Video Games

Several existing entertaining video games (such as Minecraft, Cities Skylines, SimCity, NIMBY Rails, etc.) can be used for participatory planning. These video games can simulate the planning area, and participants can implement potential plans in it. The inherent characteristics of entertaining and easy-to-operate of these games help to encourage citizens to participate, especially those who are not familiar with planning process. The attractive interface of the games allows planners to easily illustrate their plans or planning problems to the participants, and the participants can also easily express their preferences.

Basic Information on the Method
Mode of communication
Face-to-face, Online, Both
Group size
6-30, 31 and more
Geographical scale
Public space, Neighbourhood, City, Region
Skills required
Average, Advanced
Resources needed
Low, Medium
Level of Involvement
Level of involvement
Consult, Involve, Collaborate, Empower
Type of knowledge enabled
Divergence (Broad public), Convergence (Broad public), Divergence (Small groups), Convergence - Small groups
Additional Criteria
Planning phase
Initiatiion, Planning & Design
Methodological approach
Expressive, Organisational

How to use the method

Different video games may have different capabilities/functions to achieve different participatory outcomes. Take Cities Skylines as an example, the following steps demonstrate how a video game can be used as a participatory planning tool.

Site modelling

The first step is simulating the terrain and urban layout of the target site in the game. There are also many community-created modifications (mods)can be downloaded to enhance the realism level.[1] The modelling should be indicative of the existing problem(s) in the site.

Tutorial workshop

Although video games are usually more user-friendly compared to professional planning software, participants still need to learn how to play. In addition, organisers should explain basic planning knowledge and basic logic of the game to the participants. Participants should also learn how to install the game, what can they do in it, what is the purpose of it, etc.

Scenario/solution creating

Once the participants are empowered to play around in the game, they should be encouraged to create their desired scenario or to provide a solution for an existing problem.

Test and showcase

The game can not only allow participants to design and implement new plan, once changes are made, impact will appear gradually. Therefore, the game can be used to test new planning ideas. Besides collecting planning ideas from participants, the game also supports planners to showcase their plan to others, illustrating the expected appearance and impact.


What are the outcomes

  • planning ideas/solutions
  • simulation of the target area
  • visualisation of 3D plan
  • impact evaluation

Skills required

Skills: average, advanced

  • Basic skills to operate a computer and to play the games
  • Skills to create scenarios in the games

Resources needed

Resources: low, medium

  • Time and resources to simulate the target area in the game. The more detailed the simultion is, the more time and resources are needed.

Strengths and weaknesses

  • The impacts of the new plan can be seen in the game immediately. In some games, it can also be seen, how the new plan will look like in the surrounding area. Some games can simulate the change of traffic flow automatically after implementing a new plan in it.
  • The processes of creating plans and scenarios are fun and attractive that can encourage more participants
  • Video games are usually user-friendly and easy to access
  • Visualisation of 3D environment makes scenarios more comprehensive and easier to understand. It also helps to reduce the requirements for participants.
  • It is hard to simulate non-physical elements, so residents’ satisfaction is usually underrepresented in the game.
  • Depending on the resources input in the project, simulation of the reality may be simplified and limited.
  • The direct correlation between actions and consequences in the games may mislead the participants into simplifying the impacts in reality.

Use cases


In 2016, the city of Stockholm used Cities:Skylines to plan the Norra Djurgardstaden area of the city. Experts from Paradox, the game publisher, were invited to a workshop to help simulate that area has 12,000 homes and 35,000 workspaces. Professional planners and citizens attended the workshop to remedy the shortcomings of the game in the aspect of public participation.

Block By Block

Block By Block is a UN-Habitat Global Space Program that integrates computer game Minecraft and public space planning. This project has been active in more than 30 countries around the world, especially in the developing area.

Try one of these tools & resources

  • Minecraft
  • Cities:Skylines
  • SimCity
  • UrbanFootprint
  • NIMBY Rails
  1. [1] Pinos, J., Vozenilek, V., & Pavlis, O. (2020). Automatic geodata processing methods for real-world city visualizations in cities: Skylines. ISPRS International Journal of Geo-Information, 9(1), 17.
  2. Valdez Young, A. (2015). Play before plan: Games for the public and planners to value the street. Journal of Urban Technology, 22(3), 97-119.