was an evaluation board to position the three key elements of each proposal – character, mechanics and scenario – in one of three columns:
- explanation – the element helps to clarify the subject matter;
- doubt – the element generates doubt and does not help to explain;
- – empathy – the element works on an emotional level.
Four evaluation teams were formed, each consisting of a total of 5 members.
The vertical columns accept four possible rating:
none, a little, quite a lot and a lot.
In the case of the columns «explanation» and «empathy» the items none and a little indicate values below the threshold of acceptability and require changes in the analysed item. Quite a lot and a lot are values equal to or above sufficiency which do not require any change, despite indicating possible improvements.
The 4 video games developed as part of the project have been analyzed as political communication tools around the theme of housing and tourism in the academic context.
They propose awareness-raising in players as well they serve as links between the community of game creators and the community of activists who develop activities in the urban space. In this way, the video game proves to be a valuable tool in the generation of multi-layered and multi-modal links between public institutions, creators and civil society, between a material action space and the digital play space.
Case study 2: Craftea
Craftea is a comprehensive programme aimed at mapping our immediate environment in order to develop proposals for improving public space.
The main approach of the project is based on meaningful learning through the creation of urban planning proposals by the participants using the video game Minecraft.
Children are usually not taken into account or are not involved in public policy or urban planning decisions; given their age, they are usually left out of any decision concerning their environment. But it is these same children who will make political decisions tomorrow and it is necessary that they begin to reflect and make decisions about the space that surrounds them, taking their first steps in citizen participation and experiencing assemblies, community decisions and a form of involvement that will undoubtedly impact the future of the city.
Promote citizen participation from childhood and their involvement in the territory and public policies through the design of public spaces that respond to our needs in a collaborative way.
How it works
As part of the project, random routes are taken through the areas identified by our team in coordination with interviews with local agents and institutions in the different towns where the project is being carried out. During this drifting, photographs are taken of the chosen area and interviews are conducted with local inhabitants.
After a collective mapping of our immediate environment, we proceed to debate and develop specific proposals aimed at influencing reality through virtual environments. This project combines the intervention on the territory and the direct contact with our immediate realities with the possibility of imagining and designing alternative spaces in virtual environments, in order to return them to the territory in the form of proposals.
In this way we will be able to cross the digital-analogue barrier, influencing our way of thinking about the space that surrounds us and allowing us to articulate a propositional discourse organised around our collective needs.
The main approach of the project is based on meaningful learning through the creation of urban proposals by the participants using Minecraft videogame. These design and creation processes will be carried out in collaborative environments in which education in values such as respect, responsibility, freedom of individuals and the integration of technologies in education in an attractive and profitable way for the students will prevail.
Video games are part of everyday life in today’s society, which is why they are embedded in the way children and adolescents approach the world, even codifying it. Using them as a learning tool means stimulating the process of acquiring knowledge by directly involving the players in it.
Minecraft, the video game chosen to design our proposals, allows us to modify a virtual environment to our liking, opening up a wide range of possibilities when it comes to building and designing urban interventions and creating narratives that allow us to reflect on living space. It is also very popular and widely accepted by the target population, which favours their involvement and interest in the project, encouraging learning.
This methodology is aimed at fostering the critical spirit and analytical capacity of the participants so that it can be extrapolated from the world of video games to the whole of their experiences. With this, we also aim to promote their awareness as responsible and critical consumers of video games, as well as possible future professional or amateur creators.
Following the model of learning management by personal or group projects, the people who participate in Craftea are responsible for choosing one or more projects to develop during the course of the workshop. These projects arise from their own interests and motivations and they are free to carry them out managing their own time and resources, counting on the guidance and support of the companions as well as the rest of the group. The evaluation of the results of each project is carried out in a joint assembly and through questionnaires to the agents involved.
When organising the assemblies and the debates around the public space, several lines of action will be prioritised. These lines of action will help us to think about public and private space in an inclusive and innovative way, seeking new responses for our populations. The main categories we use in the programme are: sustainability, accessibility, gender impact, innovation, aesthetics, care for heritage and optimisation of resources.
Two project have inspired our program
Block by Block
The Habitat agency of the United Nations launched a project called Block by Block in 2015 to harness the creative potential of games and apply it to the improvement of spaces in different social contexts.
As part of this program, Minecraft is used to model the redevelopment of previously selected disadvantaged areas. The project has carried out multiple participatory processes for the design of public spaces, involving citizens in the search for urban design solutions with the aim of raising awareness about development, management, safety and accessibility for all.
Community play and collaborative design
Community members play to reconstruct spaces according to their wishes, generating proposals that contribute to the development of the final plans. This methodology has been used in more than 300 urban areas around the world. By navigating through a three-dimensional world, participants can express themselves in an open and horizontal manner, finding new methodologies for consensus that allow for the resolution of conflicts rooted in the community and facilitate collective decision-making.
Stockholm Royal Seaport
In October 2016, after three years of construction work, the city of Stockholm inaugurated the new Värtahamnen harbor as part of a major urban development project that plans to convert the former industrial area into a harbor district that will provide housing for 12,000 people. For this purpose, the public administration and the Housing Department decided to use Cities: Skylines, a video game that offers the possibility to experiment with the creation and management of urban spaces in a visually attractive and playful environment.
Videogames as a platform
Through the game, participants can contribute new ideas to the district development plan by contributing to the resolution of complex issues affecting the contemporary city such as traffic, pollution, green spaces, housing, recreation and leisure. The environment offers the possibility, in real time, to measure possible proposals with desirable outcomes and make situated decisions.
This tool helps to foster a more heterogeneous community of creators and is able to accommodate, in the context of planning, a multiplicity of voices, all those of the city’s inhabitants who wish to do so.
Going back to Craftea: Some Results of program
Impact of the project
- Since 2015 when the project started, we have served 388 boys and girls between the ages of 6 and 17 years old, with a ratio of 47% female and 53% male. The population served corresponds to 13 different populations encompassing urban, metropolitan and rural areas of Madrid, Valencia, Malaga and Mexico City. Almost half of the people served come from towns with less than 22,000 inhabitants.
- A total of 35 group assemblies were held, in which the importance of public space was discussed and consensus was reached on the improvements needed in their environment, after more than 20 drifts in which children toured their immediate environment, conducting more than 70 interviews with the inhabitants of their surroundings, gathering their needs.
- After brainstorming, in which around 500 proposals emerged, 185 intervention projects were finally carried out in the space.
39 projects aimed at achieving a social purpose.
31 projects whose objective had to do with the integration of minorities or disadvantaged groups.
48 projects that took into account the gender perspective in their approach.
25 projects of accessible spaces for people with functional diversity.
25 projects using sustainable materials.
31 projects involving renewable energies.
24 projects with a primary focus on environmental care.
Collaboration with institutions
- Housing is a central element in our imaginary and in our gaming digital playground
- videogames serve a tecnopolitical tool to transform reality
- Videogames could be meant as a methodology for creation and action on urban scale
- Big institution are looking at computer games as a platform for civic engagement