Playing with Empathy Digital Role Playing Games in Public

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4 Early planning games demonstrated that imposing a set. of game rules on top of the typical rules of public meetings. can usefully inform the topic of conversation The current. research looks at how a digital role playing game can not. only inform the topic of conversation but also reframe how. people engage in conversation Through role play, conversation shifts away from personal complaints and. toward an inclusive discussion about the various, stakeholders in a community The authors present a game. called Participatory Chinatown as a case study in this. process Our research suggests that when playing the game. participants empathize with the needs and desires of a. character and make decisions accordingly however we. discovered that this empathy did not convincingly transfer. outside of the magic circle to effect decisions made at the. meeting immediately after engaging with the game Despite. this players reported that playing the game broadened their Figure 1 Participants playing Participatory Chinatown. perspective about local issues and even made them feel. more connected to their community These feelings of understand the space from a less familiar perspective. connection we contend can transform how deliberation enhances the experience of a familiar space and creates the. happens and its usefulness for providing official feedback empathy required for listening and cooperation in a group. thus addressing one of the most common complaints of process Preliminary evidence suggests that this design of. policy makers about the public participation process augmented deliberation creates satisfaction from. community members with the act of participation and. correspondingly creates the context for more refined and. thoughtful feedback to planners and policy makers,Augmented Deliberation. The Participatory Chinatown game is premised on the The Game. theory of augmented deliberation an approach to designing Since 1990 Chinatown a 46 acre neighborhood in Boston. community engagement that emphasizes the simultaneity of has been engaged in several master planning processes to. face to face and virtual situations 3 For example one determine the future growth pattern of the neighborhood. such project Hub2 was designed to structure informed Located in downtown Boston Chinatown has presented a. discussions around the development of Library Park in the challenging context for planning as an ethnically and. Allston neighborhood of Boston In the summer of 2008 socio economically diverse area in the shadow of the. residents gathered together in a community room and each rapidly gentrifying financial and theater districts the. was given a laptop loaded with the multi user virtual neighborhood has had to embrace gentrification while. environment MUVE Second Life While debating the struggling to maintain its unique identity both as a Chinese. details of the park face to face participants also walked community and as a welcoming place for new immigrants. within a photorealistic 3D model of the space as virtual Over the course of the last several decades the Chinatown. characters Participants could propose designs and see them community has engaged in countless community meetings. inserted into the virtual space by a professional artist They meant to engage the residents of the neighborhood in the. could immediately visualize for example why a large decision making process Every ten years the process starts. baseball diamond was an unrealistic suggestion for the one again so that the community may assess past changes and. acre park space Participants could move and manipulate plan for the future The recently completed 2010 master. the objects or leave comment flags in the space plan took the form of five public meetings between July. Additionally residents were asked to play roles as their 2009 and June 2010 1 The resulting plan was meant to. virtual characters through prompts such as How would a guide conversation for the coming decade In addition to. wheelchair user get from the parking lot to the center of the the traditional mechanism of engaging the community in. park or Where would a librarian take the children for town hall style meetings Participatory Chinatown was. story time 2 3 introduced into the process, One notable feature of augmented deliberation is its Designing the Space. emphasis on experience participants engage in Participatory Chinatown is a multi user game designed to. conversation not through the lens of their own perspective be played in real time in a shared physical space The. but rather through the shared experience of inhabiting a game was built using the Sandstone platform by Muzzy. virtual space 3 In the implementation of Participatory. Chinatown we attempted to understand how the shared 1. experience of a space can be constructed around a player s For more information on the community processes see. experience as someone other than him or herself Trying to http www chinatowngateway org mp2010 htm. Lane software We chose Sandstone because its built in The game begins by displaying a character s biography and. features were conducive for educational games and because quest then places players on the streets within a. we were able to use it to build a game capable of running in photorealistic 3D model of Chinatown Players navigate. a web browser their virtual avatars from a third person perspective and are. The game launched on the evening of 3 May 2010 in a instructed to locate nine Decision Cards in thirty minutes. large community room in Boston s Chinatown where 48 Each of these cards represents a unique employment. people from the community gathered to play The space housing or social space decision that exists within. was filled with five long rectangular tables each with the Chinatown For example when players find an. capacity to fit 10 or 15 laptops A projection screen was employment card they are presented with a local job. placed in the front of the room to which the facilitators on description details on that job s pay grade and health. occasion asked players to direct their attention But the insurance coverage and the job s required background. conversation and digital interactions taking place at the qualifications and English language skills. individual tables was the focal point of each player s To help locate cards players can talk to in game characters. experience In addition to the physical proximity of players or collaborate with co located players The nature of. sharing a table each table represented a multi player game augmented deliberation allows these exchanges to occur. where players could interact in a shared virtual simultaneously Some players chose to meet friends at. environment While all players were playing the same specific street corners to initiate in game card trades while. game there were five distinct instances of the game going others simply asked those next to them for directions or. on at once with about 10 15 players in each instance The advice. meeting was facilitated in such a way that the small group Additionally players virtual residents have access to. interactions at the tables and in the virtual Chinatown were support from in game non player characters NPCs and. periodically shared with the front of the room This was local resources Characters with a long community history. meant to produce a dynamic environment that could extend for example have a large network of friends to call upon. the game dynamics into the physical room To address for advice or cards whereas those who were new to the. Chinatown s diverse language needs the game was community had only a few friends to assist Similarly only. playable in either English or Chinese and a translator was characters with large enough incomes can hire a broker to. present throughout the meeting help in an apartment search and only those with English. reading abilities can scan the job ads in the English. GAMEPLAY language newspaper And so while some players locate all. Stage One Exploration,nine Decision Cards many do not.
Throughout this stage players earn points for finding cards. trading cards with other players talking to NPCs and. leaving or responding to comments in the environment. Stage Two Decision making, Figure 2 Participatory Chinatown exploration interface. In the first stage of the game participants play the role of. one of fifteen characters called virtual residents that. represent various Chinatown stakeholders These characters. Figure 3 Decision screen interface Users can double click. range from new immigrants community elders and parents. cards for detailed information, to medical students and business professionals Each. character is on a quest within the neighborhood and is After the collection phase players are taken to a screen. seeking a job a place to live or a place to socialize where they can see all the cards they found Players are. instructed to review their character s biography spend time. looking at their available options and rank their top three they would now be entering into the scenario model. choices In some cases players discussed their options with preferred by the table The scenarios in question related to a. other people at the table comparing what cards they found large parcel of land slated for development to the south of. and the nuances of the character biographies Players Chinatown butting up against Boston s South End. earned additional points if they ultimately received one of neighborhood. these three choices and bonus points if they received their Back in the game environment avatars were turned off. top choice shifting the point of view from third person to first person. Once every player in the room finished ranking the game Moderators asked participants to explore this possible. released the results of their individual searches Each player future for Chinatown while also locating the nine question. received notification of what job apartment or social space stations located throughout the environment and leaving. if any they received If they did not receive a card or did responses These stations prompted players to answer. not get their first choice they were told what the reason questions such as What should the Chinatown South End. was Perhaps the character could not afford the selected transition be like and What is the number one thing that. apartment or was unqualified for a job or most makes Chinatown feel unique In addition to answering. controversially perhaps it was given to someone else at the these questions players could add their own comments. table In any case the disclosure of results and final scores within the environment. produced audible moans and cheers from players truly Stage Six Discussion Part II. energizing the room and motivating the desire for In this final discussion participants were asked to talk. conversation The moderators recognized the high scorers about the future of Chinatown In small moderated. at each table before a group discussion discussions at the table participants were asked to. Stage Three Discussion Part I comment on how the modeled scenario they entered as a. At this point players turned toward the front of the room to group matched with their personal preferences They were. face the moderator Players were wearing two nametags also asked to discuss how their personal preferences. one with their real name and one with their character s corresponded with their perception of their virtual. name The moderator began by asking who received their resident s preferences After a twenty minute discussion. first choice The moderator then called on those people the moderators at each table reported the table s general. using their character s name and asked how they felt sentiments to the larger group Once all tables had a chance. about it The moderator also asked who did not receive any to report the meeting was adjourned. of their choices Similarly using their character s name the. moderator asked how they felt about not receiving METHODS. anything These questions prompted a discussion about A mix of methods was employed to study participants. competition trade offs lack of resources transportation experience with this type of community meeting A paper. and open spaces based survey was administered to collect demographic. Stage Four Community Priorities information and ask about the meeting experience and. After about 15 minutes of conversation players were levels of satisfaction Participants answered using a 5 point. instructed to take off their character s nametag During the Likert scale with strongly disagree as 1 neither agree nor. game s next part they were told they could be themselves disagree as 3 and strongly agree as 5 In addition to the. The game displays a screen populated with nine cards survey eight one on one interviews were conducted. representing community values such as identity immediately following the meeting. walkability affordable housing and green space values. Of the 48 questions on the survey 5 address the issue of. determined by the community during its 2000 master. empathy and role play Additionally all eight interviewees. planning process Players were asked to determine which of. were asked to extrapolate on their experience playing their. these values best reflected their ideal future of Chinatown. character These questions were meant to answer two. After players select their top three cards the game. primary questions Did the experience of playing a, determines a planning scenario either commercial focus. Playing with Empathy Digital Role Playing Games in Public Meetings Eric Gordon Steven Schirra Engagement Game Lab Department of Visual amp Media Arts Emerson College 120 Boylston Street Boston MA 02116 USA Eric Gordon Steven Schirra emerson edu ABSTRACT Digital role playing games can be an effective tool for augmenting deliberation in a community planning process We study the

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