– By Nikhil Jain and Nikhila Anoth
“A board game?” we gasped with our eyes popping out, after our mentor Swastik Harish raised the idea as an output for our site-based project. It was hard to continue listening, as we seemed stuck on Snakes & Ladders at the mention of board games. Despite our initial reaction, we ended up creating Butterfly, Snakes & Ladders, a game to understand the emotions of senior citizens in the Bengaluru neighbourhood of Sultanpalya. That’s how our journey with board games began, and what started off as a class assignment snowballed into our start-up, Urban Play. With each game we have created, we are experimenting with the form of traditional board games and interactive web-based games in an attempt to engage with complex urban questions.
Urbanisation is a complex process that isn’t talked about in depth. We require tools and methods that are not just participatory and communicative, but also drive policy making. With Urban Play, we intend to explore the potential of games in the challenging process of city-making. Games can significantly improve the practice of planning and governance, by simulating collaborative decision-making scenarios, extracting meaning from and visualising big data, and strengthening conflict resolution.
Our games are driven by exhaustive research and an understanding of different elements of the urban; like policy, governance, planning, identity, infrastructure and so on. Working on a board game, A Day in the Life Of as part of an assignment for Gautam Bhan’s course called Identity and Social Practice, we researched data on disability in India to understand how official documents and the law engage with it. We found that the Census data counted disability only in 2001 and 2011!
The Persons with Disability Act (1995) defines a “Person with disability” as a person suffering from not less than forty per cent of any disability as certified by a medical authority. We also found that the Act defines specific disabilities differently than the Census. For example, speech impairment is not defined in Census data. In terms of mobility and disability, we could not find any primary research studies in Bangalore. We question such official definitions and missing links in data in A Day in the Life Of, to stimulate healthy conversations around these issues.
We hope to generate the following outcomes through our board games:
Help policy makers look at the challenges around the urban and simulate scenarios
Build an informed community that understands the dynamics of its city
Educate and build awareness about individual impact and intervention
Board games have been a familiar part of childhood for many. The popularity of traditional board games like Monopoly, Scotland Yard and Settlers of Catan have long been established. Building on the ability of games to engage with and connect people, organisations around the world have experimented with interactive tools to address complex problems involving multiple stakeholders. Fields of View is an example of a non-profit institution in Bangalore that has created a game on solid waste management called Rubbish to engage conservancy workers and sanitation department officials. Used during focus group discussions (FGDs), the game helps to spread awareness about the entire chain of solid waste disposal.
The rationale for creating board games instead of app-based games stems from the experiential element of players interacting with each other physically rather than over virtual networks. Our games help create a connection between players, which facilitates a spirit of learning and collaboration. By grappling with complex simulated scenarios, players gain a deeper understanding of and engage better with issues on the ground. This understanding can then facilitate discussions and conversations in a workshop or FGD after the game.
We can plan cities where water is no longer a scarce resource; where safe and affordable transport is guaranteed for the oldest woman and the youngest girl. Through board games, we can innovate to unravel the complexities of urban networks. In our vision, urban stakeholders from various backgrounds will come together and plan for more inclusivity and better services. Using the power of games, we hope to break through the event horizon of our imaginations to find solutions for the pressing problems of our cities.