EX Games as intercultural tools

Games as intercultural tools to mirror the production of a city’s space

Links: TISS 280.309


EX Excursion/ Semester hours: 3.0 / ECTS: 4.0

Aim of course

The aim of this self-organized master student excursion is to induce grassroots based learning in disciplines related to urban planning and urban design through the development of games. Designing boardgames understands urban spaces as dynamic vehicles of both designed interventions (constructed space) and societal processes (social space), which embody a manifold spectrum of interests and cultures of diverse players. Well-developed mechanisms of boardgames should mirror previously well-investigated processes and practices behind the construction of space, and anticipate processes of a “less strategic” evolution of space. A successful result will allow for future players of this boardgame to gain insights into planning mechanisms and in a playful manner explore how planning and place-making processes may change in relation to the ever changing constellations of actors, power relations, individual practices of appropriation, and diverse cultures. However, the main challenge is to conceptualize a boardgame as a relational understanding of space, as amalgams of processes and spatial representations of both shared and conflicting visions of involved actors or players, to which a diversity of people can contribute everyday knowledge about the local context, its history, cultural values, norms and beliefs.

Over the last decade games have gained a noteworthy popularity in education connected to disciplines concerning the built environment, for their capacity to feed a plethora of practices and experiences of immersion, provide environments for learning and experimenting in an interactive and engaging manner, and create unpredictable, diverse and dynamic playful series of events. This course draws on these dimensions of games and can be considered an environment where involved developers of a game and later players are able to learn about the art of immersive spaces, exercise dialectical and reflexive approaches which are open in terms of results, and explore diverse spatial practices and representations in an environment which provides endless combinations of strategy in pursuit of a goal. As such it offers more than just delivering a tangible depiction of complex realities. It gets game developers and future players, who adopt different roles, to interact and collaborate at multiple levels. A possibility of playing various roles renders games an important medium where students can acquire theoretical knowledge about direct democracy in urban planning and confront it with explorative practices of the grassroots approach. Games can facilitate future interactions in the professional life, as they emphasize trust and mutual understanding, tolerance towards different viewpoints, and also train methodical proficiencies related to human-relations skills.

Subject of course

The main mission of the course is to develop boardgames as real-life urban situations strategies, which will also stand for a representation of relevant information on the construction of a city (both theoretical and empirical) and provide an environment for acquiring communication skills. The course is conceived as a joint teamwork directed at conception, further development and refinement of mechanisms of boardgames. It is based on the example of an existing planning boardgame called “Playing the Donau City”, developed by the group of Master’s students in the winter term 2012/13 within the framework of the project ‘Iconic City’ at the Interdisciplinary Centre for Urban Culture and Public Space (SKuOR). While investigating processes and practices of the production of Vienna’s iconic space, the Danube City, the group employed an approach of playing and gaming as a pedagogical and communication tool concerning the built environment. The boardgame served them as a research tool, which visibly displayed and engaged a plethora of stakeholders’ interests, processes and spatial practices, as well as a means of communication of complex findings to a broader audience. The students would like to share this experience with other students through a more systematic approach to boardgames with an intercultural focus. Up to 11 additional students are invited to conceive and realize an excursion to Sofia, where they will jointly with Bulgarian students discuss and develop various approaches to boardgames as intercultural approaches to participatory planning.

The focus of this course shifts away from spatial research towards the development and the practical use of games in planning education, which highlight spatial practice as point of departure and final determination of any theoretical endeavour. At the theoretical level, students will dialectically reflect on the potentials of games as a participatory ‘performative’ approach in planning, while empirically engaging in the development and refinement of boardgames. The course aims at developing boardgames which can be broadly applied in education and communication related to the built environment. The focus is on the game and practices that might unfold from playing the game, while concrete spatial research pertaining to selected places in Sofia and Vienna will be conducted through specific smaller tasks for obtaining missing fragments of supplementary information. As a prerequisite for the successful participation in the course, students will be required to familiarize themselves with the comprehensive information about the Donau City that was collected within the project ‘Iconic City’, and to virtually explore a selected urban area, an urban intervention or a social process in Sofia prior to the excursion.

The course will put emphasis on several dimensions of games which sustain learning process and development of own ideas in pursuit of an intercultural approach to participatory planning. Boardgames are utilized as a method for exploring and understanding dynamic processes and practices in the production of space, in particular complex power relations involved in the process of decision-making and construction of urban space and its later evolution. Boardgames are also explored as a powerful communicative tool, which can be used as a participatory method for all the involved actors, but also as a means of communicating the dynamic processes of the production of space to the broader audience. While playing boardgames, actors involved in the planning and design process, students of space-related disciplines and the broader public gain a more sophisticated understanding of their role as active participants in the production of urban spaces, as well as of the background of spatial structures and practices. A boardgame is additionally a means for allowing students and a broader public to engage in a meaningful inclusive and instructive practice of trying various social roles, with the normative goal set towards emancipation of the own role in planning. In pursuit of their interests players might be compelled to make drastic decisions and bear the consequences of heavy-headed approaches.