D.C. Festival Shines Spotlight on Gaming for Civic Engagement in Cities

Pokémon Go was all the rage — but now what? Cities are increasingly asking how play might engage residents with open data, city services and each other — beyond mass media games.

At DC Ideas Fest on May 6, game designer and civic media scholar Benjamin Stokes will present “Gaming for the City,” an exploration of ways in which games can spur connections and shape change in Washington D.C.

“Gaming for the City” will continue the momentum begun in January at the Games+ Summit, which brought together some of D.C.’s most innovative thinkers in play – from museums to health, cities, education, journalism, storytelling and more.

Stokes, an assistant professor in American University School of Communication (AU SOC) and at the AU Game Lab, co-founded Games for Change, the movement hub for advancing social change with games. He has described how cities have evolved with games in three phases:

  1. Broadcast Mode: When games promote a message.
  2. Play-Based Volunteerism: When games advance real-world goals, like identifying potholes, budgeting, or gathering input in city planning.
  3. Connecting People: When play introduces residents and facilitates flows of communication and activity in physical space.

The notion of gaming to improve communities is a natural fit within the inaugural DC Ideas Fest, especially for its pillars of arts and innovation, and inclusiveness. This two-day event will include presentations from nonprofits, businesses and activists on issues ranging from affordable housing to after-school programs.

“Play is deeply cultural, and one of the most effective ways to overcome social barriers,” said Stokes.  “In a digital age, our play can increasingly spread media and share stories about the city we want DC to be.”

Through his new AU course, “Playful City: Designing Media for Stronger Neighborhoods and Community Impact,” Stokes puts his theories into practice alongside students eager to deploy games as part of community strategy. The hands-on course includes games for tourism and economic development, race relations and resisting gentrification, local history and community organizing.

Participate in ‘Gaming for the City’ on Saturday

Benjamin Stokes will speak about “Gaming for the City” from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. Saturday in the Carnegie Library, Gallery 3, in Washington D.C. Register today!

Learn About Master’s Degree in Game Design

Along your path to persuasive play-based change for communities, you can receive a master’s degree in Game Design from American University.

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