Public engagement is not a game – or should be?

Minecraft – the one and only

Note: blog under construction. But you get exclusive access to the teaser.

Witnessing growing innovation in public engagement, including the use of online video games such as Minecraft (and its UN-Habitat version Block by Block) to engage younger people in planning, some planners fear that planning may not be taken seriously. Indeed, urban planning is not a game: the stakes involved in urban development and management are large enough, and managing competing interests and land uses in an increasingly globalised world is no simple feat. Yet if cities are to become inclusive and allow all segments of society to learn about urban affairs and contribute on that basis to decision making, then urban planning should maybe integrate more playful forms of engagement. The stakes in allowing citizens to play are not only to engage young people, but also to stimulate greater understanding about our our living environment and the opportunities and challenges facing cities, as well as the role of local government and citizens in relation to these. By providing greater understanding of urban affairs, gaming can also mediate more creative solutions to urban challenges, in ways that can potentially benefit everyone. Providing that we all want inclusive cities, that is.

This post reviews some reasons why gaming should become a core part of public engagement. By riding down the streets of online gaming city environments, this post highlights the multiple ways in which public engagement can become more creative and engaging, as well some expected road bumps and pot holes along the way.

Reason no. 1: Gaming is FUN!

credits: Pixabay

Rosalind Wright Picard, one of the (many) leading figures of Human Computer Interaction (HCI), claimed that tools should be fun to use. Picard developed the notion of Affective Computing, which looks at how emotion and computing interact with each other. For the exclusive purpose of this blog only, a simplified theory of “Funology” can look something like this:

Insert Funology graph, read Picard.

Some summary conclusions from the above elaborate diagram:

If it’s fun to use, it’s more likely that it will be used.

If it’s fun to use, young (and less young) people will love it.

If people love it, they may start become more interested in their communities and broader urban affairs. For instance, they could become more aware of inequalities, and how these can affect them via crime, public expenditure (e.g. paying for managing homeless people rather than effective integration infrastructure), among other issues. They could also become aware of climate change issues and urban resilience.

Reason no. 2: Fun breeds creativity, which can breed great solutions


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