Urban Gaming Workshop

Blurring physical and digital worlds for codesign.

A workshop I ran to see how some of the codesign games I developed (see PocketPedal and the Urban Gaming Toolkit performed in the wildm as tools for design negotations. In the Urban Games Workshop, artefacts developed (some digital, some cardboard, some a mix of both) where situated and tested to see if games could amplify the codesign process, namely helping stakeholders (and designers) explore the ecology of cycling.

Workshop participants came from a diverse set of backgrounds, with different, potentially conflicting, understandings of the site. Stakeholders included cyclists, motorists, transit users, a planner from the local council and two health professionals. Data was collected through recorded conversations, and two questionnaires, one completed at the end of the workshop and the other a week later.

The social context of group play in a shared physical location provides for a dramatically extended repertoire of play patterns, especially in the case of mobile games played on portable devices. Workshop activities encouraged players to engage with each other and with different capabilities of the game.

Collaborative play saw one player guiding their avatar at the instructions of the group, requiring participants to negotiate a shared goal, at speed, and with immediate consequences. Other activities paired a playing participant with an observer, who documented their attempts and then recounted his/her observations. Role-switching between actors and spectators challenged players to come into new social relationships and develop novel understandings. Such activities interfaced people that do not typically meet and encouraged them to engage with subtleties of their existing preconceptions.

Beyond that, these activities allowed exploration of alternatives and possibilities. Such explorations helped participants to appreciate game environments in greater nuance than was warranted by in-game geometry or automation. The contexts of the varying out-of-game experiences discussed during these curated activities also lead to reconsiderations of in-game events in reference to other locations and situations, in Melbourne and elsewhere.

Though experienced collectively, the phones with PocketPedal city are carried personally: a reversal of one’s normal relationship with the urban, which exists as a shared entity that is experienced by individuals. This portability allows for virtual experiences to be staged anywhere, at any time. In the context of a stakeholder workshop , players can interact with the game in any space, with any participant, as groups or individuals, easily rearranging. The familiarity of the phones helped non-gamers – most of the workshop group – feel at ease as players. Instead of being intimidated by unfamiliar activities, this flexible, portable and personal play facilitated rapport and creativity – triggering laughter, excitement and the formation of friendly rivalries.

Methods that can help to disrupt habits and preconceptions can be productive in many design situations. Mundane experiences can obstruct complex processes from being understood, precluding productive negotiation and the invention of broadly suitable alternatives. Participant feedback indicates that imagining together through games can facilitate exchanges between diverse individuals with distinct worldviews and experiences. Negotiation between players, trial and error testing in a virtual environment, advice giving, friendly competitions and score comparisons instigate reciprocal exchanges of meaning. These engaging interactions can lead to individual and collective discoveries that would be impossible without a shared, dynamic and embedded virtual world.

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