“People can have a say in how cities are planned,” said Tracy Metz in the introduction to City Series #3 at Hotel Droog on Thursday, March 27th with guests Ekim Tan (founder Play the City), Jurriaan van Rijswijk (Chairman of the Games for Health Europe Foundation), and Jeroen Warmerdam (founder of Tygron). “Can gaming offer a different way of designing cities, by bringing all parties acting both from above and below and letting the collective intelligence of engaged players – citizens, market parties, authorities - into city making?”
Trained as an architect and urban planner, guest speaker Ekim Tan traced her route from urban planning to city gaming and the founding of Play the City, a company aiming to open design and governance to the people.
Inspired by informal cities, which embody the sort of organization that emerges without an architect or planner, Play the City is an “out-of-hand PhD project” sparked by the contrast between the Netherlands and Turkey, between planning and non-planning. “Cities are much more complex organizations that architects cannot wrap their heads around. Whereas in 20th century urbanism, it was the architect who knew what was good for the city, now we need to know how to combine many hands, and how to negotiate between them,” Tan said.
Coming to the promised land, Tan studied urban design in Delft, the Netherlands, where she developed an appreciation for letting a city evolve. Tan referred to the work of architect Christopher Alexander, who relies heavily on discovering patterns. In one of his projects from the late '70s, individuals gathered around a plan would come up with ideas and improvise on each others' ideas. Afterwards, they would search for the wholistic vision that would emerge. “While he didn't call it gaming, the logic of what he was doing is important.”
As Tan described, serious gaming takes reality into games, simplifying reality, and creating paramaters to deal with an aspect of reality in order to influence behaviour, whereas gamification brings gaming into reality, bringing certain elements of the game into reality in order to change behaviour. City gaming asks if we can use games for the purpose of making urban design, as the basis for implementing design schemes.
What's the pay-off? “People who are not architects and designers can visualize what they expect from their urban evnironments. The game flattens the level and makes it possible for diverse stakeholders to talk to each other in order to generate concensus.” And though some games Tan has implemented have failed to influence the decision makers, they nevertheless succeeded in bringing people together (though Tan admitted that this is the part that takes the most effort).
Tracy Metz: So the key word is simplicity. Is it simplicity that gives people the feeling that they can get a grip on their city?
Ekim Tan: Gaming is a language that makes it possible for all of us to join in. It's the opposite of jargon, which in fact is a barrier to communication.
Metz: The Netherlands is full of failed master plans. Can gaming help to revitalize failed master plans?
Tan: It can achieve a lot if you trust it. The bigger question is: how can we break the culture of denial? I spend a lot of time explaining how planning has been failing, and that there is a need for a new approach.
Metz: Games are directed towards changing behaviour. How do we know they work?
Jurriaan van Rijswijk: There are many examples of how they work, for instance: a doctor who playes games makes 37% fewer mistakes because he has better hand-to-eye coordination.
Metz: Gaming sounds so warm and fuzzy and optimistic. Do you think all the set patterns we have can be changed?
Jeroen Warmerdam: We can also have egotistical personal interests in our gaming actions, but the consequences are the same. You can build selfishness into the game.
Jurriaan: Telling stories and playing games is what brought human beings to this moment. We think “gaming” is a new hype just as 3D printing, but in fact, nature is 3D printing. Women are 3D printers – they print cells and life happens.
Metz: If it's only play, what is the enduring value?
Jurriaan: Play is stronger than instinct. It is the only program we can use to change instinct. Neurologist Stewart Brown discovered that serial killers had an absense of play in their youth. If you teach rats not to play they simply die. Humans are risk-averse, but if they stay in the corner, too scared to take risks, they also will die. That is why we tell stories to each other, and why we play. It is to explore the world and to make it safe to experiment. Play is about discovering boundaries to explore the unknown.
Tan: In games you can generate circumstances that you wouldn't dare to generate in reality.
Jeroen: One of the key pay-offs is to enhance decision making. We don't have a single urban planner in our company, which makes it a natural aggregator for expertise. I think it's part of a new wave of urban development, in which you have to pull in the stakeholders.
Audience: What is the difference between the game designer and the architect? And what is the new role for the architect?
Tan: The game designer chooses the paramaters of the game and many people decide the outcome. However, certain outcomes will never happen with cerain rules.
Jurriaan: I am an architect and I design behavioural change. People think architects draw something that contractors build. I use game design principles for behavioural change.
Tan: The next step is that people would like to set the rules themselves.
Jurriaan: Game design is an art. It scares me that people think they are able to design games. 80% of games fail because of bad design.
Audience: You still need a good designer to realize the outcomes of the game. Stakeholders would make horribly ugly designs.
Audience: Will gaming not result in more compormises?
Tan: You might learn that you can't always get what you want and the game is sometimes about undertanding what you can not get.
Jurriaan: I use gaming as a design priciniple, in order to gain contol. The only aspect of play that's in the game is the reward.
The game is just a set of rules. It's not about the interaction. It's about virtuality with a measurable impact on reality, virtuality that is an integral tool of day-to-day life.