Serious games in sustainable urban development – Part 1

Concepts of sustainable urban development, “smart city” and civic engagement are becoming more and more popular among researchers and people in charge of municipal planning. With their growing popularity, there are also ideas to include gamification mechanisms and serious games in the course of their implementation.

Key reasons of this growing attention towards serious gaming are the main barriers preventing wide acceptance of social innovations such as participatory budgeting, civic consultations or various technologies used in sustainable urban development. Those two main barriers are:

  • Lack of civic engagement, due to bad experiences from the past or general low level of civic activity;
  • Beliefs and attitudes which inhibit the acceptance of social or technological innovations crucial to the development of a sustainable urban community;

Gamificiation and serious games are perceived as a possible remedy for those two problems, because of their potential of increasing people engagement and activity, as well as using this engagement to educate them and change attitudes towards various new behaviors.

From around 2010 a lot of ideas emerged on how to gamify civic engagement in modern urban communities. Some representative cases of those games and game related projects are:

  • Trash Tycoon – a social network game by Guerillapps, running from 2011 to 2012, which focused on issues like recycling and upcycling in modern cities(1);
  • Invisible playground – a series of urban games held initially in Berlin and now all across Europe, aimed as a form of leisure activity, but also as a medium for increasing social engagement across urban areas (2);
  • Community PlantIt – created by Emmerson’s College Engagement Lab, a serious game and a platform that enables municipal authorities to communicate with citizens. The aim of the game is to gather opinions and feedback from community dwellers and foster their engagement in social consultations (3);
  • Gamefull Urban Mobility – a research project held at Games & Experimental Entertainment Laboratory of RMIT University. The aim of this project is to assess the potential of gamification when applied to urban mobility (4);

Furthermore, Community PlantIt is an example of a recently emerging approach towards gamification that merges the concepts of social engagement and sustainable urban development with data-oriented focus typical for a “smart city”. In this kind of approach, a game not only educates, engages and promotes certain attitudes and behaviors, but is also a source of data on citizens opinion and activity, as well as feedback on various projects planned by municipal authorities.

In the second part of this post we’d like to present the results of “CONIUNCTA” project held at the Warsaw University of Technology. Our project is based on a similar approach as Community PlantIt, but it also integrates several layers of geospatial data used to gather feedback from city dwellers during the course of dedicated serious games City Shaper and City Hall 1.0.