Computer Games as a Tool in Public Participation Processes in Spatial Planning

Public participation is an important aspect of spatial planning. Involving the citizens in a development process will benefit all involved parties. However, many developments do not exercise an effective public participation process, and the methods deployed in the process are not engaging enough for the citizens to be adequately involved. Even though technological advancements and new techniques have lowered the threshold for citizens to participate, it is still challenging to get the public engaged. Little research has been conducted on the topic of using computer games as a method to increase public engagement. We hypothesize that computer games can be a good alternative to existing methods for visualizing development projects, and can be a helpful tool for increasing the public’s understanding of urban development.

This thesis aims to increase the knowledge of how simulation and visualization with the use of computer games can be used in spatial planning to increase the degree of public participation. We wanted to find out if and how computer games can be used as a method in spatial planning. We used the city-building computer game Cities: Skylines to build a virtual model of Fornebu, which is a development area outside Oslo, Norway. We then arranged two types of interviews: action research interviews, where the participants played Cities: Skylines and experienced the model, and; semistructured interviews with citizens and professionals involved in the development of Fornebu, where we presented the model over Skype. The results from the interviews were then categorized and coded before being discussed with the input from the literature review as well as our own thoughts. Our findings suggest that computer games can be used as a method in spatial planning to increase engagement from the public and understanding of urban development. As the public will be able to understand more of a development through using computer games, they will likely be more interested in engaging in the planning process.

The realism and simulation attributes of Cities: Skylines makes it superior as a tool to be used in public participation processes compared to traditional methods for visualization, as it offers an interactive and entertaining way to engage citizens in spatial planning. Computer games should be considered as a serious alternative to existing methods for engaging the public in planning processes. Public participation is important for both developers and citizens, and should therefore be further improved upon. 

Published 29. March 2021 - 13:07 - Updated 29. March 2021 - 20:58