Sjors Martens: City Games’ City-Game-Cycle: Fitting the Game to the City Challenge

Sjors Martens | Utrecht University, Media and Culture Sciences and Computer Sciences | Supervisors: Prof. dr Joost Raessens, dr Michiel de Lange, Prof. dr Peter Werkhoven | 1 september 2015 – 31 augustus 2019 | S.C.Martens[at]uu.nl

City Games’ City-Game-Cycle: Fitting the Game to the City Challenge
Project: Graduate Programme Games Research

Games addressing citizens are increasing in number. Matching this increase are new and recurring narratives about what the city is. Cities have been called Smart, playful, sustainable, hackable, social – all names that determine the roles of cities and actions of their citizens. In my research I argue that the city games developed to foster these city ideas are initially informed by (sometimes implicit) values about the city. The subsequent design of the game ensures game mechanics that allow the players to undertake actions that make these values come to fruition. This gives rise to the City-Game Cycle: from a conception of the city a game is formed that ultimately must give rise to said city.

Turns out many city games are not specifically tailored to the city values that have to come out of it. Games pursuing one set of values suddenly provoke different actions. For instance, Pokémon Go was a way to make people go out and spend money, but ultimately also made social city space. In my research I develop a method to determine whether and how the game mechanics fit the city values initially intended. By looking at this ‘fit’ I strive to explain how certain game designs are used very often in city games and dispel designs that return often but do not seem to work. Ultimately I will argue that games for cities are only useful for a handful of city values and should therefore not be seen as the omnipotent tool to reach utopia.