Jessika Weber (ADE) and Hans Westerbeek (AHFM), both researchers in the SCITHOS project, visited the 4th International City-Gaming Conference - Games for Cities in Rotterdam on April, 22nd 2017 to get inspiration for the next step in the research project. SCITHOS plans to develop a serious game to aid in decision making with respect to sustainable urban tourism.
For those, who have never heard about the event, Games for Cities is an annual conference that aims to create a platform for knowledge exchange on games that have the potential to facilitate more effective and inclusive city-making. Our visit to Games for Cities helped us to our sustainable tourism hospitality game and to see what other game designers and city planners are busy with.
But why shall we look into urbanism and gaming? According to the United Nations report (2014) 54 % of the world’s population was living in cities in 2014, however, the urban population is expected to continue to grow, so that by 2050, the world will be one third rural and two-thirds urban (66 %). This will bring new challenges for urban planning and policy making.
Thus, communities and citizen equally need to be included in city-making besides urban planners, policy makers, businesses and municipalities. We would like to point out 3 takeaways from the conference and share them with you:
Introducing people to difficult topics like sustainability
The means of serious games is that the players learn about a specific topic by playing a game. This implies, that serious games are not fun in the first place, but it does also not exclude the element of fun per se. In order to bridge delicate or less interesting topics, Fun is how theses games need to be approached - make them fun to play! However, fun is a term of different (mis)understandings. Letting the player decide what is fun for him/her and which aspect of the game to concentrate on is most important in game development.
Give citizens a voice and integrate them into city planning
Even by using games, people are used to having everything organised for them and awaiting for a top-down decision making process as the Amsterdam City Council reported from experience with their circular economy game. This shows that, even though people are playing a game, classical roles of “the citizen - awaiting for decisions” and “the major - leading decisions” are still written in our DNA. As explained by Eric Gordon in his keynote, the citizen as a player needs to be acquainted with the exploratory style of games, allowing him/her to fail and gaining player experiences. This involves getting used to uncertain outcomes, designing actions and start anew when the first attempt to civic participation failed.
Understanding games as means not the end
This connects to the latter point and requests to understand games as an activity which is more important than the outcome of gameplay (e.g. policy making). Gameplay is foremost done for it’s own sake. The SCITHOS game should also be understood as such: an intervention in which stakeholders come together to discuss their different perspectives on developing sustainable tourism policies in a playful environment.
The above takeaways inspired us to consider games for approaching complex topics, but on the other side make you also aware the games are not the only answer as there are still difficulties in implementing them. However, let them approach us with an open mind-set and a healthy portion of childlike curiosity.
SCITHOS develops Smart City Hospitality guidelines and tools for cities that could help them find solutions to achieve sustainable tourism and actively involve the public in doing so, with the aim to change city tourism into something that benefits tourists, residents and the environment.
SHITHOS is a collaboration between several research organisations, enterprise, and a number of European cities.