Game theory for cities: bringing planners face to face with dilemmas

A not-for-profit in Bengaluru is using a raft of board games to help policy makers sharpen priorities and do problem-solving

Updated - July 09, 2017 11:03 am IST

Published - July 08, 2017 08:23 pm IST - Bengaluru

Ground reality:  Nine board games have been developed by the not-for-profit body, Fields of View.

Ground reality: Nine board games have been developed by the not-for-profit body, Fields of View.

Recently, a teenager and a real estate professional teamed up to play a board-game. It was not something they picked up in a hobby store, but a game designed to get people to understand what goes into city planning. As the play progressed, the realtor wanted to put a skyscraper in a plot of land, but his young teammate stopped him. The site was already a playground, he pointed out.

In the real world, where cities groan under the weight of rising populations things are different: playgrounds are giving way to high-rises, encroachments are eating into nature reserves and lakes are frothing with pollutants.

Everyone has solutions, and now they can actually try them out. That’s the goal set by ‘City Game,’ developed by Bengaluru-based not-for-profit ‘Fields of View’ (FoV).

When it is played by a diverse group of citizens, it brings to the fore all the tensions and faultlines of a city. The game offers insights to town planners on citizens’ priorities.

Different priorities

“When we get people from lower income groups to play, we get an insight into what they expect out of an ideal city. For instance, a boy from Mumbai wanted to build a public tap. Another chose to have a job recruitment centre,” said Sruthi Krishnan, secretary, FoV.

City Game is not the only one from the non-profit. Since 2012, professionals from various sectors have come out with gaming scenarios that focus on urban planning, garbage management, and policy-related themes such as energy.

FoV develops three kinds of games: research tools to get better responses from subjects instead of using a survey; games that simulate real life scenarios to help policy makers take decisions and assess their impact; and educational tools to understand the systems and processes better.

Harsha K, co-founder, FoV, looks at games as the best tools available to study the rationale of decisions.

The games are not available for individual purchase: the organisation develops them to further its research, or for public policy. FoV runs on project grants and has created nine games so far.

The ₹ in waste

In ‘₹ubbish’— developed by FoV for educational purposes, people manage Dry Waste Collection Centres: the goal is to minimise waste from piling up at landfills. When the dump is full, the game is over.

“As people play, they realise that the system collapses if waste is not segregated. One player, after using his landfill, asked if he could get another, which is exactly what the civic administration has been doing,” said Ms. Krishnan. Recently, FoV approached sanitation workers in Chennai and they found the game hugely engaging.

The games have been used for teaching as well. Prof. Vinod Vyasulu, vice dean (Academic Affairs), Jindal School of Government and Public Policies, Sonipat, Haryana, said that he had multiple sessions of FoV games organised for his students and used it as a teaching tool.

Based on hard data

“We played Energy Game for students of Economics and City Game for students of Public Policy. Energy Game, designed with real data from the Power ministry and Planning Commission, exposed the students to the various trade-offs in decision-making. It gave a hands-on experience of decision-making with real-life constraints. The students loved the games,” he said.

Hard data also ensures that the game environment resembles real life.

“We are developing one to include disadvantaged communities in BMTC services. The trade-off between the number of buses, the routes and fares, is a tough one,” said Mr. Harsha.

FoV says that in their five years, several government agencies have used the products in different ways, including for training.

“In fact, government agencies have been more open to our games than the private sector,” said Mr. Harsha. One upcoming game uses the Inclusive Wealth Index (IWI) for policymaking, in collaboration with the UN. (IWI is a measure of a country’s wealth in terms of long term sustainability and well being.)

Set for an October launch, it will be played by postgraduate students of economics and sustainability and also by policy makers.

0 / 0
Sign in to unlock member-only benefits!
  • Access 10 free stories every month
  • Save stories to read later
  • Access to comment on every story
  • Sign-up/manage your newsletter subscriptions with a single click
  • Get notified by email for early access to discounts & offers on our products
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.