New Digital Game, Social Network To Help Detroiters Map City’s Future
Detroit Works, the agency charged with planning what the Detroit of tomorrow will look like, is about to unveil a new online game and accompanying social network designed to allow Detroiters to help map the city’s future. Launching Monday, Detroit 24-7 is an interactive game funded by the Knight Foundation and designed by Community PlanIt. The Boston-based organization aims to combine the sharing elements of social media with the incentives of online gaming to get people interested in participatory city planning—especially the younger, more tech-savvy demographic of 18- to 35-year-olds.
“Gaming is a playful way to involve digital technology in city planning,” says Dan Pitera, co-leader of civic engagement for Detroit Works’ office of long-term planning. “Meetings and traditional events are a good way to engage people, but the’re not the only way.”
Detroit 24-7 is a mission-based game that will run online for 21 days. Each week, players will embark on a different mission: “Share Your Detroit,” “Living in Detroit,” and “Getting Around Detroit.” Within each mission, players complete challenges and earn flags, which they can plant in a digital map of things they think should be priorities for the new less-dense, smaller-budget Detroit — like arts and culture, entrepreneurship, public transportation, affordable housing, and environmental sustainability.
A flip HD video camera will be given to the overall top point earner, the top youth point earner, and one other member of the top 50 players, who will be selected at random. The players who earn the most achievement badges throughout the game will be entered into a drawing to receive gift cards from local Detroit businesses.
Each player will be asked to set up a profile within the Detroit 24-7 network, which they can use to communicate and brainstorm with other game-players. On June 6, Detroit Works will hold a city-wide meeting so that players and discussion participants can meet in person and continue the conversation. The organization will incorporate the ideas it gathers into a city planning report for Mayor Dave Bing.
“We’re hoping to get an understanding of how the community problem-solves,” says Priya Iyer, Director of Digital Engagement for Detroit Works’ office of long-term planning. “We’re asking players to put themselves in someone else’s shoes and come up with a range of solutions.”
Iyer says this is first time city planners anywhere in the nation have tried social gaming as a way to build public participation. Eric Gordon, Associate Professor of New Media and Director of the Engagement Game Lab at Emerson College in Boston, says Community PlanIt first developed the software for a small pilot test involving community engagement with public schools in the Boston area. He says the group learned that some of the most valuable feedback came from the youngest participants, and he hopes that interaction with young adults will be replicated in Detroit.
During the 31-day pilot test in Boston, more than 500 users played the game and generated more than 4,600 comments, Gordon says. Not only was the information gathered from the game-players important, he said, but the way it got people excited about the prospect of participation was previously unseen in a topic like municipal planning. “We interviewed a lot of the players, and many said they had wanted to participate before, but they weren’t interested in standing up and speaking at a meeting,” Gordon says. “We found that people really liked having time and space online to form their opinions.”
Gordon also says that many participants reported that they appreciated what a civil process it was—the result, he says, of adults policing themselves in the presence of the kids who belonged to the social network and the familiarity participants had with each other by the end of the 31 days.
Given how bitterly contentious Detroit’s city planning efforts have become recently, in light of data showing that the city can’t possibly afford to deliver services in every neighborhood in the face of an ever-shrinking tax base, polite online discourse seems like a definite step in the right direction.