Minicipality: Empowering Citizens through play

TL;DR Minicipality is an interactive city-making game that uses stereotypes to challenge what we think our neighbors want in a city. It was designed to be played in a pub or public space and uses an interactive table and smartphones.
PARTNERS/CLIENTS HvA (AUSAS) and the Master of Digital Design, Nicolai Brodersen-Hansen, Research Group 'Play & Civic Media'.
MY CONTRIBUTIONS Concept development, Game mechanics, prototyping, user testing, research, character design (textual), Game narrative, World building.

Cities are not the product of a municipality building a set of houses somewhere; rather it is a living organism that we as citizens create together. Citizens, organisations and municipalities make it what it is. The STEC project was the final group-project I did at the Master of Digital Design. Lead by Nicolai Brodersen-Hansen (in collaboration with the research group of Play and Civic Media). Bambi Boland, Beatriz Ibeas, Ondrěj Kocholaty and myself worked on a city-making game.

The brief we received asked for a digital solution to improve bottom-up empowerment. This means that we wanted to empower citizens that were not in charge but should be in charge over their own neighborhood. After all they are the ones that have to live there. We wanted to give people that used our digital product something; the tools they needed to make their neighborhood a better one.

Bea and Genevieve brainstorming during the STEC project

Oh, the canals of Amsterdam!

With more than 180 different nationalities the city of Amsterdam was not only part of our target audience description but also pushed us into a design direction where we wanted to focus on the beauty of differences between people and how these differences make us stronger as a community. Through a process of paper-prototyping and a lot of brainstorms and discussions with the client we came to a concept to continue with: Minicipality.

Minicipality is a game played on a large interactive table, the players use their smartphones to play. These are the ‘controllers’ for the game. Made to be played in a bar-setting the game is easy to join and play for just a short while. You log in through your phone, get a character assigned to you and start playing. This made sure that people could play for ten minutes or over an hour.

Early style ideas for Minicipality

Stereotypical fun

The citizens of MINICIPALITY are all caricatures. The characters have traits that have been enlarged much like one would see in a cartoon or comic book. The lesbian mechanic is strong as a bear and protective but smokes and is a bit rowdy. The old lady knits and can’t hear very well but is kind nonetheless. There is a Chinese tourists with a camera and an autistic girl who has dinosaurs as her special interest.

The characters are designed to be role-played in a quick fashion, people log into the game and then right away need to step into the shoes of the character. This means the players need references for the character they are supposed to be playing, stereotypes are those references.

When a player logs in they are asked to make decisions, do you want to slaughter the cow or start a vegetable garden? These choices have to be made with the character the player got in mind, if you choose something that goes against their values their mood will decrease. Players are confronted with a choice: do you sacrifice your own happiness for the greater good? The game punishes people that are self-centric and rewards working together.

Character designs for in the Minicipality game

‘Beet it’

MINICIPALITY has an overall theme to it of slight parody while still holding onto values that are important to us like inclusivity. Since the game’s target audience are millennials there are a lot of references build in to pop culture that are sure (and have proven to) get people laughing. Examples are titles to quests like ‘beet it’ (a pun on Michael Jackson’s ‘Beat it’) or ‘I want to believe’ a wink to the immensely popular science fiction series ‘The X-files’. These little jokes are designed to elicit amusement and grab the attention of the users. Within the texts of the game there are also jokes that reference to the future narrative (“Whatever it is; a petrock, your limited DVD of the Avengers (now retro) or the ashes of your great-aunt Frida you can sell it online to someone else!”).

& then there was the end

The STEC project was finished with a process book, prototype and full game concept to be realized. Personally, working on the STEC project has given me a lot of insights about when to user test (early) and how often (a lot). It also gave me new tools to work with when it comes to project management and group dynamics. This was the second game-project that had to do with the destruction of Amsterdam. Hopefully next apocalyptic game will victimize a different city ;).

 

Discussing the game and it’s mechanics

Early paper-prototyping with the client

Paper-Prototyping

User-testing on location

 

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