UN Habitat called it the ‘urban century’ – by 2050, 70% of the world’s population will be concentrated in cities, from 2% at the beginning of the 19th, and 10% at the beginning of the 20th century. This puts immense pressure on urban infrastructure and planning, and many of the problems cannot be tackled without citizen participation, input, and commitment. All city administration eyes now seem to be on Pokémon GO. The mind-boggling success of this augmented reality game has propelled gamification to the top of urban planning agendas.
5G wireless and IoT networks, driverless cars and smart drones, hi-tech urban farming and renewable urban energy systems – research and technology seem to be rising to the challenge posed by city growth and the anticipated huge needs of future super cities.
But we don’t just want our cities clean and safe, connected and sustainable – we also want them social, inclusive, and enjoyable. And, since Pokémon GO, we want them ‘playable’. But also thanks to Pokemon Go, no civic authority in the world needs convincing of the power of games to engage and the capacity of gamification to change behaviors.
Since long before pokemons augmented the city gaming reality, architects and artists, non-profits and city planners, as well as game and app developers have been exploring ways of building a sense of community and connectedness by creating playful interactions between city dwellers and the urban environment; of transforming public places into shared, participatory forums and playgrounds.
Here are just a few such examples of urban gamification, in its broadest sense of fostering engagement and new perceptions and behaviors through game-like, playful experiences and interactions.
Let the music play!
- The Volkswagen Fun Theory and the Piano Stairs
- The Swings: An Exercise in Musical Cooperation
- Harpa Light Organ
- Tetris, Tel Aviv City Hall
- Pong, Harpa Music Hall, Reykjavik
- Snake, King’s Cross, London
- Monopoly in Trafalgar Square, London Games Festival
Gamified ‘urban furniture’
- Smart’s Dancing Traffic Light Manikin
- Urban Invention’s ActiWait – the gaming traffic light
- Ogilvy&Mather, Panama City: The Tweeting Pothole
- Der Spiegel’s Orange Social Design Award 2014: Pugedon’s smart recycling boxes feed straydogs
(see Social Message in a Bottle: 13 Examples of Creativity and Gamification in Beverage Recycling for other creative uses of gamified vending machines)
- The Trampoline Bridge – a project by l’Atelier Zündel Cristea architecture agency
- POINTS, The Most Advanced Directional Sign on Earth
And then there was Pokémon GO
Pretty much all has been said about the game’s social and health benefits but possibly less about the way it changes our perceptions and heightens our awareness of the city environment with all of its infrastructure and landmarks, its charms and secrets, flaws and dangers. Playing in, and with, our cities makes us feel more at home, more involved and hopefully more committed to keeping our public spaces clean and safe, fun and friendly.
And now that city leaders and urban planners (but also marketers) have realized the enormous potential of augmented reality games and gamification, it remains to be seen whether their power will be exploited in the cynical terms of ‘bread and circuses’ or will be harnessed for good – to drive and facilitate citizen engagement and empowerment.
Let’s just hope it doesn’t come to this nightmarish vision by Keiichi Matsuda:
Featured image: Playable City