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NOTES - "Serious" Urban Games

Gabriele Ferri - design and critical/speculative design
Masters Digital Design - ethics and design futures
Play & Civic Media - playfulness, design digital tech and cities - Digital tools to foster a variety of civic activities. Play/game design sits deeply within this. Play motivates civic practices (voting, managing commons, etc)

Serious games. Urban Games - combining the 2. The next big trend? - not so sure. At least not in the same sense as previously considered.

So how can games be serious? And how can Urban games specifically be serious?

A Serious Game

  • A game exploring and issue or problem
  • A game that is no longer fun. That makes people uncomfortable.
  • A game with a goal to improve the context outside the game
  • Has a constructive purpose
  • Not made by a game designer
  • It lets us learn something - it teaches. It is intentionally so. By design.

Perhaps prompts us to empathize or understand something in a different way. This might make us experience a feeling that we were unprepared for.

Electronic game whose purpose is not simply to entertain. - teach train - educational, health care, advertising, politics. Often funded by a third party with these intentions in mind. EDUTAINMENT

Do we think this works? - Generally speaking yes.
Helps us to understand dynamic complex problems. This can help break those down, builds a chance to explore. But do they really connect? Hard to tell.
Games are powerful and fact that people follow rules within the environment of game carries value and trust within that.
But they are also ephemeral so hard to gauge.
Game designers often brought in at the last minute of a project (investigation, research) Then the designers are brought in to make people do A, B, C… “make a game to make them do A, B, C” because we have already studied them and these are the right things.

Cringeworthy examples
UNICEF Kid Power - hamfisted attempt to solve 2 problems - Obesity epidemic in ‘developed world’ malnutrition in the developing world. Gameify these 2 factors. Created a fitbit style watch - unlock special missions, tie in with Star Wars.
Counting steps - school yard games for teachers. Each step could be matched in a food donation to a developing country.
High production budget - time resources money. Playfulness was an add on.
Why do we hate it? Simple gameification, not game design. (take some element of game design/mechanic and apply it to a non-playful context - perhaps points or badges/tournament)

The Pokemon GO-ification of all types of social design
‘Follow JC-Go’ - designed by Catholic Church
Still in the App store.
Collecting Saints. Couldn’t even make them fight each other - main complaint on the app page.
43 designers worked on it. 32000 work hours. $500000 sponsorship and private donations funded it.
Why do we hate it? - making the theme work through the gameification.

More nuanced examples:
Sports based apps walking cycling, working out swimming. Tracking and building the quantified self. Then sharing those elements online. Highly gamefied to start with (Nike plus) Has been left behind by the highly gamefied ideas. Loses the awards, achievements, lower competitive. Now focusing on the experiential element of that specific sport. A positive separation. Let games be games, let fitness be fitness. Not everything must become a game.

Positive examples
Mary Flannagan - Massively Multiplayer Urban Games (2008) - rewarding deeper human exchanges. Gamefied apps leave aside (by design) the qualitative human interactions. So how do we make games that prompt people to ask something of somebody they have never met. How do we make this encounter be meaningful?
Especially when we’re a game designer/researcher asked to do work that does encourage systematic change through games.

Journey to the end of the Night
Checkpoint run overnight with tasks. You’re chased and if you’re caught you become a chaser. There are safe zones. There is a clear winner.
Open source game, with a rule book. They give ideas and help to support you make.
The route makes sense in terms of the pathway through the space, but also emotionally. There is an emotionally charged element to being chased through the night. So designing the safe spaces and the places at the end of the night. Emphasis on the emotional experience of the player. Doesn’t emphaisis pointd or achievements, but things you feel or experience. Deep human experiences.

The Datacatcher
Generates random factoids based on your geolocation. Turn the wheel you get a new trivia stat. Part of a ludic design (Will Gaver - Interaction Research Design - Goldsmiths) not just functionalistic or solution driven, but more open ended/ambiguous. By being physically situated and receiving objective statistical elements. So you reflect on the characteristics of where you are. What we find out as a result of finding out this objective information.

A Story ATM
Create an in-game currency. You can only collect that currency by collecting a local story from someone on the street and depositing it in the ATM machine in order to get a game coin.
You re-evaluate what a story is?, what the meanful element is?, what makes something local?
In the moment the player is asking for help. Perhaps pushing people outside their areas of interest. Asking migrant communities to provide the help.
Depositing these stories into the ATM gave value to those stories as well. Was a symptom, but not designed for. Worked in retrospective.

Serious Urban Games SHOULD BE
Critical : point at things we believe are problematic or need more discussion, making visible the otherwise invisible - this is part of the critical nature of the message.

rich in human connections - not shallow

political - games are somewhat subversive by design.

Preliminary ideas open to discussion. Perhaps disagreement or confusion. Open for debate and discussion

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