Serious Games

Serious games are games, which are designed for the purposes beyond entertainment, such as defence, healthcare, emergency management, etc. Applied in the domain of planning these games may have various aims, from community building to education, and focus on diverse topics, from consensus building among to energy transition. Games provide safe arenas for simulation and experimentation, enabling to explore, question and reshape existing planning approaches within the magic circle of the game (Prilenska, 2020).

Basic Information on the Method
Mode of communication
Face-to-face, Online, Both
Group size
1-5, 6-30
Geographical scale
Public space, Neighbourhood, City, Region
Skills required
Basic, Average
Resources needed
Level of Involvement
Level of involvement
Consult, Involve, Collaborate
Type of knowledge enabled
Divergence (Small groups), Convergence - Small groups
Additional Criteria
Planning phase
Initiatiion, Planning & Design
Methodological approach
Diagnostic, Expressive, Organisational

How to use the method

  1. Decide on the goals of the game and on the target audience. Games can serve multiple purposes. Games can generate contributions for the planning documents, educate players about planning issues, foster community building, etc.
  2. Contact (local) professional organisation (university or private office), which specialises on game design for planning purposes. They may either have a ready-made game, which can be tailored for your needs, or they may design a custom game. Modifying the ready-made game may take a few months. Designing a custom game may take up to one year.
  3. If the game aims to generate planning related contributions, decide, how you are going to interpret these results, as playful experiments or as serious outcomes, and how are you going to integrate them in the formal planning This has to be worked out thoroughly with the game designer and the planning agency.
  4. If you decided to go for a custom game, you have to start testing the prototypes early on with the target audiences to secure the playability of the game. Alternatively, you may even involve the prospective players in co-designing the game.
  5. Play the game. Usually, game sessions are conducted in the framework of cultural events, such as art and city festivals.
  6. Make a debriefing after the game to discuss player experiences.

What are the outcomes

The outcomes depend on the initial goals of the game. Some games are designed to generate contributions for the planning documents, while others aim at building social capital within the community.

Skills required

Skills required from participants - Basic, Average

  • Serious games are user-centred, and therefore do not require any special skills and knowledge from participants. On the contrary, they are designed to facilitate gaining new competences. Some advanced games may require basic computer and team work skills.

Resources needed

Resources - High

  • Serious games combine three knowledge domains, (1) game design, (2) pedagogy, (3) spatial planning. Therefore, a good serious game is extremely difficult to design. Contact professionals organisations, e.g. university or private office, who specialise on designing serious games for spatial planning purposes.

Strengths and weaknesses

  • An immersive, dynamic and creative process
  • Enables active learning
  • Provides an arena for experimentation
  • Involves the underrepresented groups, such as children and young adults
  • Efficient in building the social capital within the community
  • Design of serious games and organisation of game sessions is a resources intensive task in terms of time, money and effort
  • Often serious games are designed for specific cultural and spatial contexts, therefore it is difficult to adapt them to new contexts
  • It is often unclear, how to interpret the information generated during game sessions, as playful experiments or as serious contributions

Use cases

Geo-zombie - Funchal, Madeira, Spain, and Cesena, Italy, 2015.

Smartphone game for crowdsourcing accessibility data for physical spaces. Players are encouraged to map accessibility barriers (e.g. obstruction) or facilities (e.g. crossing) to gain points, which are spent on ammunitions, weapons and energy to fight zombies. More information available here:

Water Management Game - Khulna, Bangladesh, 2018.

Role-play board game for educating peri-urban residents about water management. More information available here:

ZWERM - Ghent, Belgium, 2013.

Pervasive game in public spaces of a neighbourhood for community building. Residents are encouraged to check-in their personal RFID cards at an interactive installation in the middle of a neighbourhood. The check-in can be performed only in couples, fostering the interpersonal communication between the neighbours. More information available here:

Try one of these tools & resources

  1. Prilenska V. (2020) Games for enhancing stakeholder participation in urban planning - the cases of Riga and Tallinn. PhD Thesis. Available at:
  2. Prilenska V. (2020) Serious game for modelling neighbourhood energy supply scenarios. IOP Conference Series.: Earth and Environmental Science, 410, 012091. Available at:
  3. Prilenska, V. (2019). Current research trends in games for public participation in planning. Architecture and Urban Planning, 15, 113-121. Available at:
  4. Prilenska, V. (2019). Participation Game: Reflections on the Iterative Design Process. PlaNext – next Generation Planning, 9, 97–122. Available at: