Network of Games

Ekim Tan
5 min readApr 19, 2021

For over half a century, alternatives to single-handed, static city planning have been explored by discussing an integral and adaptive form of shaping cities with multiple stakeholders. Today, cities witness a high pace of social change and technical advancement, and search for a truly collaborative and highly adaptive planning process continues. Perhaps the best concrete example of this search, that is close to home, is the so-called Dutch ‘Nieuwe Omgevingswet’: a new Planning and Environmental Act, entering into force from January 2022, that aims at a more adaptive and integral development.

City Gaming for a collaborative city planning

Serious gaming brings in an approach that supports the collaborative and iterative city development. ‘City gaming’ is the term that refers to the specific implementation of serious games to urban issues. Participants gather to strategize ideas and plans in a low-risk environment as city games. In reaching collaborative city development, city games play a critical role: they make abstract data tangible for participating groups of actors. This allows participants to integrate individual and institutional knowledge, from both experts and non-experts. Through the simple and playful language of games, conversations become jargon-free. Informed decisions get supported from across disciplines, through stakeholders ranging from communities to governments. In this way, city games provide a space for top-down and bottom-up planning to meet.

Existing methods of learning and decision-making for cities include; ‘expert workshops’ where decision-makers meet experts who provide advice for ongoing challenges, ‘best practices’ where workshops include site visits as well as presentations from project owners. Perhaps most common yet ineffective learning is performed through unearthing policy and project reports published online as ‘pdf documents’. Games, as visualised data environments activated by multiple stakeholders, already offer a real alternative to traditional forms of knowledge exchange.

The city gaming as a collaborative city-making method has been investigated over the last decades and has already aided various decision-making processes. ‘Games for Cities’ [] a research project run through various scientific and practice partners in the Netherlands, monitors how city games worldwide are not only suitable for participatory processes, but they are also containing, visualising, and communicating large sets of specialised data allowing multiple players to interact with the data and with one another. [Image: World map Games for Cities]

One of the conclusions of the Games for Cities research indicates the ongoing tendency towards specialisation in games: there are city games focusing on particular urban issues as migration, circular economy, affordable housing, inclusive public spaces, vacant real estate, smart mobility, and energy transition, to name a few. These games are centred on specific topics, rely on deeply researched and organised sets of data that are important to the chosen topic. While specialised games are successful in focusing discussions amongst players, in reality, parts of a city do not operate in isolation.

Network of Games for an integral approach to cities

There appears to be a new opportunity for existing city games to come together to create an interconnected infrastructure. Linking individual games to one another results in an ecology of games which can enrich themselves as well as inform more integral city development debate. Such an integrated support tool creates a real difference in how cities learn, plan and decide. When supported by an interconnected infrastructure, we call this Network of Games, a family of interrelated games could make a real difference in the integral planning and designing of cities.

Network of Games builds on the Games for Cities research, a rich collection of city games built to support city development processes. The assumption is that if these specialised games could be linked, then a large game infrastructure built as a modular system can offer various game combinations responding to urban challenges in an integral and holistic way. When translating this theoretical approach to the practice, the question is how to technically enable distinct games to communicate and work together. We tested two conditions where independent games could be connected despite distinct play dynamics and play rules.

Connecting datasets

Although played with diverse play mechanics and interfaces, in their essence, most city games run on organized and visualized datasets. So long as the content of given games meaningfully can complement each other, their data will overlap. For example, a game on affordable housing that contains data on ‘land use’, ‘land price’ and ‘planned housing projects’ can link to data from an urban transport game containing data on ‘location of transportation hubs’, ‘shared vehicle schemes’ or ‘planned infrastructure projects’. With the connection of the distinct datasets, connected game can inform players about affordable housing schemes in relation to affordable transportation possibilities. [Image: connected data layers from the Network of Games]

Connecting interfaces

As datasets connect games through their content, the question rises which game interface and rules to use after games connect. There are a handful of hybrid city games hinting how to link distinct game interfaces to work with or strengthen each other. For example the game play may remain in the physical interface, while digital interfaces enable processing digital data, recording decisions and reporting to larger audiences. Analog game formats include card games played with 4–6 people, table top games played in a workshop setting with around 20–30 people, or conference setting games where multiple tables play simultaneously and reach larger crowds over 100 players. Digital games run on personal computer softwares, on mobile apps or a website, as well as virtual and augmented reality environments. They can process data, record user behaviour and outcomes. Combination of trust building advantages of analog formats and data provision end processing, access to thousands of participants as well as easy recording and reporting makes the connection of two formats interesting for designers.



Ekim Tan

architect, urbanist, game designer, writer, founder of Play the City and Games for Cities