What is Urban Gamification?

What is Urban Gamification?

Everyone’s experience of a city is unique. Whether one is visiting a place for the first time or has lived there all their life, their experiences are shaped by their personal interactions with the built environment. Buildings, landscapes, and streets come together to offer an opportunity for sensory stimulation, however, most of them are unable to provide inspiration. While a city’s infrastructure accounts for livability, equal importance isn’t given to enjoyability. Play and games embedded in the city’s fabric can help improve user engagement with urban spaces.

Gamification describes the application of elements of game-playing to other areas of activity. When applied to the urban context, it presents itself as nodes for playful interaction that create transformative ways of experiencing the city. Urban gamification uses attributes like point scoring, competitions, and rules of play in many domains to encourage participation between people and the built environment. Games provide an even playing field for community members to meet and interact, each subject to the same conditions regardless of their social background.

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Playing Pokémon GO in the City. Image © David Grandmougin

Both physical features like parks and installations, and digital games can enhance the urban setting. Technology lends a hand in creating attractive and dynamic interactions in the city, nested in physical space. Pokémon GO, an example, took the world by storm with its interactive augmented reality and location tracking features. With a smartphone app, players would catch and train Pokémon characters in real locations, whilst rediscovering their cities. Similar forms of playful placemaking exhibit possibilities of how games can reconnect people with cities.

Digital gamification of the city can have multiple benefits for the citizens’ livelihoods and the infrastructure. Video games have been successful social lubricants in online arenas, and the same principles can be borrowed from urban environments. Location-based digital games can create a strong sense of place in pockets of the city, appropriating it into a virtual playground. Bringing out more people to the streets also makes them safer, more vibrant, and more economically charged.

By layering virtual content over real-life locations, as Pokémon GO did, places are activated through site-specific installations that require no time or money to be physically constructed. Hello Lamp Post, a social engagement project deployed in over 25 international cities, allows people to have text-based conversations with street objects. The project aims to bring cities and their citizens closer together by creating interactive streets.

The thoughtful addition of playful and engaging elements to real-world activities can bring diverse groups of people together, creating a stronger social fabric in the city. Gamified placemaking should be designed primarily around the users, rather than the functions they enable. Volkswagen’s Fun Theory is a staircase in a Stockholm subway station converted into playing piano keys. The project successfully grabs the attention of passers-by and initiated molding healthy habits of using the stairs.

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Volkswagen's The Fun Theory. Image Courtesy of The Fun Theory - Rolighetsteorin

Location-based digital games also have the potential to offer interesting and useful data to cities. The gamification of city improvement can be used to capture incredibly valuable geodata for government bodies. SeeClickFix, a city service request app, performs as its name suggests. Users can capture issues regarding repair needs, share feedback or ask questions to their local government leaders. In Panama City, motion-sensitive gadgets were placed in street potholes to send out Tweets when they were run over by cars. The light-hearted instant posts by The Tweeting Pothole motivate civic engagement in the city. Without any major financial investments from the cities, geotagged locations from games have helped cultural affairs departments track the popularity of areas.

Urban gamification hints at possibilities for more participatory and playful cities in the coming future. The full potential of gamified space is accentuated when both physical and digital strategies are used in tandem, creating layers of urban experience. These phygital spaces would by nature be dynamic, altering perceptions of the space depending on what is loaded on one's phone. Games in the public realm may allow citizens to preserve the city’s past, shape its future and experience its presence. 

Editor's note: This article was originally published on September 26, 2022.

About this author
Cite: Ankitha Gattupalli. "What is Urban Gamification?" 19 Nov 2022. ArchDaily. Accessed . <https://www.archdaily.com/989548/what-is-urban-gamification> ISSN 0719-8884

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