Social game improves the Point


25 Jan 2013

It’s a very old quandary - children are some of the most vulnerable residents of any neighborhood; the policies set by their elders on the quality of their schools, their access to parks, and the safety of their streets have great impact on them during formative years. Yet, historically, it’s been difficult to engage youth in the tough, tedious business of civic planning.

But no longer. This week, city planners are unveiling a new strategy for using 21st century methods - social media and games - to reach youth and inspire them to be involved in the planning for the future of the Point Neighborhood.

"The idea behind our strategy was to engage youth and make city planning fun," said Jackie Giordano, director of External Affairs for the North Shore CDC. The NSCDC collaborated with the city of Salem and the Metropolitan Area Planning Council to create the new game, titled "What’s the Point?"

"The game is a blend between a social media platform, sort of like Facebook, and something like a Sim City type of game," Giordano said. "It’s free to play, and players can access it from their computer or an iPad."

In the game, which will be played over a period of three weeks, players will undertake a series of missions and win coins, which they can put toward a number of real-world initiatives in the Point Neighborhood. Along the way, they can share photographs and thoughts of what makes the Point neighborhood special to them.

"At the end of the gameplay period, the top three projects in terms of getting coins in the game will be actually funded in the real world," Giordano said. "As of right now, we’ve raised over $500 in donations from business owners to put toward the projects."

The game was created by the Engagement Game Lab at Emerson College in Boston, which has created similar games for other cities, like Quincy. It utilized testimony from actual Point youth in creating a game tailored to the needs and goals of the residents.

The project partners together allocated $15,225 towards the development of the game, which includes staff time from the city, MAPC, and the CDC on collecting the context to make it specific to the Point neighborhood. The total grant budget is $78,375, which includes in-kind support/time from both the city and the CDC. Overall, the game is 19 percent of the budget of the year-long visioning plan the CDC has created for the Point neighborhood.

Despite the high level of customization to the neighborhood, Giordano said there were some lingering regrets about not being able to offer the game in both English and Spanish.

"It was something we weren’t able to do with the game developer," Giordano said. "But we will have bilingual representatives available at every gameplay meet-up. Since many of the Point’s youth are actually bilingual, we hope that the game will spark a multigenerational family conversation between youth and their parents."

When youth play the game, though, they won’t play alone. Interacting with them in the virtual world will be Mayor Kim Driscoll and stakeholders in the neighborhood, the NSCDC and the MAPC.

"It’s a way to connect the voices of the youth to those in the community they might not otherwise engage with," Giordano said.

On Friday, the "What’s the Point?" game will have an official launch party at Orange Leaf Yogurt on Lafayette Street at 4 p.m. There will also be gameplay meet-ups at the NSCDC Community Room on Lafayette Street on Feb. 7 and 14 at 3 p.m.

After the game ends, Giordano said there would be a community meeting later in the spring to introduce residents to the projects funded by the game’s players.

"Our goal all year is to keep the momentum going," Giordano said. "The game is just one piece of our overall plan to listen to the neighborhood."

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Learn more about the Salem Point Visioning Project