Research Topic

Urban Play and the Playable City: A Critical Perspective

About this Research Topic

Cities by their very nature are utilitarian creations built to support the needs and/or represent the image of the communities that build them. However, the nature of the urban environment is such that it invites play in both its construction (architecture) and the interactions that take place within its confines. Thus, in addition to opportunities for structured and unstructured play offered by the playgrounds, ball courts, and game boards constructed by municipalities, a host of games and playful activities that repurpose or harness the city infrastructure for play have emerged. These range from games such as hide and seek or tag that harness the physical features of the immediate surroundings of the players either with the incorporation of interactive technology such as Picoo or without, through games such as Multiplayer Soba that build on the concept of a treasure hunt to challenge players to engage and interact with the local community in a particular area of a city, to games such as Pokémon Go that use the entire city as their playground.

Recently, the notion of the playable city has emerged as a counterpoint to the “smart city” whereby the array of sensors and actuators that enable smart city infrastructure can be harnessed to create novel interactions and playful experiences within the city - by lending an ear to trees, giving a voice to park benches, stairs, and garbage cans, or reviving the shadows that pass in the night - thereby enabling a host of new interactions and experiences, and raising new challenges and concerns about distraction and duplicity. In this Research Topic we aim to compare and contrast the various forms of play that occur in urban environments, from simple hide and seek games to augmented reality games such as Pokémon Go, with the notion of the playable city. In a playable city, the sensors, actuators, and digital communication networks that form the backbone of smart city infrastructure are used to create novel interfaces and interventions intended to inject fun and playfulness into the urban environment, both as a simple source of pleasure and as a means of facilitating and fostering urban and social interactions.

This Research Topic builds on some previous workshops that were held as part of Intetain 2016, Intetain 2017, ArtsIT 2018, and DIGRA 2020. We wish to expand the scope of the inquiry and compare and contrast the notions of urban play and the playable city while exploring current innovations and the future potential of the ideas and technologies involved. Topics of interest include, but are not limited to:

• Play in the city – reimagining the playground and the notion of urban play
• Play with (and hack into) the city – incorporating play and playfulness into the very fabric of the (smart) city
• Play for the city – using play and gamification to address urban issues from infrastructure maintenance to social and environmental issues
• Are we playing with the city or being played with? Critical perspectives on the notion of the playable city
• Wearable technology and the (smart) city
• The autonomous vehicle as a mobile playground or an urban plaything
• Interactive street art, augmented storytelling, and other forms of urban “play”


Keywords: Playable Cities, Smart Cities, Urban Games, Urban Design, Human-Computer Interaction


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

Cities by their very nature are utilitarian creations built to support the needs and/or represent the image of the communities that build them. However, the nature of the urban environment is such that it invites play in both its construction (architecture) and the interactions that take place within its confines. Thus, in addition to opportunities for structured and unstructured play offered by the playgrounds, ball courts, and game boards constructed by municipalities, a host of games and playful activities that repurpose or harness the city infrastructure for play have emerged. These range from games such as hide and seek or tag that harness the physical features of the immediate surroundings of the players either with the incorporation of interactive technology such as Picoo or without, through games such as Multiplayer Soba that build on the concept of a treasure hunt to challenge players to engage and interact with the local community in a particular area of a city, to games such as Pokémon Go that use the entire city as their playground.

Recently, the notion of the playable city has emerged as a counterpoint to the “smart city” whereby the array of sensors and actuators that enable smart city infrastructure can be harnessed to create novel interactions and playful experiences within the city - by lending an ear to trees, giving a voice to park benches, stairs, and garbage cans, or reviving the shadows that pass in the night - thereby enabling a host of new interactions and experiences, and raising new challenges and concerns about distraction and duplicity. In this Research Topic we aim to compare and contrast the various forms of play that occur in urban environments, from simple hide and seek games to augmented reality games such as Pokémon Go, with the notion of the playable city. In a playable city, the sensors, actuators, and digital communication networks that form the backbone of smart city infrastructure are used to create novel interfaces and interventions intended to inject fun and playfulness into the urban environment, both as a simple source of pleasure and as a means of facilitating and fostering urban and social interactions.

This Research Topic builds on some previous workshops that were held as part of Intetain 2016, Intetain 2017, ArtsIT 2018, and DIGRA 2020. We wish to expand the scope of the inquiry and compare and contrast the notions of urban play and the playable city while exploring current innovations and the future potential of the ideas and technologies involved. Topics of interest include, but are not limited to:

• Play in the city – reimagining the playground and the notion of urban play
• Play with (and hack into) the city – incorporating play and playfulness into the very fabric of the (smart) city
• Play for the city – using play and gamification to address urban issues from infrastructure maintenance to social and environmental issues
• Are we playing with the city or being played with? Critical perspectives on the notion of the playable city
• Wearable technology and the (smart) city
• The autonomous vehicle as a mobile playground or an urban plaything
• Interactive street art, augmented storytelling, and other forms of urban “play”


Keywords: Playable Cities, Smart Cities, Urban Games, Urban Design, Human-Computer Interaction


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

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Submission Deadlines

30 August 2020 Manuscript

Participating Journals

Manuscripts can be submitted to this Research Topic via the following journals:

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Topic Editors

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Submission Deadlines

30 August 2020 Manuscript

Participating Journals

Manuscripts can be submitted to this Research Topic via the following journals:

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