Urban play can bring a city to life, in ways that you may never have seen before. It encourages curiosity, investigation, and interactivity by all, regardless of age, race, gender, and abilities. This article explains what urban play is, and how 64 Ways of Being leads players to a new appreciation of place.
Urban play is a concept now being factored into city design, especially post-pandemic, to encourage rediscovery of local spaces and engagement in cities. It aims to give people a better, more connected experience of place. 64 Ways of Being does this by weaving Indigenous-led storytelling with music and visual art and augmented reality in an interactive, mobile application.
Urban Play in 64 Ways of Being
64 Ways of Being was developed by Dr Troy Innocent who is an artist gamemaker and urban play scholar based at RMIT University in Melbourne. In describing the context for 64 Ways of Being, Dr Innocent said,
Cities are usually constructed coded and created from a set of beliefs or values that emerge from a social imaginary, a ‘world view’ of the dominant classes – ‘the way the world is’.
For those whose beliefs or values have been excluded from this act of real-world building, cities are sites of resistance and survival, places to be changed.Overland Journal
64 Ways of Being seeks to challenge dominant world views by using the imaginative qualities of urban play to shift people’s perceptions and experiences of a city – inviting players to see it through new eyes. Indigenous storytelling unveils landscapes, traditions, and rhythms that have existed in this place for thousands of years.
Urban Play Design Principles
Urban play design is based on five key principles, which are detailed below
Game design often involves world building – creating a fictional world in which the action takes place. When working with public space, the actual world becomes reimagined through play. The game designer is not creating a world but remapping one that already exists.
2. Immersion in play
When children play they intuitively learn about the world. When adults immerse themselves in play they do this but are also able to critically reflect upon their experience. It’s like lucid dreaming – dreaming but awake at the same time – when we play in public space we are in another world but the actual world continues around us.
3. Sound, image, touch, and movement
Mixed realities involve blending the world around us with different digital media through augmented reality (AR) and other creative technologies. AR can often focus too much on visual forms of communication. It is important to balance digital images with sound, touch and movement that communicate in different ways – creating more embodied experiences.
4. The city as a material
Art and design engage with a range of traditional and familiar materials. The public spaces of cities can also be a creative material. Using principles of collage and assemblage, streets and laneways, rivers and forests become readymade game worlds by transforming everyday places through imaginative play.
5. A living story world
In many games the player is represented as an avatar – the character on screen whom they navigate through the world. In urban play you are the avatar, your own body moving through space. The player becomes part of a living story world that is both a map of the city and a map of their own personal relationship to place.
As we mentioned earlier, urban play involves exploring how technology can reconnect us to our cities.
Playable cities can strengthen our connections to where we live and work by drawing on a diverse mix of play, creative technologies, public art, and urban design.
Pokémon Go brought play into cities around the world. But, it doesn’t respond to place – it is the same wherever you play. It doesn’t truly connect people and place.
64 Ways of Being provides a frame for reimagining the world. It’s a way for adults to engage in ‘play’ as a form of entertainment and at the same time, brings Indigenous knowledge to our lived experience of the city – not as something in the past, but something that is happening right here, and now.