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Serious Games for urban planning

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Tygron, a company that creates serious games for urban development, hosted part of the Serious Gaming workshop. Tygron’s products were created out of a need for city planners to be able to conceptualise development initiatives before they are put into policy.

The game they introduced integrates a Sims-like gaming platform with real-life indicators taken from GIS information systems and city datasets. Players are given a planning challenge and a certain time frame in which to complete it. They must heed real-life indicators such as livability, heat stress and population densities while staying within allocated budgets and real-life governmental regulations.

While the gaming models are not entirely accurate, they are accurate enough to allow stakeholders to have realistic conversations about long-term goals, while allowing them to explore the feasibility of these goals through the simulation.

To demonstrate the technology, the audience was divided into four teams at separate computers. Our simulation focused on developing land and resources around a university in Delft.

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Each team was given a different actor role, including representing the municipality, the student housing association, the water board and university real estate. Each team had a unique goal they had to accomplish, while simultaneously having to negotiate with other teams who had competing interests.

Overall, every team faced frustration with the system and the intense backlogs and budget shortages that made achieving their goals extremely difficult. Three teams blamed the municipality (the fourth team) for being extremely slow to approve their development plans. In turn, the municipality was frustrated by how the other teams ignored many pre-existing regulations (such as sustainability requirements) that made approving developments difficult.

Tygron explained that the frustrations we were feeling were quite common for game players, as these frustrations represent real-life gridlocks. Interestingly, the frustrations we were feeling about the system’s process transferred over to feeling frustrated toward the game simulation. Yet, being frustrated towards a game isn’t beneficial; being frustrated towards the real-life system is more constructive. We were then asked to consider: What about the game process brings out real-life limitations, and what can we do about it?

By allowing the audience to partake in rounds of game simulation, it provided us a first-hand look at how serious games can be used to work around real-life problems. It presented a compelling case for the continued use of such games to increase collaboration and debate between stakeholders.

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As Tygron suggests, the best part of the game was the ability to restart and try again. By allowing players to always have the opportunity refresh and begin from a blank page, it prompted a degree of creativity and innovative decision-making that would otherwise be impossible. The concluding consensus was that change comes not through playing the game, but rather through creating it.

Marcus Vlaar, creative director at Ranj Serious Games, wrapped-up the Serious Gaming session.  He explained that the use of gaming is in one’s ability to arrive at new solutions and to reveal new problems that one may not have arrived at from more traditional methods of thinking.

Thus, the objective of serious games is to make illusions so realistic that they encourage creative strategies for real-life problem solving. “Playing a game is the voluntary attempt to overcome unnecessary obstacles,” said Vlaar.

During any game, a player is forced to invest time and effort in order to achieve a certain goal. If there is a balance between the difficulty of a challenge and one’s own skill level, then they will constantly be engaged with the experience, and will devote extreme attention to it.

Games offer a window of opportunity for a wide variety of fields, because they have the ability to attract an individual’s full attention while creating an important learning environment.  If learning by doing is the most effective way of doing something, then games provide huge opportunities.

  • craigpurcell

    I could design a game called “The Ancient City” compelte with all the real life games that are planned in small historic towns.