City Makers: Insights on the Development of a Serious Game to Support Collective Reflection and Knowledge Transfer in Participatory Processes

City Makers: Insights on the Development of a Serious Game to Support Collective Reflection and Knowledge Transfer in Participatory Processes

Teodora Iulia Constantinescu (Hasselt University, Diepenbeek, Belgium), Oswald Devisch (Hasselt University, Diepenbeek, Belgium) and Georgi Kostov (Playful Interactive Environments Research Center, Hagenberg, Austria)
Copyright: © 2017 |Pages: 26
DOI: 10.4018/IJEPR.2017100103
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Having the ability to give form to cooperative environments while easing the process of collective reflection, serious games have been put forward since the sixties, as a way to overcome challenges in participatory processes. This paper discusses the City Makers game prototype and reports on the game development process, with a focus on five key game-testing sessions. The overall aim of the serious game is to foster collective reflection and facilitate knowledge transfer in and across multidisciplinary groups. The hypothesis is that framing the participation process in a game format facilitates idea generation and dialogue between stakeholders. Therefore, the paper concludes with a set of challenges a serious game has to overcome in order to communicate knowledge from one group to another
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In her book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Jane Jacobs (1961) defines cities as systems that follow specific rules and generate easily identifiable patterns. She argues that cities are intricate, organised ecosystems rather than linear organizations. As such, a more horizontal relationship between citizens and policy makers is needed in order to implement urban projects that will support various interactions and create distinct-macro behaviour. These urban projects typically require the involvement of multiple stakeholders who can all significantly affect the budgets, civic support and overall success. Policy makers have been experimenting with participatory forms of governance to support the development of urban projects. These new forms of governance resulted in participatory paradigms such as advocacy planning, collaborative planning, communicative planning and trans-active planning, revealing various challenges. In spite of these paradigms, participatory projects keep on failing in maintaining long-term participant motivation and reaching traditionally underrepresented members of the population. Adding to this, misunderstandings related to differences in expertise and incapacity to overcome unequal resource distribution (Arnstein, 1969, Healey, 1997; Pares and March, 2013) make the process not only slow but sometimes inefficient. Horelli (2002) argues that participation is not an isolated event, but a constant communication between different groups that can be assured by using different methods. Games have been put forward as one such method, ever since the sixties (Duke, 2011; Feldt, 2014). They are used as communication devices and have the potential to transfer knowledge from one group to another and form cooperative environments. This paper explores how a particular game addresses this aspect of participation. As such, the main research question is: What challenges should be addressed when using games as drivers for knowledge exchange between multidisciplinary groups? In order to answer this question we are going to report on the findings of a game development process.

Salen and Zimmerman (2003) refer to games as complex problem solving spaces: (1) they provide an abstracted model of a problem, fostering an accelerated understanding of a complex issue, (2) they provide a structure for interaction, a model for learning while having a finite set of rules and (3) they allow individuals to see direct consequences of their actions as of the actions and decisions of others. However, the development and use of such games within the context of urban planning is still very much a scarcity. Cross-disciplinary teams, where both game designers and urban planners take part in experimenting with games are rarely encountered (Brandt, Messeter, 2004). This leads to either game prototypes that do not support spatial decision making processes or activities that are not games, as they lack a clear set of rules and a balance between abstraction and reality, fun and seriousness. Advances in our understanding of technology, education and play, led to the creation of, so called, serious games that more effectively connect game play and learning (Crookall, 2010; Deterding et al., 2011; Kapp, 2013).

In order to develop serious games that are both fun and can support decision making, this paper proposes to expand the scope of the game design process to include multiple stakeholders from the very beginning of the process, integrating their expertise and capabilities of expressing and negotiating ideas, through a game prototype. There exist a series of methods to develop games that support particular goals such as communicate knowledge between multidisciplinary groups. One such method is the MDA framework (Mechanics, Dynamics and Aesthetics). This paper takes the MDA framework as part of its research methodology and uses it as a lens to reflect on the conditions needed to develop a serious game, dubbed City Makers.

The paper starts by presenting the methodological approach. The next section describes the background for developing the City Makers game and identifies a number of issues translated into game design goals. The four main iterations and the respective game-prototypes are then presented, followed by challenges of their application. The paper concludes with a set of reflections, conditions within the process of designing a game that would better serve participatory projects.

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