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Thinking Toys (or Games) for Commoning – Alternative Urban Neighborhoods as a Field of Research in Experimental-Transformative Media Design

Image: CC BY-SA 3.0 by P.M. Remix and effects by Kayla Bolsinger

The sustainable use and the organisation of common resources is highly complex. With the focus on alternative, utopia-inspired urban neighbourhood initiatives in Switzerland this research project proposes experimental design and inquiry into media-based thinking tools which will help to better illustrate, demonstrate and negotiate the complexity of these sharing processes.

Commons are sustainably and collectively managed resources, such as food, or communication infrastructures, such as Wi-Fi. Commoning, then, is the activity of sharing these resources. The aspiration formulated throughout numerous alternative, utopia-inspired projects that seeks to design infrastructural aspects of urban everyday life in an alternative and autonomous way, through commoning, raises several questions. Since, based on the high level of complexity that (occasionally) comes with the shared use of resources, for the individual community member it is often difficult to estimate his or her own action and consequences to the very last detail. Especially when it comes to unpredictable, complex adaptive processes, he or she can no longer completely grasp them intuitively nor follow them without the help of media-based thinking tools — such as computer-based models or scenarios — which make those processes not only visible but also comprehensible.

For this reason, a mobile software application will be developed and tested in close collaboration with the members of three Swiss urban neighborhood projects: NeNa1 in Zurich, LeNa in Basel and Warmbächli in Bern. We will create playful simulations and design new thought-spaces for commoning. Our aim is to enable alternative and engaging ways for future social participation and transformation processes.

The four-year project, which combines methods from humanities, social science and design inquires the following central question: How could an experimental and community-based approach to design and development of a digital game system stimulate reflection on the intuitively incomprehensible complexity of commoning, make it more understandable and negotiable through playing and gaming?