Creative initiatives offer fun remedies for our lives in the concrete jungle. Game-like experiences and interactions can kindle new urban joy on an everyday basis. These 7 urban gamification solutions definitely change the way you will look at your city.

Ryan Swanson believes in the art of play. The founder and CEO of Florida-based design company The Urban Conga wants to activate and vitalize urban spaces through interactive installations.

“Creating a playable discussion within the urban core is essential to building more lively communities,” he says. “When people play together, barriers begin to break down. It doesn’t matter what your social or economic background is or what ethnicity you are. You just become people playing, learning, and trusting one another.”

With urban populations growing, we’ll need to find ways to break up the monotony of cities. Research shows that unattractive and boring architecture can have a negative impact on our psychological wellbeing. The strains of modern life are also making us feel less connected to the communities we live in.

Look forward to seeing some of these great gamification solutions in a street near you – brought to you by The Urban Conga and other creative projects.

Making music in the park

Public benches – we sit on them, eating our lunch or during a coffee break. How often do we strike up a conversation with the stranger sitting next to us? The musical bench will bring you in touch with strangers.

Set up like marimbas, they’re designed to help us bond through sight, sound and touch. Those sitting on the bench can interact and create a melody together. Passers-by can be drawn into the experience by what they see and hear. That way, strangers get in touch with each other and get to create a memorable moment together.

Gamification boosts the local economy

Another concept thought up by Swanson and his team is Ping Pong in the Park. It’s more than a game, according to Swanson. In order to use one of the shiny, brightly colored ping pong tables, simply rent bats and balls from partnering businesses nearby – this encourages supporting the community and spending locally.

A first table has already been installed in downtown Tampa, Florida – the stylized Tampa skyline emblazoned on it. True to the project’s motto “Come out and play,” even the city’s mayor Bob Buckhorn showed up for a round of ping pong.

Gamification with table tennis in the city
Ping pong in the park of Tampa.
Photo: The Urban Conga

Recycling for a reward

When it comes to successfully implementing gamification solutions, involving small local businesses is key. These can help not only to make cities more inclusive and enjoyable, but also cleaner and more sustainable, benefitting both the businesses and the cities.

In Amsterdam, for example, the Wasted project is addressing the issue of recycling through a rewards scheme. Residents dispose of plastic in exchange for a virtual currency. This can be spent at certain local spots on groceries, coffee or a bike repair.

The project has experimented with upcycling the intercepted plastic into building blocks that could be used to design outdoor furniture and playground equipment.

The idea behind it: We’re more likely to take action if we get something in return. And gaming can give us a sense of ownership and that we’re participating in shaping a city’s future.

blocks made out of recycled plastic by the Wasted project
Recycled plastic turned into building blocks.
Photo: Cities Foundation

From trash to Tetris

This trash can is an eye-catcher: TetraBIN is optimizing waste management and promoting sustainability through technology and interactive play. Covered in a bright LED display, it is likely to catch your attention.

The kicker: The TetraBIN comes with built-in retro video game classics like Tetris. Passers-by can stop and play a round – by throwing away a piece of rubbish.

The company behind the playful trash can, Sencity, has previously installed its invention in Sydney and is currently developing a new model for installation around New York.

The bin is able to notify its owners when it’s full – ideal for urban planners and data analysts, who could learn about residents’ waste habits and then encourage behavior changes.

Garbage bin on which one can play Tetris on a street
TetraBIN: Play a round while keeping the streets clean.
Photo: TetraBIN

Creating intrigue

Another Tetris-inspired project started in Tel Aviv. The game was projected onto a wall of a local government building during DLD Tel Aviv Innovation Festival last September. 480 LED lights helped turn the side of the building into a 3,000 square meter screen.

Two huge joysticks were installed in the square in front of the screen, enabling curious passers-by to compete against each other.

Urban tetris in Tel Aviv by night
A joystick and a building: Tetris is huge again.
Photo: Dave Shahar

Bringing fun to ordinary architecture

Two years ago, the 70s arcade classic Snake brought fun to the public fountains at King’s Cross station. The installation called Granary Squirt will be returning this summer.

After downloading the corresponding app, up to eight people can play at any one time, each controlling a line of colored water jets. Your “snake” can be controlled by tilting your phone – and remember to avoid the other snakes.

Controlling the fountains in the city via the smartphone game "Snake"
Snake in the fountain – controlled via app.
Photo: Granary Squirt

Building and imagining together

OK, so games like Tetris and Snake can get us to engage with and congregate in public spaces. Just Add People (JAP) takes it one step further and encourages imagination and team work.

JAP is a playful tool for exploring our relationship with the urban environment. The Berlin-based project, which can be hired for events and festivals, enables groups of players to assemble imaginative structures from sticks and neon-colored balls. The lofty shapes and objects can spark the imagination and help see urban structures differently. Teams are given an architectural challenge and have to rely on good communication and teamwork to inspire a solution.

So let’s look up from our cellphones. Unexpected playful elements and ideas to enhance the city with gamification are waiting to be discovered.