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the harbour game:. planning and playing!!!

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The Harbour game [Havnen På Spil], by Projektgruppen Havnen På Spil, is a mixed reality debate game for city planning and citizen involvement that allowed players and citizens to debate scenarios for the future harbour in Århus through playful interaction.


The common tools used in planning processes are e.g. hearings, environmental reports and architectural contests. But are the existing tools and methods comprehensive. Do they allow all interests to speak up and do they output fulfilling results? Is it possible to involve interests in the process and still reach a satisfying result?

As an attempt to answer some of the above questions, the Project group Havnen På Spil, created a mixed reality debate game based on earlier versions made by Kollision.

The intention has been to discuss the harbour areas of Aarhus and is timed and initiated as a parallel process to the one maintained by the municipality. Large areas of the inner city are going to be transformed and rebuilt in the near future and the responsible authorities are planning the areas mainly based on an already held traditional architectural contest.

Basically the project can be divided into three main states referred by as dimensions.
The following sections briefly describe the dimensions of The Harbour Game:

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The 1st dimension, The Width - collecting data and engaging the city

In the 1st dimension of the project the city of Aarhus was addressed and engaged by using posters, postcards, newspapers and sending and maintaining newsletters and discussions forums on a website encouraging the citizens to participate and assure a wide foundation for the upcoming Harbour Game. In a period of three months all kinds of material concerning the specific areas was collected. Material like architectural contests, abstract visions and concrete projects in all kinds of scale formed the basis of 100 projects / collages on posters to be used in the next dimension. The projects were divided into eight categories: Healthcare / social services, education, housing, industry / trade, cultural affairs, infrastructure and tourism.

The 2nd dimension, The Height - creating scenarios using The Harbour Game

The 2nd dimension of the project The Harbour Game took place the 8th of November 2002, a public event with about 150 audiences. 16 players representing four groups of interest were invited: Politicians, industry / trade, experts and citizens. Among them was the Mayor of Aarhus, town councillors, NGOs, cultural experts, students, consultants, and architects specialised in infrastructure and planning. The teams were given missions, a short description of a predefined focus. The missions were meant to make sure that different project types like e.g. infrastructure and housing was represented and taken care of. The teams had to agree on only four projects to solve their mission.
Parallel to the discussions of the teams, the audience could cast their vote and indicate what area of the harbour they would like the players to focus on. The harbour was divided into 16 areas and formed a 2x4 meters gaming table. Every area on the table had a default value representing more or less abstract indicates on cost price, status in the district plan, percentage of exploitation etc. The area values were adjusted in accordance to the votes of the audience, in such a way that the most popular areas would be the most affordable to use for placing a project in the sense that the teams could “earn” points by fulfilling their mission and by completing projects but at the same time had to pay for the cost of exploiting a given area.

The common goal of the game was to develop the harbour areas through negotiations and debate; therefore there could be neither winners nor losers. The nature of The Harbour Game might not be to point out a winner, but still there were mechanisms like coalitions, fractions and points that kept up the syntax of a game.

A game had four rounds and was turn based. Every team had two turns on each round. During the game a game master was in charge and it was his job to both be in control as a chairman and if necessary be the judge of disagreements or enquiry.

During a turn a team could:
  • Place a project marker in a desired area. It was required that the teams had to argue as to what, where and why
  • Negotiate with another team about supporting a project
  • Move one of its own project or support markers
At the end of the game the audience could vote for the team they liked best - the one they felt took the best care of their interests. The audience was also given the opportunity to take part in the debate by using a travelling microphone. Finally at the end of the game the points were added up and the game master compared the votes of the audience with the points given by the game. A total of two games were played during the day with the same teams but with different missions.

The 3rd dimension, The Length - qualifying and concluding the outcome of the earlier dimensions

The Harbour Game did output a multiplicity of ideas and suggestions for the future use of the harbour areas, including proposals like houseboats for elderly, a multimedia library and the idea of a Rambla known from Barcelona (Let infrastructures be partly based on tunnels and pedestrianized streets).
The 3rd and last dimension of the project concerned qualification and use of the massive amount of data and communication from the earlier dimensions. During three months the project team developed methods and visualizations to overview and handle the consequences of the played scenarios. The aim was a public event, both to commit one to present an understandable and useful process to the public and to reassure that the outcome of the project would be presented to the municipality as a proposal for a controlled and workable method for involving citizens in urban planning.

The presentation lasted two days and was defined by the following themes:
  • The city in the computer - Interactive virtual scenarios and representations of the discussed areas in CAVI
  • The computer in the city - Interactive experiments using mixed reality techniques in a real-life context
video:. Quicktime movie: The Harbour Game - A mixed reality game for urban planning

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