buzzcut

Minecraft Urbanism and Taking the Fun Out of Place

Dec
17

Minecraft has become a recent obsession. A sort of SimCity meets Lego meets Dungeons and Dragons, the emphasis is on building and exploration. And all the while you click away at the endless landscape of blocks, you have a feeling that the game is more important than just your latest game habit.

This video walks right up to that question and offers some tantalizing answers:

By connecting Minecraft to history of playful architecture and urban intervention–from Cedric Price and Constant to Archigram and the Situationists–the author grounds Minecraft the game in an environmental impulse that has been around a lot longer than videogames.

And while I think he has opened up a great line of thought, the rhetoric of the presentation is pitch perfect to remove the fun from these games and urban speculations and turn them into design tools and critical theory. I think the impulse is a good one. But it’s also a perfect illustration of how we rationally dissect the ambiguity in play and games, and yank out the fun in the process.

Night of the Living Downtown

Oct
25

All fun and games at the 2010 Denver Zombie Crawl

City planners and urban boosters find the question of how to create a vibrant and attractive downtown an ongoing puzzle. Sports and shopping and the occasional festival fill out a fairly standard set of tools used to try focus attention in the regional middle.

Leave it to a bunch of zombies to create a spectacle that really brought the city to life. Sure, buskerfests and art fairs and all manner of outdoor concerts and meat on a stick carnival events bring in the crowds. But I watched with delight as at least 7000 participants showed up in downtown Denver dressed in all their undead regalia for 5th Annual Zombie Crawl. From the most basic footdragging outfits to jaw dropping costume constructions, the zombies and various other end-of-the-world characters ambled up and down Denver’s pedestrian mall.

The city seems to have a sort of perplexed stance on what to do with the independently organized event. Last year, officials slapped a huge bill on the Crawl organizers to clean up left over blood and guts. This year, things seemed to be a little more in control. Holding the even during the day slacked the playful bloodlust. And the city had the sense to cease mall buss service during the event to prevent the zombie hordes from attacking the vehicles as startled tourists drove by.

To my mind, as city governments look to increase civic engagement and get people taking advantage of their downtown cores, things like the Zombie Crawl should be encouraged, and not just tolerated. Citizens cutting loose, enjoying doing something with a wide diversity of ages and races, in a non-violent and festive environment is, well, fun. I don’t think that fun can save the city. But finding ways for people to participate in their public environmental in ways other than buying stuff or watching sports, seems like the next big thing.

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