Community planning game launches in Salem, Mass.; Philadelphia

Dan O'Brien
January 23, 2013

Eric Gordon is the director of the Engagement Game Lab.

The Engagement Game Lab at Emerson has its sights set on Philadelphia and Salem, Massachusetts, in the coming days—debuting online community planning games that let residents interact and contribute ideas to shape the future of their neighborhoods.

The lab has launched similar online games for Boston’s Chinatown neighborhood, in 2007, and last year in Detroit, where just weeks ago that city’s master development plan included several comments from residents who played the interactive game Community PlanIt, according to Eric Gordon, director of the Engagement Game Lab and associate professor in the Department of Visual and Media Arts.

“This is a real opportunity for public participation,” Gordon said. “It’s different than a simulation game, where someone is simulating something for the purpose of learning. This is the real thing.”

Salem has about 41,000 residents and is located about 15 miles north of Boston. The new game, called What’s the Point?, will replicate The Point neighborhood—a low-income area with a high population of Latinos and Salem State University students. Players will log onto a website and complete a series of timed missions that focus on different aspects of neighborhood life, such as living, playing, doing business, and getting around, according to a press release from Salem City Hall.

“The idea is to increase engagement and…the idea of civic learning,” Gordon said. “We want to avoid [people simply complaining]. We’re looking for platforms where people feel like they have a voice and can make a difference. That might be to influence the ideas of decision-makers, but it could also be connecting more to the community and learning more about the community.”

A launch party for What’s the Point? will be held Friday, January 25, at 4:00 pm at Orange Leaf Yogurt, 76 Lafayette Street in Salem; the game will be available to anyone online on Monday, January 28.

What’s the Point? is being implemented as part of a grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Sustainable Communities Program in conjunction with the city of Salem, the North Shore Community Development Coalition, and the Metropolitan Area Planning Council.

A similar game, Philadelphia2035: The Game, was created by Gordon’s lab and will launch in Philadelphia, also on January 28.

Additionally, this month Gordon was awarded nearly $75,000 from the Pearson Foundation to help develop a curriculum to use Community PlanIt for middle and high schools.

In addition to his roles at Emerson, this academic year Gordon is a Fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University. On Wednesday, January 30, he will participate in a panel discussion at the Berkman Center titled “Is School Enough?,” which will focus on youth and informal learning through digital media.

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