Game thinking from Adam Clare

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On Creating A Conceptual Framework For City Management Games

Bedford and Lowther

One of the projects I’m working on right now is centred around city management (amongst other things) and I’ve come across some neat research as a result.

There’s essentially two ways to model a city that people have looked at. One way is to use cellular automaton to compute the city and the other is cell-space model.

Cellular automation is what the Game of Life uses. Basically each ‘cell’ acts based on the information directly around it. Based off of a rule set the cell will then behave in a certain way.

In a cell-space model the operation is slightly different. The cell is not only aware of it’s immediate surrounding but what’s also around it at a greater distance. This means it’s concerned with more connections and variables than cellular automation.

Markham and Lawrence

Using this cellular approach to understand urban environments isn’t just used in video games it’s used in the real world as well. A paper published in September 2014 used this approach: Spatially-explicit simulation of urban growth through self-adaptive genetic algorithm and cellular automata modelling.

These two cell-based approaches can also be found in a great analysis of city simulation games titled Video games and urban simulation: new tools or new tricks?

Here’s a choice quote from their really good analysis:

Complex urban models will always contain more assumptions about reality than are testable and involve contextual assumptions that remain implicit. These increasing difficulties in testing and validating models, and the fact that some arbitrary mechanisms have to be imposed so that realistic outcomes emerge, have raised serious concerns about the ability of models to predict or even reflect the “real world”. It has been argued that models are still useful, because every kind of model can be used for every purpose. It may depend on users, not on the models; urban models still largely remain didactical vehicles that are valuable to engender discussion and debate (Batty & Torrens 2001). These concerns are not specific to modelling. Trevor Barnes and James Duncan underline that “writing about worlds reveals as much about ourselves as it does about the worlds represented” (1992: 3). Writing (or modelling) reflects more our representations than the world itself. In short, urban modelling can be seen as “story telling” (Guhathakurta 2001), like video games (Frasca 1999). However, in both contexts, the extent to which the story told is believable is always at stake.

Jane and Firth

Beyond the cell approach there are other options. Conceptually, they seem to just deal with cells in a different format – less literal and more as conceptual cells. That approach is to break down each function of the city into regions. (How is a region not just an oddly shaped cell?) The paper Interactive Geometric Simulation of 4D Cities explores how this form of simulation is possible. Here’s the abstract:

We present a simulation system that can simulate a three-dimensional urban model over time. The main novelty of our approach is that we do not rely on land-use simulation on a regular grid, but instead build a complete and in- herently geometric simulation that includes exact parcel boundaries, streets of arbitrary orientation, street widths, 3D street geometry, building footprints, and 3D building envelopes. The second novelty is the fast simulation time and user interaction at interactive speed of about 1 second per time step.

No matter which way you choose to simulate a city you still need to find ways to figure out what needs to be modelled and simulate. For that you can turn to your own interpretation or look elsewhere. There is a ton of research on what aspects of a city matter the most given whatever lens you want to look through.

If you want to examine a city through a lens of economic strength you would model different things than if you looked at through a level-of-happiness lens.

For our game, the city-space is set a few years into the future and as a result we’re using a modified SWOT and STEEPV approach for prediction.

Simulations Used By Militaries

It is no secret that militaries use simulation software and games to train their troops. And often the video gaming world and the military industrial complex collide to produce some bizarre projects (America’s Army and the ilk). Some other projects are really interesting and can produce some real positive results for people outside of the military too.

Recently some coverage of the Canadian military using virtual reality (VR) tools to treat soldieries who are suffering from post-tramautic stress disorder (PTSD). CTV recently looked at the current state of VR in helping veterans suffering from PTSD. PTSD is treated by trying to make the initial experience less traumatic through “reliving” it.

“We try to re-immerse (soldiers) in the traumatic event that they lived through,” said Vincent. “This allows them to face it, stop avoiding the memories, and process them.”
For MCpl. Neil Macey, who served as a medic in Kandahar, the program takes his mind right back to the warzone.
After strapping on a visor on his head, Macey is taken inside a first-person shooter video game. The platform he stands on shakes during a virtual explosion, and moving images are shown in all directions with sounds of helicopters, screams and sirens in the distance.

The CBC looked at this two years ago and it looks like since then the Canadian armed forces have extended their efforts in treating PTSD. Last Novemeber, the medical show White Coat Black Art examined PTSD treatment from the perspective of caregivers and sufferers. It’s hard to listen to at points.

A 2013 report published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal found that fourteen percent of Canadian Forces who served in Afghanistan were diagnosed with a mental health disorder and eight percent have PTSD.  

One of those is retired Master Corporal Mark Verrall, a forty-one year old medic whose twenty-four year career included stints in Bosnia and Dubai as well as two tours of duty in Afghanistan.  He tells us about his PTSD and the traumatic event that triggered it.  He also tells us that when he first tried to tell his supreriors about his problems the message he got back was “suck it up” and move on.

On the other side of battle, training, the American armed forces created a real world simulation of an Afghani town. It’s located at the National Training Center in California. Troops are required to train there before being sent overseas to the Middle East. It seems like something that Jean Baudrillard would have loved to dissect.

Venue took a tour and have published a photo-filled exploration of the training facility.

A twenty-minute drive later, through relatively featureless desert, our visit to “Afghanistan” began with a casual walk down the main street, where we were greeted by actors trying to sell us plastic loaves of bread and piles of fake meat. Fort Irwin employs more than 350 civilian role-players, many of whom are of Middle Eastern origin, although Ferrell explained that they are still trying to recruit more Afghans, in order “to provide the texture of the culture.”

In other words, at the most basic level, soldiers will use Fort Irwin’s facsimile villages to practice clearing structures and navigating unmapped, roofed alleyways through cities without clear satellite communications links. However, at least in the training activities accessible to public visitors, the architecture is primarily a stage set for the theater of human relations: a backdrop for meeting and befriending locals (again, paid actors), controlling crowds (actors), rescuing casualties (Fort Irwin’s roster of eight amputees are its most highly paid actors, we learned, in recompense for being literally dragged around during simulated combat operations), and, ultimately, locating and eliminating the bad guys (the Blackhorse regiment).

If your interested in following how video games, and other gaming techniques/technologies, are used by the armed forces I’ve collected a few links. I keep up to date on what militaries are up to by following a couple different sources beyond the news:

Training & Simulation Journal
War Is Boring

If you know of more please leave a link in the comments.

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