Digital Urban Gaming

Digital urban gaming enables the user to explore a hybrid space combining a digital gaming environment within a ‘real’ physical locality. Enabled through networked location based mobile technologies, digital urban gaming ensures the user explores different “modes of co-presence” (Hjorth 2011:357), between the online and physical worlds. Hjorth (2011) argues that this transforms our perception and engagement with, and understanding of space, place, networking, relationships and our environment.   

“Through contemporary examples of urban games, LBGM, and hybrid reality games, we can learn much about changing definitions and experiences of the urban, mobility, and a sense of place”

(de Souza e Silva and Hjorth 2009 in Hjorth 2011:359).

The perceptions of and our relationships with space and place, which are often embedded with personal “stories, memories and social practices” (2011:358), are challenged through urban digital gaming. Through exploration of a digital urban fitness game ‘Zombies, Run!’ the combined on and offline experience of a familiar running route being mediated through an audio based digital game where I imagined I were being chased by Zombies, creatively altered my perception of my space both visually layering my urban surroundings with a foreign digital cityscape, which was enhanced through audio noises mediating and enhancing my experience (radio streams from ‘mission operatives’, and gunshots for example). The application through audio story telling mediated my run through a zombie apocalypse; it was both motivating physically whilst being fun and engaging through the altered perceptions and engagement, blurring my immediate and online spaces.

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(Images: ‘Zombies, Run!’)

The emancipatory, democratizing nature, and civic engagement possibilities of mobile media technologies has been much celebrated and criticized (Hjorth 2011; Rheingold 2002); through their potential to entrap us into “various erosions between work and leisure” (2011:367) which in turn may cause anxieties and pressures from such hybrid spaces and co/absent present practices (Gergen 2002). It is of course important to be critical of any new technology or medium (Hjorth 2011; de Souza a Silva Digital 2009), however urban gaming enables a new perspective and engagement with these technologies through imagination and creativity, where we could view it as a “reflexive step toward showing how these technologies and our uses of them have the potential to affect us socially, spatially and playfully” (de Souza a Silva & Sutko, 2009:15).

There are other experiences and issues addressed other than simply ‘play’ which can be developed through digital urban games; educational focuses or ‘bottom up’ approaches which address complex political and social issues (de Souza e Silva & Sutko 2009:14). ‘Rezone’ for example, based in Den Bosch (Netherlands), enables players to keep their city safe from deterioration and vacancy by salvaging real estate from decline within a combination of real 3D printed buildings with an augmented reality layer detailing real-time information.[1] “The challenge is for players to not just pursue individual self-interest but to strategically collaborate in order to defeat the system, which is programmed to let the city descend into decay” (De Lange 2013).

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(Image: ‘Rezone’ www.themobilecity.nl)

“Rezone is composed of a physical board game with a number of 3D printed iconic buildings that represent the neighborhood, an augmented reality layer of real-time information about these buildings projected on a screen, and a computer algorithm programmed to induce vacancy. When the game begins all buildings are fully occupied. Then at alarming speed they spiral down towards total abandonment. A vacancy meter on the screen indicates the level of occupation from 4 (completely occupied) down to 0 (abandoned). Empty buildings act like a contagious virus that infects neighboring buildings too” (De Lange 2013).

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(Image: ‘Rezone’ www.themobilecity.nl)

Rezone explores many different issues and developments post-digitalization; the relationship between the digital and the urban space whilst addressing social and political shifts by exploring the relationships between politics and citizen engagement, professionals and amateurs, and the role of the pro-sumer (De Lange 2013). In contrast to engagement with media technologies in order to make urban life comfortably networked and connected, “Rezone by contrast is a project in which digital technologies help to engage citizens with each other and their living environment” (De Lange 2013).  Rezone, like Dotplay as examined by Hjorth encourages the “possibilities of play in challenging the role of technology within society” (2011:365). What is particularly exciting from this perspective is the future for digital cities infrastructures; through mobile media and even gaming, there is potential for a more democratic and collaboratively built infrastructure between citizens, city planners, and politicians.

Bibliography 

Hjorth, L. (2011). Mobile@game cultures: The place of urban mobile gaming. Convergence, 17(4), 357-371

De Lange. M. 2013. ‘Rezone’ (Available at: http://www.themobilecity.nl/2013/04/22/rezone-the-game-playing-for-urban-transformation/, Last accessed 31/3/14).

Silva, Adriana de Souza e, & Sutko, Daniel. 2009. Digital cityscapes: merging digital and urban playspaces. Peter Lang: New York/Oxford

Gergen, K. 2002. ‘Cell phone technology and the realm of absent presence’. In Katz, J. And. Aakhus. M. 2002. Perpetual Contact: Mobile Communication, Private Talk, Public Performance. New York: Cambridge University Press


[1] “Participants adopt one out of four possible stakeholder roles. In the case of vacancy these roles include proprietor (owner of real estate), mayor (representing the municipality), engineer (urban designer) and citizen (neighbors). The challenge is for players to not just pursue individual self-interest but to strategically collaborate in order to defeat the system, which is programmed to let the city descend into decay” (De Lang 2013 see more:http://www.themobilecity.nl/2013/04/22/rezone-the-game-playing-for-urban-transformation/)

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