Three prototypes for City Games
For the first time in history, an international conference that was exclusively dedicated to city games took place on Friday, 21st of April at Het Nieuwe Instituut in Rotterdam. A conference with a special touch of Eindhoven. Speakers and visitors from all over the world took the visitors into the possibilities of serious games for cities. For example the Italian Paolo Pedercini, known for the game Nova Alea, told about the powers that shape cities and the American Eric Gordon, from Engagement Lab in Boston, took us into games with social objectives. Besides the impressive international presentations, one of the three prototypes was also presented for a city game that is currently being developed by the DATAstudio to be played in Woensel-North – Eindhoven.
“The three developed game concepts all try to create a context for meaningful contact in their own way”,
Lack of meaningful contact
City games are usually serious games or applied games, as they are usually called these days. They are not only meant to be fun, but also to have a social impact outside of the game. The Dutch field of game developers focuses for about 50% on the development of serious games, the highest share in the world. It is no coincidence that this conference was held in the Netherlands. The conference is an initiative by Games for Cities (a cooperation of Play the City with The University of Amsterdam, with which Eindhoven cooperates through the DATAstudio).
City games can have endlessly many possible subjects: designing neighborhoods or parks, the further elaboration of development plans, role playing games about crisis situations, puzzling with infrastructure, the (re)decoration of buildings, etcetera. City games are generally good in two types of things. They can effectively stimulate complex and urban situations in limited space and time so that several scenarios can be devised and tested for their effects.
Another important role has a more social nature: games – if they are really fun – can start conversations and creativity in a fantastic way between people who don’t know each other very well but who (will) have to work together.
These two objectives can, however, interfere with each other. A simulation requires realism and strict rules about what is and isn’t possible. This can be at the expense of the playfulness. The social, creative role of city games especially benefits from more fantasy and openness in the rules. Moreover, both aspects are essential in a city game. Pure simulations are usually not fun to play. Pure fantasy games are not suitable to investigate a reality outside the game with. So developers are constantly looking for the right balance.
The game concepts presented by the DATAstudio on the conference have been developed in a game jam in collaboration with Games for Cities and Play the City in particular, citizens of Woensel North and several specialists. The central starting point consisted of the question how stories could be retrieved through a game. And more concretely of the problem of loneliness among the elderly, a phenomenon that came to light from the retrieved stories and that has been extensively discussed during the workshop DATAdeserts during the previous Dutch Design Week. There is, to a certain extent, available urban data about the quantity of social contact, but not about feelings of loneliness.
The core of loneliness isn’t the lack of social contact, but the lack of meaningful contact. That’s what the participants of the game jam learned from an age researcher who was giving an introducing lecture. He also told that loneliness is actually a bigger problem among kids in puberty than among the elderly.
The three developed game concepts all try to create a context for meaningful contact in their own way, without directly centralizing the problem of loneliness. Because above all, a game has to be fun to play.
Three concepts for Woensel
One of the concepts is a game with which residents can test alternative scenarios for the use of their home, garden or street. This game builds on the concept of Woensel-North, which was developed in the Cloud-Atlas workshop of DATAstudio with Dan Hill of Arup Digital Studio. This concept is based on simulation, but it’s mainly about conversations about what could be possible and desirable in the house and on the street. A second game uses the context of the supermarket as a low-threshold start for cooking joint meals. The third concept is De TienDuizend (The Ten Thousand), a role play that can be played weekly in episodes about how the residents of the neighbourhoods by the Henri Dunant Park would want to live together if one night there would appear a mysterious wall that would make it impossible to leave the neighbourhoods for nine years. This last concept is strongly based on fantasy and creativity and enables people to get to know each other well in an unpredictable way.
One of the three concepts will be elaborated so it can be played in Woensel-North and during the next Dutch Design Week.