research into architecture x games: to model & play urban futures

Over three months (July-Sept 2018) I was invited to partner on an MA Architectural research project at the University of Johannesburg, that employed the process of ‘game-making’ to develop a model for a game directing at architecture as commodity and product. The purpose was to build a playable model, with the intention of extracting the architectural concept that would be products of the process (during play or at completion).

Does viewing the city through the lens of ‘gamification’ alter particular realities about it. If?, how? And why? Is it relevant to view the city of Johannesburg in this way?

The model was based on Maboneng precinct in Johannesburg, which required the internalising of the area’s history and current context of its rising appeal as a cultural, entertainment hub within the inner city that has lacked development since the 90’s. Relentless investment and purchasing of property by Rand Merchant Bank has led to the dramatic, rapid transformation and gentrification that can be witnessed in many cities, these have led to similar questions surrounding rising house prices, class divisions, consumption, exclusivity and access, towards concerns around the social state of the urban community as a whole.

Considering Rand Merchant Bank’s vast ownership and influence, and assuming that their investment into the establishment of Maboneng as a ‘cultural’, artistic hub is being driven predominantly by economic incentives, questions

arise as to how the goals of one party shape the ‘culture’ that evolves, and the social, economic dynamics within the space as a result.

As opposed to the interactive play being the end-goal, with this investigation, the objectives were to explore the possibilities of a game in posing as an architectural template to the city. Including how within this objective application, the act of ‘play’ and game theory could be expanded towards strategic development, to represent ‘in-action’ the perspectives, roles and values of various stakeholders, and depict realities of the past, present and future. We were interested in how a model could be used as a practical tool within constructive, inclusive dialogue around urban development, that can be productive even during ambiguity when planning for the future.

How would you define “Land” as being different from “Property”?

We conducted a series of in-depth discussions around how the contextualisation of the city through the game’s form and structure, as well as its rules, mechanics and values embedded in its system could effect the outcome. Recognising this therefore required the challenging, analysing and testing of the options for a framework that could incorporate the complex social, cultural, economic facets that would influence transformation and growth in a community. This included:

  • Modelling existing and future narratives within the structure
  • Identifying and embedding different concepts of value
  • Exploring the effects of value systems on the needs and motives of diverse groups and individuals, to further highlight what mechanisms the game should incorporate to more closely reflect social realities in its model. Towards producing an architectural outcome for the future.
  • Devising a system that would allow for different value systems to be recognised, measured and accumulated simultaneously

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