City-Gaming History

a brief overview of the history of city-gaming as emerging field

Experimenting with games for strategising urban futures is not new.

Already in the sixties, games such as Metropolis [Richard Duke, 1966] established the role of games as a laboratory for cities: games as multi-player, interactive and rule-based environments were suitable for simulating urban processes successfully. The commercial success of City Games would follow a few decades later with games such as Will Wright’s SimCity. Within the Dutch urban planning tradition, specifically, scenario testing through game-like interfaces is already well accepted. The most prominent example is TU Delft Professor of Urban Planning Dirk Frieling’s ‘Het Metropolitane Debat’ [Frieling, 1998].

What is new today is that games impact urban reality directly. In the past, games were perceived as environments decoupled from reality; they were typically used for simulating cities in a safe environment. However, contemporary theories of play propose a more integrated relationship between games and real life. This understanding can be identified across contemporary city games: Modelling the Future (Sydney), Community Plan-it and Participatory Chinatown (Boston), Betaville (New York), Tygron’s Next Generation Planner, Rezone the Game (Den Bosch) are each good examples of games designed to solve real-life challenges.

With this new generation of games which influence human behaviour, facilitate interactive design and collaborative decision-making for complex urban processes, City Gaming earns a new meaning as a problem-solving platform. Games help aggregate intelligence of real players to tackle real life challenges. We observe established knowledge institutions adjust their curriculum to make room for city gaming: the University of Cambridge is hiring a Professor of Lego for Urban Design, MIT Medialab’s recently developed Cityscope, ETH Zurich’s brand new education track ‘Action! On the Real City’. Furthermore, governments as well as large energy, water, and construction companies are beginning to recognise City Gaming as a robust problem-solving tool, while young software and game designers respond to the demand with games such as ‘Smart Blocks’ by Vincent Marchetto, ‘The Sky is the Limit’ by social designers of Willem de Kooning Academie,‘EgoCity’ by The Why Factory’s researchers, and ‘Game Marrineterrein’ by the City of Amsterdam’s urban designers and more [link database].