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Parks as Game Spaces

Despite best intentions, I am still not yet a professional game designer, although work does slowly continue over at our Blue Demon Studio. In the meantime I work as an admin. assistant, helping to run a variety of charity and community groups. Fear not – I’m not about to write a lengthy CV post! What I am interested in is the surprising crossover between these two types of work, and as ever, I hope you are too.

My task at the moment is to create a leaflet and generally spark a recruitment campaign, engaging locals in a ‘friends’ group for our municipal park. Such groups essentially act as a buffer between councils and the public, bridging the gap between those who might wish to use a park, and the authorities who own it. Where this community bridge is in place, each party can then contribute in a much more meaningful way to improving the green space, and generally livening the community up. It was only when I started looking past the peripheral, graphic design concerns in this task to those sorts of motivations that I realised how relevant games design can be to this sort of community work.

I choose to see parks as game spaces. My focus at the moment lays in engaging local people with this space, bringing them on board so that the ‘friends’ group has more power to enact change. The best way I know how to do that is to convince them that their actions will have an impact. Of course, parks are arguably far more interactive than many games, because the fundamentals of that space can be altered after release. There is also an element of illusion, however. No one person is going to be suddenly granted the right to ban dog walkers, or uproot great rows of trees and install more football pitches instead, just as World of Warcraft‘s Chosen One is not allowed to single-handedly assassinate King Varian Wrynn and claim Stormwind for the Horde.

There’s a similar analogy amongst councils, who are far from tyrannical conservatives – I’m not trying to make a political point here! – but they do generally want to keep green spaces under their control. There are a variety of very logical reasons for this. Councils and politicians both stand to benefit from granting local communities an illusion of participation and choice in what happens locally, though it’s up to groups like ours to actually enact some of the more reasonable change – patching in the death of the Lich King, if you will.

All of which basically engages me as the park’s community manager, helping to balance the fundamentals of this metaphorical game space against delivering on promises to users who signed up on the basis of interactivity. My goal is certainly the same in either sphere – I just want to see people having fun.