How might Games support social research? “Civic City”- a case study

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Education is changing every day. In the short time that I have been at University, schools and colleges have implemented Smartboards, integrated iPad usage during class time, and created a national network (Glow) for communication, collaboration and distance learning. Even at University level, the focus on traditional research topics has developed. Establishing areas such as Digital Humanities, Big Data and Cloud-centric Business Studies points towards one thing: technology is changing everything. My fear is that structured sectors, such as Government and Further/Higher Education, may find it difficult to acclimatise quickly enough to keep up with an evolving society. This is where I believe video games, and popular culture in general, comes in.


Video games offer a powerful way to engage people of all demographics with social issues. Abertay graduates Guerilla Tea, in collaboration with Cancer Research UK, proved with Play to Cure: Genes in Space that video games are progressive in assisting with scientific discoveries. Space Budgie, another development team from Abertay, have shown us with Glitchspace the educational application of video games. Even if we look at more household names such as The Sims: its rhetoric – as innocent as the game is – promotes materialism and reaching the “American Dream” lifestyle, which can affect to a player’s expectations of life. In these senses, it is evident that video games reflect, and cause reflection of, society and social issues. I think more can be done to promote discussion on social topics in British societies, and video games offer an environment to interact not just with the issues, but with others in a collaborative space.


Civic City started as a question: could video game technology have an impact on political engagement? We have seen how technology has impacted discussion and inclusion within the political sphere: social media networks such as Facebook and Twitter were a key factor in the high voter turnout for the Scottish Independence Referendum of 2014[1],[2],[3]. But what if there was a digital environment with defined rules, implicit goals and generation of “Big Data”?

This is what my Honours project seeks to uncover. I define Civic City as a politically-stimulating 3D world where players are introduced to political issues and policies within a digital space. Players explore the world, talking to troubled individuals from areas such as business, finance, education and the environment. Players then input a solution from a choice of five options that represent the policies proposed by political parties for this year’s General Election. In this way, the idea is that politics is removed from stigma of celebrity politicians and peer pressure: players are making informed decisions based on their own values and beliefs.

While my technical limitations have not allowed me to expand on the application of Civic City, it has the potential for national dissemination and utilisation, particularly for Governmental use. Civic City looks to generate user data from people who may not engage with politics through traditional means; the software therefore has the potential to gain much wider and inclusive data which opens up new avenues of research and could be used to better inform policy-making at a national level.


I believe there is a need for the Government to invest in technology and software such as Civic City, which has the potential to support public policy development in social, political and educational priorities as recently identified by the Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee.

Andrew Reid, Honours year AMG student





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