Street games in science communication
Imagine: it hasn't stopped raining in days and the river banks are collapsing. The risk of flooding is imminent. You and your team of experts have been sent to take immediate action and avert future crises. Can you save the city?
This is the premise of Downpour!, a street game about flood risk science and management. It offers a high-stakes challenge for the player, but one that will not be too unfamiliar to environmental scientists and planners in their day-to-day work. This connection, we argue in our paper published in Research For All, is the strength of immersive, interactive games in environmental science communication.
Unlike games played on a screen, street games blend the game world with real-world environments, both in terms of physical setting and the meaning players attach to the actions and narratives. A meeting room becomes crisis headquarters. Players embody their game characters of infrastructure expert or communications officer as they move and talk. Decisions are taken to succeed in the game – but also to reflect people’s own views on environmental issues. Players have agency to make a difference in the game, while at the same time exploring the wider scientific and political questions of flood risk management.
Downpour! was a collaboration between creative practitioners (game designers and film-makers), and researchers (geographers and environmental scientists). We believe that this interdisciplinary exchange is crucial for the success of creative modes of public engagement. There is great scope for scientists to actively shape creative processes and expand their repertoire of research communication. Similarly, artists can do more than re-interpret results. Their approach to knowledge can enrich research and participation at many different stages of a project.