A serious game for learning about different perspectives

Serious game: Game in session engaging urban stakeholders. Credit: Johann Schuur.


The serious board game is a participatory activity related to urban spatial planning that engages experts from different backgrounds. The term “serious game” emphasises that it is a game where the primary purpose is something other than entertainment. The serious game, the adaptation process, collaborations and workshops are part of the EU ERC Globescape project developed in Switzerland by Professor Adrienne Grêt-Regamey (ETH Zürich, Grant agreement no. 757565). The game was adapted to local conditions in Helsinki.

The purpose of the game is to engage urban stakeholders in discussions on planning and investment decisions, and to provide researchers with data and material from which to derive insights related to urban planning situations. Ultimately, the goal of the game is to provide players (stakeholders) from different professional backgrounds with opportunities to engage in discussions with each other about urban planning. In the game, the players are challenged to make investments in and negotiate the development of an area to meet certain targets related to their individual pre-set aims. The game requires the stakeholders to discuss potential moves with each other and take joint action to gain maximum points in the area for attractiveness and the social acceptability of the decisions. These discussions and the debriefs that follow are observed and recorded by researchers and analysed for research purposes.  

Description of practice

● The game was adapted to the Helsinki Kalasatama area. This involved:
– Recruiting local organisations to act as local coordinators and make connections with relevant local stakeholders in the area.
– Adapting the game content to reflect local Kalasatama area issues. For example, the area is a smart, environmentally friendly new neighbourhood still under construction. Local stakeholders were interested in including sustainability-related and climate adaptation issues in the scenarios for the game process.
● The game was conducted in two different four-person groups. Each game comprised four or five rounds, followed by a debrief (Warm debrief).
● Two weeks later, the players were interviewed using specific pre-set questions (Cold Debrief).
● In the next phase of game development, digitalisation of the serious game will be studied by transferring the board game format into a 3D game environment.

Who was involved 

The project team adapting the serious game to the Finnish Kalasatama context was led by the ETH Zurich University team, partnered with the University of Helsinki and the local City of Helsinki owned company the Forum Virium Helsinki. MSc level students were involved in the data collection and analysis.  

Promotion and communication

The game players were personally invited by the project team or through invitations that were extended from these persons. Covid-19 led to many cancellations and other events had to be rescheduled. 


Expertise related to urban planning and environmental issues, translation services, transcription services, data analysis software and qualitative research skills. 

Time commitment 

Adaptation of the game to Kalasatama was planned to take three months. Once adapted to the reality and needs of the local area, the game was tested in three sessions in one month. The direct feedback and observations from the test sessions were used to develop the game design and instructions iteratively. The two game sessions were held over two weeks. Each game session was followed by a debrief session immediately afterwards. Two weeks later, a second debrief session was conducted online with participants.  


Level of participation
  • No participation (stakeholders/citizens were not included) 
  • Informing (informing citizens about what is planned) 
  • Consultation (offering options and listening to the feedback) 
  • Co-production in some of the aspects 
  • Co-production from start to end 
Urban planning challenge(s) tackled Governance and institutional factors

  • Working collaboratively
  • Standards and regulatory processes
  • Finance

Stakeholder engagement 

  • Public acceptance
  • Shared decision-making 
  • Social inclusion

Knowledge and skills

  • Awareness and communication
  • Expertise
  • Technical integration

Lessons learned

● The importance of having willing local partners in the city who supported the cause and provided useful input

● Cooperation with researchers from various backgrounds allowed rich discussion on future urban planning challenges and opportunities. This could bring more depth to future stakeholder engagement.

● It was difficult to get the schedules of stakeholders to match, especially with last-minute Covid-related rescheduling

● The serious game method is laborious and requires specific skills to be mutually beneficial to the different participants in the process.

● Stakeholder fatigue can become a barrier without clear communication and design of the process.  


● The method of the serious game allows the introduction of a highly diverse set of goals into co-production and/or stakeholder engagement on urban planning.

● Game utilisation allows transformational changes in the urban environment to be imagined and negotiated.

● Digitalisation of the serious game is seen as an opportunity to make it more adaptable to different contexts and more accessible to a broader set of stakeholders and planners. 

Read more:

GLOBESCAPE – Planning of Landscape and Urban Systems https//plus.ethz.ch/research/forschungsprojekte/GLOBESCAPE.html

Operationalising place for land system science https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11625-020-00827-5