While it has been announced in a number of forums, I have not yet written about the Engagement Game Lab on this blog. In August 2010, the Engagement Game Lab was born as a virtual research organization at Emerson College. The lab is a place to hone in on the production and research of local engagement games (LEGs); more directly, the work of the lab is to advance games that seek explicitly to foster local civic engagement and local community. This includes the design of new games and the design of research methods that address how the experiential qualities of play correspond to the pragmatic concerns of local life. We want to explore ways of evaluating the success of these games that go beyond the isolation of simple variables. Does playing a game result in increased voter turnout? I think that’s a silly question. I would prefer to ask questions such as, does playing a game cause players to rethink how they approach their vote? Games do not prompt new behaviors, in most cases. They can, however, provide a new lens through which to view familiar actions. In the case of LEGs, they can provide a new lens through which to view one’s neighborhood and the social and political structures therein.
Community PlanIt is a LEG that uses web, mobile phone and tablet interfaces to engage communities in local urban planning issues. We are building a game platform so that it can be used in any locality. The foundation of the game is a mission system that gets players exploring their own neighborhoods in order to share the local knowledge they possess. They compete and collaborate with neighbors to create and gather data that will then factor into an official planning process. The planning meeting itself will be augmented by the game. Players/participants will demonstrate their understanding of the neighborhood and the issues by giving a virtual character a tour of the neighborhood. They will have to see the neighborhood through someone else’s shoes before they are able to make their personal recommendations. The platform we are designing will allow for the customization of characters and missions to make the game maximally appropriate for the local context.
Community PlanIt can be used for any community planning process centered on physical space. For instance, planning a town square, creating a transportation plan, identifying healthy lifestyles, or mapping sub cultures. We are building the platform in partnership with four communities so that we can anticipate possible uses and cover the widest array of necessary features.
We are planning a 9 month development cycle and hope to have a prototype available by April 2011.