Cities work with game developers to improve communities
Building on the popularity of smartphone apps and social media technology, cities are using games to engage and educate residents on community development. To create the games, they are sharing resources with non-profits, other government organizations and companies to maximize their efforts.
During Lower Manhattan’s annual River to River Festival in June, New Yorkers — armed with their iPhones — explored the area, looking for problems that needed to be addressed by the city. They used The Commons game iPhone app to submit their ideas and vote on suggestions from others, which are being sent to the city’s 311 service.
Although the city did not create the game, it is cooperating with the developers to make it a success, says Asi Burak, co-president of New York-based Games for Change, which funded The Commons. “The city isn’t an official sponsor, but is working to get the proposals to the city’s 311 service,” Burak says. “Rachel Sterne [New York’s first chief digital officer] is working to make the game more meaningful and have a connection to people in the city.”
Cities and counties may have limited money to explore how to integrate games into their operations, so some non-profits, such as Miami, Fla.-based Knight Foundation and Games for Change, are funding research into how games can improve communities. The Knight Foundation, for instance, recently funded Macon Money in Macon, Ga.
After the Knight Foundation approached Macon leaders with the game idea, elected officials and city staff met with game developers from Area/Code to discuss issues in the community. After Macon Money was created, the city helped promote the game and allowed the Knight Foundation to use government facilities for administrative purposes.
The game built on the city’s established relationship with the downtown businesses that were necessary for the game’s success. “The city’s role was helping facilitate connections between businesses that would participate as locations and also connecting the community with this idea,” says Andrew Blascovich, director of external relations for Macon Mayor Robert Reichert’s office.
For-profit companies also are approaching cities with playful ideas. Earlier this year in San Francisco, Yahoo pitted neighborhoods against each other by installing digital video screens at bus stops throughout the city. While waiting for their buses, riders could play games and rack up points for their neighborhood. The winner of the Bus Stop Derby received a block party featuring a concert from OK Go. In exchange for letting Yahoo use the city’s bus shelters, the Municipal Transportation Agency will receive at least $8.6 million in advertising revenue this year.
No matter the source of the funding or the idea for the game, the point of the games is to get residents involved in addressing their community’s issues. “The idea is to get communities more involved through new methods of socializing and connecting,” Blascovich says. “This was a community-based solution.”