"Urban gaming": cultural movement, where the characteristics of computer games connect with the characteristics of the city as urban space.
Robert Sweeny, assistant professor of Art and Art Education at the University of Pennsylvania mentioned in his essay “Code of the Streets- Videogames and the City” : “Cities are shared spaces. The structure of the city allows for the presentation of social statements, where large groups can gather, share ideas or argue beliefs, and where media outlets can broadcast these activities. While cities enable these forms of interaction, digital technologies also allow for worldwide connections, both through communication and entertainment.”
Cities have always been spaces for interaction, civil disobedience, art and exchange. By phenomena like Urban Knitting, Parkour or reinventing traditional games like the Three-sided football, the public space becomes a political and cultural forum as well as a zone of interpretation, adaptation and personalization.
So why not using the the urban environment in the idea of the Situationist by reconstructing the daily life by playful situations?
Or as Débord explained with his theory about derivé “to engage with the city, opening up possibilities for new forms of engagement and interaction. Through various forms of derivé Débord engaged with the psychogeographic space of the city, walking through varied areas, and reorganizing these experiences as though in a dream state, or, perhaps, game. Surely any video game can be experienced in a similar manner. Suggesting that through interactive openness, players are allowed to reread the text of this virtual city, while at the same time contributing to the ‘society of the spectacle’ that situationist Guy Debord so maligned” (Sweeny).
Examples of Urban Gaming:
Pacmanhattan was a project from 2004, where students from the Interactive Telecommunications graduate program from New York University have inverted the relationships between gaming and the urban environment. Taking the game to the city, players engage in interpretations of the video game classic Pac Man in the streets of Manhattan, utilizing a variety of locative media devices. Each player on the street has a “general” who sits in a control room looking at a map. Whenever a player reaches an intersection, he or she reports the location to the general, who can then track the player’s position on the map. Pac-Man eats the dots (which don’t actually exist) by simply traversing an entire city block. Some intersections have power pellets that make Pac-Man invincible and allow him to eat ghosts for two minutes. All of this information is relayed between the players and generals, so everyone knows what’s going on. While these games do not change the physicality of the city, they surely change our psycheographical interpretation of that space, in a way that folds together the freedom of gameplay with the control of the street. The gamplaying transforms in a so called “Network Based Performances”, in which the new art technique is the object of an experiment, which leads to a new way of perception.
Geocaching is modern treasure hunting in nature and urban space. The participants using a GPS receiver or other navigational techniques to hide and seek containers, called “geocaches” or “caches”, anywhere in the world. The GPS coordinates of the cache are posted on a Web site. Geocachers use their handheld GPS devices to hike to the cache’s location, where they take an item from the box and replace it with something small. Then they sign the logbook, and later report their find on the website.
LARP which means “live-action role-playing”. This is a urban game where a group of people wear costumes representing a character/alias they created in a computer game and participate and interact with each other in an agreed fantasy world. Different LARPs have different rules governing interactions. For example, if two characters resort to combat with each other, the fight may be resolved with rock-paper-scissors, or by rolling dice. LARP is not about winning the game, the point is simply to advance the ongoing storyline of the game, although each character will have specific motivations and goals. Sometimes LARPs is played in big festivals which take place several days and where the fantasy world becomes real for these days, because the participants are living their role for the whole time.
Conqwest is a digital treasure hunting game, where teams compete by racing through the city finding the hidden treasure codes (semacodes). Players shoot photos of these semacodes with their camera phones. Photos are sent from the phone to ConQwest HQ where the semacodes are decoded and points are awarded. Semacodes are barcodes that can be scanned and decoded with a cameraphone. Semacode stickers are placed around the city – some in plain sight (think street signs and store windows), others can only be found by interacting with people. Each hidden semacode is worth a given amount of points.
Ingress is a GPS-based multiplayer realttime game for android devices with more than 500 000 users worldwide. The gameplay consists of establishing “portals” at public places , and linking them to create virtual triangular fields over geographic areas. The background of the game is a science-fiction story which says that scientists discovered a mysterious energy on earth. The origin and purpose of this force is unknown, but some researchers believe it is influencing the way people think. The goal is to control it. Each player can choose between two sides: “The Enlightened”, who seek to embrace the power that the energy may bestow upon us or “The Resistance” who struggle to defend, and protect what’s left of “the humanity”. The special feature is that the “world is the game”, which means that users are moving through the real world using their Android device and the Ingress app to discover and tap sources of this mysterious energy by allying with other players to advance the cause of the Enlightened or the Resistance. Users have to team up with each other and use “guerilla tactics” to make progress. The game combines modern communication, interaction and eagerness to experiment in urban space.
Urban Gaming Festivals exist in different versions. With street games, outdoor spectacles, mass social interaction the festival organisators want to announce the reclamation of public spaces for play and adventure. Popular examples are Come out & Play (New York), Hide & Seek Weekender (London), igFest (Bristol), You Are GO! (Berlin). The festivals are inventing a postdigital play culture that installs games not in virtual environments but on the platforms of everyday. With smartphones and walkie-talkies, with chalk, ballons and fiction in urban space.
Check out the Urban Gaming Club for more urban games events.