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City Games: Up and Down and Sideways on the Ladder of Abstraction

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Like games and everyday life, games and cities have been intersecting in two primary ways: modelling the city in an abstract view from above, with planning games and urban simulations, and transforming people's everyday urban experiences and behaviors with playful interventions on the ground. Neither one, this talk argues, has been particularly successful in creating lasting improvements in citizen's well being. To accomplish this, we need to take game design seriously and look sideways at the messy middle between map and territory, the processes in which one is translated into the other (or not). My keynote at ISAGA 2017 in Delft, NL, July 10, 2017.

Published in: Design

City Games: Up and Down and Sideways on the Ladder of Abstraction

  1. 1. city games Up and Down and Sideways on the Ladder of Abstraction Sebastian Deterding (@dingstweets) c b
  2. 2. how can games and play facilitate wellbeing in cities?
  3. 3. Why am I even here?
  4. 4. “The most powerful way to gain insight into a system is by moving between levels of abstraction. Many designers do this instinctively. But it's easy to get stuck on the ground, experiencing concrete systems with no higher-level view. It's also easy to get stuck in the clouds, working entirely with abstract equations or aggregate statistics.” bret victor, 2011
  5. 5. this applies!
  6. 6. two stuck and disconnected levels of abstraction
  7. 7. two stuck and disconnected ways of seeing the city
  8. 8. chapter 1 Big City Games
  9. 9. the city as a simulation game
  10. 10. … soon to be real practice in the “smart city”
  11. 11. data model = reality
  12. 12. people pointing at maps
  13. 13. educated elites pointing down at clean, docile maps in comfy, well-lit rooms shielding them from the less-so city life outside.
  14. 14. “Seeing like a state”
  15. 15. Disembodied utilitarian 3rd person view from above on a simplified representation of infrastructures and resource flows through them
  16. 16. MAPS ARE FEEL-GOOD FICTIONS
  17. 17. “god games”: model train play as power fantasy
  18. 18. the control room fantasy
  19. 19. design fictions
  20. 20. populated by render ghosts
  21. 21. An ephemeral vision forever removed in a proximate future
  22. 22. MAPPING SHAPES THE TERRITORY
  23. 23. rendering reality legible and thus, manipulable
  24. 24. rendering reality gamelike
  25. 25. … means rendering reality less resilient and livable
  26. 26. MAPS IGNORE & DESTROY THE LOCAL FABRIC
  27. 27. “authoritarian high modernism”
  28. 28. “The plan: Dictator!”
  29. 29. le corbusier, la ville radieuse
  30. 30. costa & niemeyer, brasilia
  31. 31. “The issue is not whether it's a good city or a bad city. It's just not a city. It doesn't have the ingredients of a city: messy streets, people”
  32. 32. “The point of cities is multiplicity of choice. ... Intricate minglings of different uses in cities are not a form of chaos. On the contrary, they represent a complex and highly developed form of order.” jane jacobs, 1961
  33. 33. communing
  34. 34. mutual presence, watch & help
  35. 35. appropriation
  36. 36. “placemaking”
  37. 37. chapter 2 Small Street Play
  38. 38. situationist international, 1957-61
  39. 39. constructed situation, “a moment of life concretely and deliberately constructed by the collective organization of a unitary ambiance and a game of events” psychogeography, “the study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organized or not, on the emotions and behavior of individuals” situationist international, 1957-61
  40. 40. big urban game, 2003
  41. 41. pacmanhattan, 2004
  42. 42. massively multiplayer soba, 2008
  43. 43. drift deck, 2008
  44. 44. koppelkiek, 2009
  45. 45. exclusionarypiano staircase, 2009
  46. 46. carpe diem, 2017
  47. 47. the city as parkour play
  48. 48. “Seeing like a citizen”
  49. 49. Embodied 1st person experience of lived street fabric of people interacting with each other and their environs, its subjective uses and meanings
  50. 50. PARKOUR IS EPHEMERAL
  51. 51. PARKOUR IS EXCLUSIVE
  52. 52. “Are you hipster enough?”
  53. 53. PARKOUR IS A FEEL-GOOD DECOY
  54. 54. chromaroma, 2010: switch more to bike and feet!
  55. 55. car-based, single-use zoning designs physical activity out of everyday life
  56. 56. gentrification: the game, 2010
  57. 57. chapter 3 Translation errors
  58. 58. civic life Lived reality, practice, fabric city planning Map, structure, vision
  59. 59. civic life Lived reality, practice, fabric city planning Map, structure, vision Fictive Reductive Fabricless
  60. 60. civic life Lived reality, practice, fabric city planning Map, structure, vision Fictive Reductive FabriclessEphemeral Exclusive Decoy
  61. 61. civic life Lived reality, practice, fabric city planning Map, structure, vision Fictive Reductive FabriclessEphemeral Exclusive Decoy
  62. 62. participatory design
  63. 63. play the city
  64. 64. community planit, 2011+
  65. 65. “Now that game play is over, the website has converted to a post-game state where you can see comments people have left and summary stats on player responses.” participation is tokenist
  66. 66. participation is exclusive
  67. 67. civic life Lived reality, practice, fabric city planning Map, structure, vision Fictive Reductive FabriclessEphemeral Exclusive Decoy
  68. 68. civic life Lived reality, practice, fabric city planning Map, structure, vision Fictive Reductive FabriclessEphemeral Exclusive Decoy
  69. 69. how to design for appropriation?
  70. 70. open/modular/generative… design
  71. 71. “When designing tools for play – underspecify!” kars alfrink, 2008
  72. 72. obligatory minecraft slide
  73. 73. new babylon, 1959+
  74. 74. “Homo Ludens will demand, firstly, that he responds to his need for playing, for adventure, for mobility... Homo Ludens himself will seek to transform, to recreate, those surroundings, that world, according to his new needs. ... We would arrive at a new kind of urbanization ... New Babylon where, under one roof, with the aid of moveable elements, a shared residence is built; a temporary, constantly remodeled living area; a camp for nomads on a planetary scale.” constant nieuwenhuys, 1974
  75. 75. fun palace, 1961
  76. 76. “Its form and structure, resembling a large shipyard in which enclosures such as theatres, cinemas, restaurants, workshops, rally areas, can be assembled, moved, re- arranged and scrapped continuously ... Choose what you want to do – or watch someone else doing it… Try starting a riot or beginning a painting – or just lie back and stare at the sky.” cedric price, 1964
  77. 77. civic life Lived reality, practice, fabric city planning Map, structure, vision Fictive Reductive FabriclessEphemeral Exclusive Decoy
  78. 78. the action office, 1964
  79. 79. “#1: Forgiving Principle: We must be allowed to change our minds. The complexity of organizational environments coupled with the unpredictable course of future directions requires a forgiving behavior in facility design. #2: Grace with Change: A facility needs to change with ease. #3: On-line Planning and Expression: The individual can participate in goal setting and thus behave like a manager at any level. Users are often the best judges of what works.” robert probst, 1964
  80. 80. … and what came of it
  81. 81. “The dark side of this is that not all organizations are intelligent and progressive. Lots are run by crass people who can take the same kind of equipment and create hellholes. They make little bitty cubicles and stuff people in them. Barren, rat-hole places.” robert probst, 1998
  82. 82. civic life Lived reality, practice, fabric city planning Map, structure, vision Fictive Reductive FabriclessEphemeral Exclusive Decoy
  83. 83. chapter 4 Stepping sideways
  84. 84. civic life Lived reality, practice, fabric city planning Map, structure, vision realisation gives scale & durability representation gives legitimacy, wisdom, & spice Develop, adopt, cultivate Mobilize, deliberate, enjoin
  85. 85. civic life Lived reality, practice, fabric city planning Map, structure, vision the muddy middle
  86. 86. civic life Lived reality, practice, fabric city planning Map, structure, vision “sociotechnical networks”
  87. 87. civic life Lived reality, practice, fabric city planning Map, structure, vision “institutions”
  88. 88. civic life Lived reality, practice, fabric city planning Map, structure, vision “politics and economics”
  89. 89. civic life Lived reality, practice, fabric city planning Map, structure, vision “power”
  90. 90. civic life Lived reality, practice, fabric city planning Map, structure, vision “polis”
  91. 91. civic life Lived reality, practice, fabric city planning Map, structure, vision a poorly designed game
  92. 92. invitation #1 How might we … re-frame and re-design our polis as a game for wellbeing?
  93. 93. From plans to rules
  94. 94. filibuster
  95. 95. behaviour and experience emerge from concrete sociotechnical systems
  96. 96. Mechanics Dynamics Aesthetics obligatory mda slide +$ !+ -$ !- frustrating endgame slow poverty gap
  97. 97. Mechanics Dynamics Aesthetics obligatory mda slide +$ !+ -$ !- frustrating endgame slow poverty gap governance game design
  98. 98. “The life blood of game design is testing. Why are we playing games? Because it‘s fun. You cannot calculate this. You cannot plan this out in an abstract manner. You have to play it.” rainer knizia
  99. 99. 117 Ideas what to change Build out idea Playtest Evaluate experience
  100. 100. civic life Lived reality, practice, fabric city planning Map, structure, vision Prototype, adapt, cultivate Evaluate, deliberate, envision, enjoin
  101. 101. invitation #2 How might we … prototype and playtest our institutions and environs?
  102. 102. where the heck is the entrance?
  103. 103. Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015
  104. 104. Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015
  105. 105. chapter 5 Summary
  106. 106. how can games and play facilitate wellbeing in cities? we have an important question
  107. 107. civic life Lived reality, practice, fabric city planning Map, structure, vision but we are stuck in two disconnected efforts
  108. 108. civic life Lived reality, practice, fabric city planning Map, structure, vision Fictive Reductive FabriclessEphemeral Exclusive Decoy … with difficulty translating one into the other.
  109. 109. civic life Lived reality, practice, fabric city planning Map, structure, vision “polis” to move forward, we need to pay attention to the muddy middle.
  110. 110. how about we bring our unique conceptual tools and methods to the task … Ideas what to change Build out idea Playtest Evaluate experience
  111. 111. to move sideways and …
  112. 112. sebastian@codingconduct.cc @dingstweets codingconduct.cc thank you.

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