placemaking

Making Games an Integral Part of ‘Place’

Curators of the public realm and game designers need to explore opportunities to collaborate to make games an integral part of place.

It will be a challenge to bridge these professions, but it is a nexus that must occur for common goals to be established.

Gaming can enhance human interaction with the landscape, inviting and engaging with a broad spectrum of society. There are, however, some key differences between designing physical and virtual environments.

The physical landscape is bound by the conventions of society, layered with a history, a suite of infrastructure and landmarks, which help to define the setting, purpose and cultural significance.

Virtual environments are at origin created from scratch on a blank canvas, within a game engine and adaptable physics – an abstraction of the actual environment. This is accompanied by an inventory of items to populate the space, often featuring their own traits, again, an abstraction of the physical equivalent.

We frequently see real world locations referenced in virtual game environments, often in the form of famous landmarks, architecture, landscape, historic periods and events. This helps people to make associations and to create the desired ‘atmosphere’ within a game. In one sense, landmarks may be considered the anchors of place as they are often the first image people associate with.

‘To the tourist, a city is a collection of landmarks, their surroundings irrelevant on a whistle-stop tour of the most famous sights. In games, geography is matter not of accuracy, but of atmosphere’ 1

Be it virtual or physical, assets and locality are not the only thing that define a place.

It is only when we consider the potential of tapping into local settings and experiences that the local economy for gaming becomes apparent. Gaming could be informed by locals and created for a broader audience, allowing market for local knowledge to develop.

‘A game is always going to feel more true to its real-world setting if it’s made by people who actually live and work there’ 2

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When we think about ‘Place’ there are other qualities that contribute to our cultural map of the world. An ongoing social narrative. Human interaction. A history. A future. Events. Appeal. Last but not least, and most applicable in a gaming sense – fun.

In one sense Augmented Reality (AR) is competing with the world of domesticated gaming, however, there are other audiences that may find the outdoor setting appealing – tourists. When combined with the local gaming population, AR draws people outdoors to be active, without preaching the benefits or making the physical achievement the central focus of the game.

Whilst the game designer has a lead role in creation and execution of games, the desired experience of cities continues to be shaped through public realm curation and stimulated through place making. Outdoor gaming  can provide an adaptable tool to help to inform both.

Landscape Architects and Place Makers understand the need for engaging activities within the public realm. There is, however, a flexibility that the overlaid, augmented digital environment presents, which transcends both the permanency of physical boundaries and features, and expense of infrastructure.

One of the other tangible opportunities AR that sets it apart from Virtual Reality (VR) for example, is the ability to leverage off the existing tactile experience as part of the game. This adds something new to location based mobile gaming (LBMG). Whilst this is not unique experience when considering existing experiences such as geocaching, the hybrid of traditional screen based game experiences with AR, in conjunction with specific geographic locations is new territory and practically unheard of amongst curators of the public realm.

References 1 & 2 – Edge Magazine, ‘Cabbies hate this weird trick’, Dec 2015