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Urban serious games and digital technology

Jeux sérieux urbains et numériques

NETCOM Journal

Revue Netcom

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Published on Friday, March 15, 2019


As early as the 1970s, Dupuy (1972) identified some 100 “simulation games” on the theme of cities, which he called “urban games”. His work remains highly relevant, even 45 years on. This issue of NETCOM hopes in particular to collect papers asking the question of what digital technology can bring to urban serious games – it is now clear that these games are serious – and to serious games for urban planning and design, using a mirror effect alongside video games, simulations, paper chases and also paper-and-pencil games and cooperative games.



As early as the 1970s, Dupuy (1972) identified some 100 “simulation games” on the theme of cities, which he called “urban games”. His work remains highly relevant, even 45 years on.

This issue of NETCOM hopes in particular to collect papers asking the question of what digital technology can bring to urban serious games – it is now clear that these games are serious – and to serious games for urban planning and design, using a mirror effect alongside video games, simulations, paper chases and also paper-and-pencil games and cooperative games.

What is an (urban) serious game ?

Serious games are currently very highly regarded for their educational and performative benefits. These games are both fun and serious, and when repurposed from their initial entertainment goals they become highly effective learning tools, employing immersion, simulation and co-construction. This explains their success in such diverse fields as training[1], the working world and universities.

At the intersection of these three worlds, the “jeux et enjeux” (games and challenges) days, held in La Rochelle in June 2017[2], helped structure a scientific and professional community around games and environmental issues. The next “jeux et enjeux” session, focusing on education through play, will be held in Marseille[3] in May 2019. Alongside this community combining games and environmental issues, another community is forming around games and urban issues, though urban simulations, urban video games, serious urban games and, more specifically, “urban planning and design serious games”, as shown by the organization of dedicated study days, such as in Lille in December 2016 on “l’urbanisme, l’architecture et le jeu – jouer pour mieux régner, avec ou sans l’ego ?” (urban planning, architecture and games – play to reign, with or without ego ?)[4], focused on urban simulation ; in March 2018, again in Lille, on “L’urbanisme, l’architecture et le jeu vidéo : que fabrique le « game design » ?” (urban planning, architecture and video games : what does ‘game design’ produce ?”[5] ; and in November 2018, in Compiègne, on “Les « serious game » pour l’apprentissage de la production de projets urbains” (Serious games for learning and production of urban projects”)[6]. At the same time, in Marseille in November 2018, events were held for the general public on “la ville en jeux” (the city in games) at the instigation of the association “La Compagnie des rêves urbains”[7]. That fun day helped consolidate a catalogue[8] offering some 60 urban serious games using all mediums and of all types, including construction games, mock-up games, card games, board games, role-playing games, gamebooks and digital games. We are keen to stress that serious games and video games are not the same thing. We will come back to this. It is important to highlight the intersections between serious games and cities, in general, and serious games, urban planning and urban design in particular.

Differentiating urban serious games and repurposed video games

Even before the term “serious game” officially came into being, which Alvarez and Djouti (2010) date to the early 2000s, they were often confused with video games and played simulations. These IT specialists highlight the fact that the first video games were serious games. However, as early as 1970, Abt (1970 ; cited by Dupuy, 1972 ; Alvarez and Djaouti, 2010 ; Kasbi, 2012), a pioneer of computer simulation, distinguished video games and serious games. He considered that serious games could be considered board games, role-playing games, card games and simulation games, based on the educational, professional, marketing and communication goals in question.

As such, there is a distinction to be made, as many previous authors have proposed, between serious games and serious gaming – video games repurposed for often educational purposes. The archetypal example of urban serious gaming is certainly SimCity, a city management simulation game that was designed in 1989 for entertainment and swiftly repurposed to teach the geography of North American cities in schools (Soyez, 2015a). Beyond this pioneering experiment, urban video games have already raised geographical questions, looking at the teaching of geography (Ter Minassian and Rufat, 2008), the geography of game spaces (Joliveau, 2012), the spatial practices and representations of players (Ter Minassian et al., 2011 ; Noeppel and Schmoll, 2017) and also their social practices and representations (Rufat et al., 2014 ; Noeppel and Schmoll, 2017), and lastly, the intersection between video games and urban simulation (Rufat and Ter Minassian, 2012 ; Prévot et al. 2016 ; Prévot et al., 2017).

Building on these works, but working distinctly from the recent call for papers “L’urbanisme, l’architecture et le jeu vidéo : que fabrique le game design ?” (urban planning, architecture and video games : what does game design produce ?) (Prévot and Buyck, 2018), new contributions could be considered at the crossover between serious games (non-repurposed) and video games, concerning the urban space and the entertaining video game map, and the urban space and the map in recreational video games.

Open-air urban serious games and their local foundation

Geocaching[9], situated somewhere between paper chases, treasure hunts and orienteering, can be considered a form of serious game. Some geocaching activities, organized at the initiative of tourist offices, encourage participants to explore the local area, its historic monuments and its architecture. Examples include the Terra Aventura project aimed at promoting the Limousin area[10], or the Massy geocaching project for exploration of its commons[11]. This leisure activity has also been the subject of a documented geographical study, in the case of the Le Havre version. Vidal et al. (2017) underline that geocaching is a “geo-digital” leisure activity and an entertaining, quirky and original factor in the relationship with territories and heritage.

Modelling technologies, such as those using virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) technologies, also seek to promote the tourist attractions, history, architecture and vernacular heritage of territories. They are used to create an immersive game which may (or may not) be attached to a paper chase or an escape game. Belfort Citadel can be visited in AR[12], while in Orléans, a city-wide AR escape game has been created : “Escape Yourself Orléans”[13].

These urban serious games, using geolocation and held in open air, are anchored in the local area, setting them apart from video games that can be played from anywhere. Whether they aim to contribute to local development policies or are designed at the initiative of publishers such as video games or 3D modelling companies – or by amateurs – these open-air urban serious games encourage players to consider the design of the city and its heritage as they stride through it. Contributions are expected concerning : the relationship between serious games and the development of tourism in a city, the relationship between serious games and the entrepreneurial ecosystem for digital innovation, and papers highlighting a “local hallmark” created both by the public and private sectors, through urban serious games. Lastly, papers are expected on the contribution of digital technologies (geolocation and 3D modelling) to open-air serious games.

This issue of NETCOM aims – in particular – to attract papers discussing the contribution of digital technologies to serious games. Above and beyond urban serious games alone, we would like to focus on serious games for urban planning and urban design.

“Paper-and-pencil” serious games and “simulation games”

Serious games are not necessarily digital (Soyez, 2015b). They are in the spirit of traditional educational games : role-playing games, board games and card games can absolutely be both fun and serious. Such games are generally played indoors. The Urbalog[14] board game, designed by LAET to combine the challenges of urban design and urban logistics, is an example of a serious and traditional – in the non-digital sense – board game. This “paper-and-pencil” game offers the advantage of being easy to transport and adapt – something we agree is not always the case. Depending on the sites concerned, all that has to be done is to redraw a game board – to play a new match on a new case. The game Urbax[15] is, according to its designer, an “urban design simulation game” (Vilmin, 2018), which has been played on a board since its invention in 1985. It is played by one player, assisted by a computer programme applying an econometric model. The simulator allows players to “open the black box” of the econometric model and optimize the decisions made while fully understanding their decisions, in order to better apprehend the econometric factors of urban design and successfully complete the simulation. Urb’Act[16], meanwhile, unlike “paper-and-pencil” games, is an urban programming game played on a large touch-screen table used to design a blueprint, while a touch-screen dashboard informs players in real time of economic, social and environmental indicators – building on the “opening up the black box” aspect.

As such, we propose to juxtapose urban planning and urban design “paper-and-pencil” serious games and “simulation games” on the same issues (Dupuy, 1972 ; Vilmin, 2018). Contributions are expected on the relationship between serious games and their mediums, be they “paper-and-pencil”, on computers or on touch-screen tables, and on the importance of dashboards. While paper formats can make games easy to transport, digital formats provide greater playability, rapidly designing or building what the players conceive, in the case of Urb’Act. Overall, papers are expected that discuss the question of modelling, simulation and the contribution of real-time indicators to help optimize decisions in games supposed to be realistic and enable technical decisions, or, on the contrary, to introduce a degree of randomness to force players to rise above a utopia where everything can be controlled, as in the game Post-Car Île-de-France[17], which begins after Hurricane Grégorio. “Randomly selected inhabitants have to develop a blank space in which private cars no longer exist.”

Role-playing games, cooperative games and narratives

Above and beyond questions of medium and simulation, all these urban planning serious games are both role-playing games and cooperative games, making the role of the “mediator” fundamental during play. This mediator ensures the rules are followed and is the guarantor of the learning goals of these serious games. “Narration” also offers performative advantages : when players enter a play environment and get into the game, they feel and learn the “message” for themselves (Dupuy, 1972), as conceived by the game’s designer. This narrative and the scenario possibilities offered by simulation and cooperative games can also serve the purposes of mediation, consultation and public participation, or even as a decision aid in urban planning and urban projects (Poplin, 2011 and 2014 ; Cools, 2014 ; Reinart and Poplin, 2015 ; Molines et al, 2018). Several authors even observe that “gamification” of urban planning with a view to collaborative planning can foster public participation (Devisch, Poplin, Sofronie, 2016). Poplin suggests the concept of “playful public participation” (Poplin, 2012). Moreover, realistic and forward-looking narratives like the “Ecoville”[18] game created by ADEME in 2014, and quirky, even disruptive narratives like the game PostCar Île-de-France 2060, help move beyond the beaten track of legacy forms and practices, producing new and forward-looking narratives on urban design (Banos and Debrie, 2018).

As such, papers are expected looking at : role-playing in serious games, cooperation mechanisms incorporated into games, and games that develop throughout play, thanks to the role of the mediator. These narratives could be studied on the basis of their realism or for their forward-looking nature. Lastly, papers are particularly welcome on combining serious games, urban planning and consultation : on the contribution of serious games – especially digital ones – to planning and planners and, with consultation in mind, on the value of data output from games and the use that can be made of it to foster co-production of a participatory and entertaining urban diagnostic.

NETCOM offers three different publication formats. This special issue should therefore be able to combine scientific articles (between 15 and 20 pages long), research projects or positions (scientific notes between 5 and 10 pages long) and descriptive summaries (between 3 and 4 pages long) offering an overview of current experiments, issues and research projects in the field of serious games and urban planning.

Submission of scientific articles

Articles should be between 15 and 20 pages long (50,000-55,000 characters), depending on the number of figures. The first page should include full contact details of the author(s), a title, an abstract (10 lines) and key words in French and English (3-5 in each language). Articles will be subject to double blind review.

Submission of scientific notes

In addition to the scientific articles, this section contains research notes that do not have the status of double blind reviewed articles but which are of interest given their innovative nature or the quality of the issues discussed and avenues for research. These scientific notes are shorter than articles (5 to 10 pages, or 10,000-15,000 characters) and should provide a useful addition to the theme of this special issue. This type of paper is also wanted to help readers understand the issues and encourage them to continue reflection in future research or research activities.

Submission of information notes

These are short, informative notes of 3 to 4 pages that can be submitted to present experiences. In the case of urban serious games or serious games in urban planning, the aim is to present proofs of concept, game scenarios and game narratives produced by urban planners or teaching staff.

Instructions to authors

Scientific articles and scientific notes may be published in French and/or English.

Format guidance is available at : https://journals.openedition.org/netcom/956 ?lang =fr

Papers should be sent to :

  • Carine Henriot, Guest Editor (carine.henriot@utc.fr), researcher and lecturer in urban design and planning, Université de Technologie de Compiègne – EA Avenues 7284 ;
  • Nathalie Molines, Guest Editor (nathalie.molines@utc.fr), researcher and lecturer in geography, Université de Technologie de Compiègne – EA Avenues 7284.

More information on the journal : https://journals.openedition.org/netcom/

Indicative timetable

  • Launch of the call for papers : 12 February 2019
  • Submission of proposed abstracts (300 words) : 1 April 2019

  • Submission of proposed articles : 1 September 2019
  • Publication of the special issue : mid-2020


Abt Clark, 1970. Serious Games, Viking Press, New York.

Alvarez et Djaouti, 2010. Introduction au Serious Game, Questions théoriques, 256 p.

Banos et Debrie, 2018. « Un jeu sérieux pour penser un futur sans voiture : l’expérience Postcar 2060 », Journée d’études « Des « serious game » pour l’apprentissage de la production de projets urbains », organisée par Nathalie Molines et Carine Henriot, Compiègne, 27 novembre 2018.

Cools Mario, 2014. « Le “serious game” peut-il être un outil utile au développement du territoire ? » at « Le serious game : un outil pour la planification urbaine ? », Liège, Belgium, 16 mai 2018. http://hdl.handle.net/2268/170845

Devisch Oswald, Alenka Poplin, Simona Sofronie, 2016. “The gamification of civic participation : two experiments in improving the skills of citizens to reflect collectively on spatial issues”, Journal of Urban Technology, 23 (2), pp. 81-102. http:// dx.doi.org/10.1080/10630732.2015.11024419

Dupuy Gabriel, 1972. « Les jeux urbains », L’Actualité économique, 48 (1), pp. 85-110. https://doi.org/10.7202/1003681ar

Joliveau Thierry, 2012. « Les espaces réels dans le jeu vidéo. Contribution à une approche géographique des espaces vidéoludiques », in Ter Minassian, Hovig, Samuel Ruffat et Samuel Coavoux, Espaces et temps des jeux vidéos, éditions théoriques, 2012.

Kasbi Yassine, 2012. Les Serious Games, une révolution, edipro, Liège.

Meunier, Sarah, 2017. « Les recherches sur le jeu vidéo en France : Émergence et enjeux ». Revue d’anthropologie des connaissances, vol. 11, 3, (3), 379-396. doi :10.3917/rac.036.0379.

Molines Nathalie et Carine Henriot, 2018. « Des « serious game » pour l’apprentissage de la production de projets urbains », Journée d’étude, Calenda, Publié le lundi 29 octobre 2018, https://calenda.org/492434

Molines Nathalie, Carine Henriot, Thierry Gidel, Michel Fanni, Fares Korbi, 2018. « URB’ACT, Un serious game numérique pour l’apprentissage de la co production du projet urbain. Ou le délicat équilibre entre simplification de la réalité et contraintes techniques », In Deboudt P., Bosredon P., Castex E., Dumont F., Dumont M., Groux A., Menerault P., Paris P., Prévot M., Scarwell H.-J. (dir.), 2018, Actes du colloque des 20èmes rencontres internationales en urbanisme de l’APERAU “Que reste-t-il du projet ?”, Université de Lille, IAUL, Laboratoire TVES, Lille, p. 290-297. https://hal.archives-ouvertes.fr/hal-01870239/document

Noeppel Gilles et Patrick Schmoll, 2017. « La ville en jeu », Revue des sciences sociales [En ligne], 57 | 2017, mis en ligne le 15 juillet 2017, consulté le 28 janvier 2019. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/revss/361 ; DOI : 10.4000/revss.361

Poplin Alenka, 2011. « Games and serious games in urban planning : study cases”, International Conference on Computational Science and Its Applications, pp. 1-14.

Poplin Alenka, 2012. « Playful public participation in urban planning : a case study for online serious games », Computers, environment and urban systems, 36, pp. 195-206.

Poplin Alenka, 2014. “Digital serious game for urban planning : B3 –design your marketplace !”, Environment and Planning B : Planning and Design , 41 (3), pp. 493-511.

Prévot Maryvonne et Jennifer Buyck, 2018. « L’urbanisme, l’architecture et le jeu vidéo : que fabrique le game design ? », Appel à contribution, Calenda, Publié le lundi 01 octobre 2018, https://calenda.org/486315

Prévot Maryvonne, Jennifer Buyck, Éric Monin, Nicolas Douay et Jérémy Chauvet, 2017. « L’urbanisme, l’architecture et le jeu vidéo : que fabrique le « game design » ? », Appel à contribution, Calenda, Publié le mardi 12 décembre 2017, https://calenda.org/425169

Prévot Maryvonne, Nicolas Douay et Éric Monin, 2016. « L’urbanisme, l’architecture et le jeu », Appel à contribution, Calenda, Publié le vendredi 25 mars 2016, https://calenda.org/360894

Reinart et Poplin, 2015. « Games in urban planning – a comparative study », in M. Schrenk, V. V. Popovich, P. Zeile and P. Elisei (Eds.) Real Corp 2014 Proceedings, pp. 1-10.

Rufat Samuel et Hovig Ter Minassian, 2012. « Video games and urban simulation : new tools or new tricks ? », Cybergeo : European Journal of Geography [En ligne], Science et Toile, document 622, mis en ligne le 19 octobre 2012, consulté le 28 janvier 2019. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/cybergeo/25561 ; DOI : 10.4000/cybergeo.25561

Rufat Samuel, Hovig Ter Minassian et Samuel Coavoux, 2014. « Jouer aux jeux vidéo en France. Géographie sociale d’une pratique culturelle », L’Espace géographique 2014/4 (Tome 43), pages 308 à 323, https://www.cairn.info/revue-espace-geographique-2014-4-page-308.htm

Soyez Fabien, 2015a. « Serious gaming : détourner des jeux vidéo à des fins pédagogiques », vous, nous, ils l’e-mag de l’éducation, https://www.vousnousils.fr/2015/02/10/serious-gaming-detourner-des-jeux-videos-a-des-fins-pedagogiques-562528

Soyez Fabien, 2015b. « Serious games : ils ne sont pas que numériques ! », vous, nous, ils l’e-mag de l’éducation, https://www.vousnousils.fr/2015/04/03/serious-games-ils-ne-sont-pas-que-numeriques-566388

Ter Minassian Hovig et Samuel Rufat, 2008. « Et si les jeux vidéo servaient à comprendre la géographie ? », Cybergeo : European Journal of Geography [En ligne], Science et Toile, document 418, mis en ligne le 27 mars 2008, consulté le 25 janvier 2019. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/cybergeo/17502 ; DOI : 10.4000/cybergeo.17502

Ter Minassian Hovig, Samuel Rufat, Samuel Coavoux et Vincent Berry, 2011. « Comment trouver son chemin dans les jeux vidéo ? Pratiques et représentations spatiales des joueurs », L’Espace géographique, 2011/3 (Tome 40), pp. 245-262, https://www.cairn.info/revue-espace-geographique-2011-3-page-245.htm ?contenu =article

Vidal Philippe, Thierry Joliveau, Danièle Sansy, Armelle Couillet and Philippe Jeanne, 2017. « Approche géographique du géocaching comme opérateur de lien territorial : une illustration havraise », Cybergeo : European Journal of Geography [Online], Space, Society,Territory, document 829, Online since 19 September 2017, connection on 28 January 2019. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/cybergeo/28546 ; DOI : 10.4000/cybergeo.28546

Vilmin Thierry, 2018. « Urbax, une simulation jouée de l’aménagement urbain », Journée d’études « Des « serious game » pour l’apprentissage de la production de projets urbains », organisée par Nathalie Molines et Carine Henriot, Compiègne, 27 novembre 2018.


[1] Éduscol “Jeux sérieux et mondes virtuels” (serious games and virtual worlds), http://eduscol.education.fr/numerique/dossier/apprendre/jeuxserieux/notion

[2] The “Jeux et enjeux” days, 2017, http://jeux-enjeux.blogspot.com/p/productions-des-rencontres.html and its guidebook.

[3] “Jeux et enjeux” seminar, 2019, http://jeux-enjeux.blogspot.com/

[4] Prévot Maryvonne, Douay Nicolas and Monin Éric, 2016. “L’urbanisme, l’architecture et le jeu”, call for papers, Calenda, published on Friday, 25 March 2016, https://calenda.org/360894.

[5] Prévot Maryvonne, Buyck Jennifer, Monin Éric, Douay Nicolas and Chauvet Jérémy, 2017. “L’urbanisme, l’architecture et le jeu vidéo : que fabrique le ‘game design’ ?”, call for papers, Calenda, published on Tuesday, 12 December 2017, https://calenda.org/425169

[6] Molines Nathalie and Henriot Carine, 2018. “Les ‘serious game’ pour l’apprentissage de la production de projets urbains”, study day, Calenda, published on Monday, 29 October 2018, https://calenda.org/492434

[7] La compagnie des rêves urbains, http://revesurbains.fr/

[8] “La ville en jeu” catalogue of serious games, http://www.ville-jeux.com/-Le-catalogue-.html

[9] The game “Geocaching”, https://france-geocaching.fr/

[10] The project “Terra Aventura”, adaptation of geocaching in the former Limousin region, http://www.tourisme-hautlimousin.com/Blocs/Terra-Aventura-Geocaching-Made-in-Limousin

[11] Massy geocaching game, https://www.destination-paris-saclay.com/fr/loisirs/geocaching.php

[12] Belfort Citadel in augmented reality, https://www.tourmag.com/Belfort-se-visite-en-realite-augmentee_a93452.html, https://www.belfort-tourisme.com/decouvrir/les-incontournables-de-belfort/la-citadelle-belfort/ and https://musees.belfort.fr/citadelle/histoire-de-la-citadelle/nouveau-visite-numerique-1412.html

[13] The game “Escape Yourself”, https://france3-regions.francetvinfo.fr/centre-val-de-loire/loiret/orleans/orleans-parcours-realite-augmentee-rencontre-createur-1509709.html, https://www.escapeyourselforleans.fr/

[14] Presentation of the game Urbalog : http://www.ville-jeux.com/URBALOG.html

[15] Presentation of the game Urbax : www.urbax.eu

[16] Presentation of the game Urb’Act : http://www.ville-jeux.com/Urb-Act.html

[17] Presentation of the game “PostCar Île-de-France 2060”, http://www.ville-jeux.com/Mission-Post-Car-2060.html

[18] Presentation of the ADEME “Ecoville” game, http://www.ecovillelejeu.com/


  • Monday, April 01, 2019


  • jeu sérieux urbain, ville, aménagement urbain, numérique, TIC


  • Carine Henriot
    courriel : carine [dot] henriot [at] utc [dot] fr
  • Nathalie Molines
    courriel : nathalie [dot] molines [at] utc [dot] fr

Information source

  • Sabrina Mommolin
    courriel : sabrina [dot] mommolin [at] univ-lehavre [dot] fr


CC0-1.0 This announcement is licensed under the terms of Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal.

To cite this announcement

« Urban serious games and digital technology », Call for papers, Calenda, Published on Friday, March 15, 2019, https://doi.org/10.58079/128d

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