We were there: The Ludic City conference

Last week we told you about the Ludic City conference in Brussels organized by iMINDS-SMIT. With the subtitle: ‘Urban Practices through a playful lens’ in mind, we went down to Elsene for an evening of lectures.

First off was Quentin Stevens, author of the book ‘The Ludic City’, after which the conference was named. He couldn’t attend personally, but recorded a video in advance.

Stevens ran through the main structure of his book, on how he built a framework for analysis of public space in relation to playing and games. There is a distinct difference between game and play, as stated by all speakers. Games refer to a set of rules that bind the players, where play is a more improvised form without boundaries or goals. For more on gamification and play, Thomas Malaby was regularly mentioned as a valid source.

Stevens uses spatial notions such as edges, paths and nodes to define areas of potential play, seeing particular activity along the edges. He sees this as a critique on public space and suggests that play might reframe the boundaries of our mental maps. Because play is often improvised, it is hard to plan for in urban design.

We’ll skip the second speaker, Marc Tuters, as he spoke mainly of gamification and how games reproduce neoliberalist systems.

On to Tanguy Coenen and Thomas Laureyssens with their neighbourhood project ‘Zwerm’. The outset for their research was that city dwellers no longer engage in communities anymore. They set out to create a game that would encourage interaction and hopefully bring people together. The setup consists of two neighbourhoods (for this test) in Ghent to try to collect the most points possible. How to collect points? By engaging with one another via the platform. There are several ways to do this, but perhaps the most interesting is asking someone for help with a chore.

Whilst I admit that I don’t know my neighbours either, I’m not sure if an online platform is going to bring us all together again. Also, the incentive for participating on the platform is… to engage with your local community. So the solution seems to be the problem which seems to be the solution.

Alex Fleetwood, the director of game studio Hide&Seek, talked about the projects his company creates. Whilst not thinking as much in the lines of urbanism, his projects make use of urban space and have the potential to change perceptions, engage people who otherwise might not do something together and are just fun. It should be said that most of the Hide&Seek projects are analog, so they don’t require you owning a device. I think there’s a lot of potential in this space and Alex also writes about where games and urbanism meet in his blog. As a gamestudio they are mainly focused on the design of the games. Whilst as an urbanist, you may find it regretful that they don’t take the urban context into account. Or at least it didn’t show in what we saw.

Last was Ekim Tan, a PHD student from the TU Delft. At last, an architect! She talked about how her venture ‘Play the City‘ made use of games to engage citizens in urban planning. Through the means of simplified tools, Play the City collects information from citizens who might be affected by future projects. They set up shop in the neighbourhood and invite anyone to stop by and talk about their needs in the neighbourhood. They use games to translate what might be complex concepts into tangible realities so that anyone can see and think about their area in a different way and allow the planners to tap into what Pierre Levy calls the collective intelligence.

I thought overall that Ekim Tam was the most interesting project in the field of urbanism. The ‘Zwerm’ project suffered from a strong scientific social perspective: a clear goal, but not a lot of fun, whilst Hide&Seek seems like a lot of fun, but doesn’t address any social issues. Perhaps Tanguy, Thomas and Alex should have a chat.

All in all it was an informative evening, even though the urban aspect seemed to be somewhat of a background feature. What’s interesting is that gamification took front stage at a lecture organised by a research centre focussed on social interaction via technology. I wonder how an urban planning research centre would approach such a lecture, and if they would embrace the technology side. It seems that this aspect of gamification exists somewhere between two realms, as nicely pointed out by Alex Fleetwood in our chat afterwards, but that in fact they sometimes do persue the same goals.

I hope this gives you an idea of what was said during the lecture, and that you found some interesting links in this post. If you have any further questions, don’t hesitate to leave a comment or get in touch!

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