Gaming for Heritage

UDIT SARKAR

Project Architect,  Aishwarya Tipnis Architects

I am an avid gamer and have been trained as an architect. I have grown up playing Assassin’s Creed, learning quite a bit of my history of architecture from there. I hope to be an urban planner one day and I am interested in the intersection between gaming, community and planning.

The Heritage & People of Chandernagore project has been executed on a shoe-string budget, but we experimented with the most out of the box ideas. I was inspired by many ideas particularly, Play the City: Istanbul, which is a game that was designed to stimulate and facilitate communication between different stakeholders determined in urban issues allowing a more transversal expression from bottom up.

While our project was essentially about heritage, we felt that the people were the most dynamic part of the project and that the survival of heritage really depended on what the people felt about their town. We wanted genuine citizen involvement so we designed a community engagement workshop and decided to hold it at a public location. What better place to be most accessible to all other than the Strand, the event itself is a separate story in itself so I won’t get into it here.

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So back to the gaming, so it was three of us Sovan Saha, the Urban Designer, Chitra Chandrashekhar  the Interpretation and Community Person and me Udit Sarkar the Project Architect. So as I said we didnt want a formal conference kind of setup and wanted genuine opinions from the people, we decided to develop an analog game (we couldn’t afford making a digital game), which would be an easy tool to engage with the people in a creative way.

We had seen Chandernagore through our eyes, but we wanted to see the town through the citizen’s eyes. We wanted to make a mental map of Chandernagore, to identify what are the places that mattered, what people associated with. We loosely based the game on Monopoly, having 4 players  each player had to answer a question at his turn, we designed four genres of questions one was childhood memories, the second associations, trivia about the town and treasure hunt based on clues, for each question the answers were associated with the places and pinning those places on the board.  We set the board on a lone table on the Strand, and it became the crowd puller, school children flocked by and we had three very interesting rounds and some fascinating insights into the citizen’s perspective through game.

The questions were designed to imaginatively engage with the town, the treasure hunt for the best food shops and restaurants for example if you were the Mayor of Chandernagore what changes would you like in the city, some suggested building a bridge, other pinned the development of the Marie Park.

We learnt many new things about the town such as the people purposely wanting to take a longer route to experience the walk through the old town and surprisingly most of the girls were very poor with their knowledge of the city and reading maps!

Although this was a fun event, which helped us gain input from the citizens, there is a lot that can be done, games have a significant role to play in community consultations and helping lay people express their opinions. It can become a fun way for self governance and hopefully someday Urban Planning of our towns and cities too.

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