This Wednesday, the BMW Guggenheim Lab opened to the public. Located in New York City, just north of Houston Street and the Sarah D. Roosevelt Park, the aim of the project is serve as a platform for positive interactions in city planning and to examine the spaces that we all share. The traveling lab includes a game component, Urbanology, where a group plays together to address issues that arise when cities grow and inhabitants try to institute lasting change. Although more of a serious game than a gamification project, Urbanology and the BMWGuggenheim Lab both serve as great case studies in the engaging power of games.
The mechanics behind Urbanology are fairly simple. Five players each take control of a game piece on an oversized chessboard. Each piece represents different components of a city: affordability, livability, sustainability, transportation, and wealth. A moderator asks questions such as, “Will you ban smoking on public streets?” and “A major corporation will move to your city if it can get out of EPA and recycling obligations for five years. Will you authorize this?” Players are supposed to answer as if they represented the separate social components, but in the couple of games I saw, everybody voted on personal preference, including about twenty people from the audience.
The answers are gathered via iPad and the results are projected onto a large overhead screen. Each question results in a +1/0/-1 move for the game pieces which slide across the board. There aren’t any win conditions, and the game ends after eight questions. Although deceptively simple, the oversized pieces, interactive screen, and moderator all served to engage the audience in the questions and issues, and a few interesting discussions were ignited when the moderator asked participants to explain their answers. There will be an online version of the game available in the coming months.
Although the lab has a bit of an onboarding problem (there was very little introductory material) the entire project has served to engage both passersby and interested members of the public in city planning and the problems that come from urban growth. Besides the Urbanology game, the lab holds regular talks, movie screenings and tours with some of the top thinkers and academics on the psychology of cities and the meaning of shared space. After New York, the exhibit will pack up, buildings and all, and travel to many of the largest global metropolises.
The BMW Guggenheim Lab and Urbanology serve as a great examples of the City as a Platform idea beyond data. Cities have always been a platform for increased interaction and now gamification has a part to play in facilitating and engaging the public in important discussions on the future of the city. Be sure to visit the space if you live in New York, or follow the lab as it travels around the world.