What is gamicipation?

Gamicipation is participation made better with play.

Trust in governance is eroding all over the world. Participation is one key technique in politics (especially in urban design) to win back the lost trust.
Participation means involving citizens in decisions that will affect them. We – the urbansupergroup – like participation and think about ways to make it even better. With games. This we call: gamicipation.

For us gamicipation is
a) a practice to make participation better, that we stumbled upon in our own work;
b) now also a theoretical framework, that enables the critical analysis of very different use cases.
We identified 5+1 different flavors of play that can be used for participation.

1) Play can be a fun door opener to get access to hard to reach groups;
2) it can change the atmosphere and bring people in a playful/ cooperative/ competitive mood;
3) the rules of play can stabilize the structure of a process;
4) players are enabled to step out of the usual perceptual and social boundaries and see/think differently, be more creative;
5) and because of their nature as rule systems games can make us experience complex systems in an abridged version and still understand central aspects (SimCity has not a lot to do with the real work of a mayor. But among other things it drives home the concepts of zoning and support infrastructure.)

And the +1) are effects you get „for free“: engagement and spillover. Participatory processes are having almost always trouble in engaging their target audience. Fun is a core element of games that is why they more the opposite problem. Furthermore playing games create stories that spillover into the real lives of the players because interesting stories are more likely to be shared.


International Use Cases

The following successful implementations of play and participations are widely different and did enable different kinds of participation and play had different roles in them.

Block by Block, Mojang 2013- ( blockbyblock.org )

Block by Block uses the video game Minecraft (Minecraft is a first-person survival/ crafting game and a creative toy. Since 2011 it has sold more than 100 million copies and is especially successful with younger players. Minecraft is used as a teaching tool in a different contexts.) as a playful tool for the design of public space. It takes on the role of Lego or paper and pencil. In comparison participants always see the world from a first person perspective, they are more “present”. In this project series especially young residents of a problematical area are invited to a workshop. A Minecraft model of area is created beforehand. The model resolution is low – minecraft models are being created out of 1m³ blocks – this makes changes easy to implement and strengthens the imaginative aspect. The participants learn the controls of Minecraft and the goals of the workshop: What is your opinion concerning this one public space. The participants think about what is important to them, what they want to keep, change or make from scratch. Afterwards they present their designs and explain the functionality to the local city council, architects and the community. A discussion starts what should/shouldn’t be implemented and why. Mojang found a surprising effect that leaders were inspired by the interest of the residents : “Minecraft lowers the barrier so that anyone could actually have a say in their public space.” (Lydia Winters in a  promotional video, link).

The affected people create possible designs for a public space (advice) and are part of a discussion with experts and deciders (consultation).

They use Minecraft as a digital, easy to learn first-person creative tool for design and visualisation especially for a younger demographic (door opener). It takes on the role of an immersive Lego-set of a space you know that you can change (boundaries). The result of the creative play session informs the next part of the process without play, but the playful visualization still carries some atmosphere.

Community PlanIt 2012- ( communityplanit.org )

Community PlanIt is a platform for urban planning games. It was part of the Engagement Lab at Emerson College. Some of the games were “Detroit 24/7” about the identity and future of Detroit (2012), “Hej Centro” about the center of Malmoe (2013), and “Climate Smart Boston” about climate change and climate resilience in Boston (2016). Each time a cause-bound social network with strong game elements is created. The participants earn points by doing certain actions that also inform a planning process (answer questionnaires, give opinions, publish photos) and learn facts to answer trivia questions. The players access the content of the game in episodes nurturing long-term engagement. The point system creates competition. In the end the points can be pledged towards local causes and the top causes receive real world funding. The game in Detroit was played over 21 days, more than 1000 people participated and they commented more than 8400 times (Gordon in a presentation at Frontiers of Democracy II conference, link).

Community PlanIt can reach a lot of people efficiently, teach them facts and gather input from them.

Their point-centric approach creates a competitive mood that makes filling out questionnaires and answering trivia questions more meaningful. The pledging for real world funding is a gamified version of participatory funding with the caveat that people with more points influence the outcome more.

Rosario Habitat: Itati 2000-2011 ( rosario.gov.ar )

The last example is a urban development process of informal settlements in Rosario, Argentina. Their goal was not only to develop infrastructure (paved roads, sewage, electricity, safety) but civic culture. Early implementations ran into trouble, people “participated” in meetings and signed agreement papers but never became a real part of the process. When the bulldozers came there was civil unrest. For the development of the district Villa Itati they changed the method:
Rosario Habitat started with a warming-up puzzle first. The participants were around different tables and got into a competition atmosphere. Who would finish their puzzle first? But no puzzle was completable on its own. Every table had parts that did not fit, and spots where parts were missing. After an intervention they started trading parts driving home that only cooperation will help them to achieve their personal goal. Then they started with a rule setting workshop for the next planning phase. Some rules were already fixed but others they could decide on. Eg. It was already fixed that 30% of the inhabitants should relocate, but the participants should decide on the importance of need (what is more important: having family here or friends, being ill etc.). They brought these rules to the last part: plan building. A large map of the status quo in Villa Corrientes was printed out, cut-outs of optimal plots and streets were prepared. Now the placing and haggling started. Where should what road go, which plots might need to vanish, should the people living there get a different plot here or be relocated? The plot tetris and informal deals helped getting to a agreement.

In this example from Rosario Habitat the outcome is very important to the participants, that is why they had no trouble getting almost all parties involved where at the table. There problem was making the solution “stick”. Rosario Habitat solved this by letting the participants produce the preliminary planning solution, and only assisting them getting there and putting down a foundation of rules.

They used games as a door opener and to change expectations and the atmosphere from competition to coopetition. With this trick they activated the participants immediately and opened up their minds. The communal rulemaking and communal haggling and placing cut-outs stabilized the structure of “finding a solution together”. The cut-outs represented complex rules and systems that made the trouble and joy of urban designers possible to experience without understanding all of it.


Stay tuned for more analyses (and pretty graphs). If know of an interesting case, we should cover or just want more information please contact us at gamicipation@gmail.com.