Urblove as a tool to bridge barriers in the segregated city
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Urblove as a tool to bridge barriers in the segregated city

Urblove is a locative game platform concept developed by Ozma in collaboration with WIP. The research project included researchers from MEDEA and the Sport and Leisure departement at Malmö University.

How can alternative and more multi faceted stories of poor and segregated urban areas be constructed? How can outsiders be encouraged to come and visit these areas and break the stigmatized image and the many prejudices be challenged?

In contemporary urban life we can observe a tension between habitual patterns of movement, and possible expansions of such movements. An observation on urban living is how many youth groups moves primarily within the same blocks they are living in. Especially this holds true for many suburbs dominated by immigrants, which at times also are being marginalized by media, with social isolation as a result. As major cities are more and more becoming segregated, a crucial issue arises how we can support urban exploration beyond the “home turf”. An exciting prospect is to let inhabitants of local neighbourhoods create “routes” within the neighbourhood that can be played by others, thus inviting to a more true perception of the places and culture within different city segments. With this ambition the project Urblove sought to explore the possibilities of a service that combines urban exploring and mobile gaming with the possibilities inherent in participatory cultures and the potential of user-created content. The project was carried out in co-operation with Medea, Malmö University, RGRA and two school classes.

Urblove takes concrete urban places as its starting point for developing and playing games. We set up participatory processes where youths took on the on the role of co-designers. Using an sms-engine, complemented with a web platform, the youth groups produced “routes” for playing, and developed narratives that take players through local neighbourhoods or in the city. The story in the games is presented in fragments sent to the players via SMS. Each message contains a part of the story and a puzzle to be solved in order to obtain the next part of the story. As riddles, which can only be answered by being at a specific place, are answered through sms, new riddles are sent with the result of the narrative unfolding piece by piece, along with the players moving through a dedicated area in the city. The game engine calculates points to the teams playing in relation to the amount of right answers and time spent on the game. The games also draw upon the capabilities of mobile phones to produce and consume new digital media formats, and using the phone camera is often a component in the game. The choice of “cheap-to-use” technologies, such as sms, is deliberate as to make the game as accessible as possible.

The potential of games like Urblove, and different types of social media and mobile technologies, in order to communicate messages about places is high. The sense and meaning of a place is locally embedded and not always obvious to outsiders. Therefore, the perspective of insiders is crucial when analyzing, understanding and developing the city. However, it is also an important tool for insiders, like users and residents, to reflect about the places of everyday life and to bring content and meaning to life. Based on the Urblove experience, we can say that it needs practice, courage and probably pride as well to reflect and communicate about places. For the young men in the suburbs of Malmö to communicate about their places outside their group could, if developed and practiced, have a great potential in the process of re-contextualising the mundane city and discover the liminality. A higher degree of self-reflexivity has to take place in order to call it participatory urbanism, but it is a first step.

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