Concordia’s Next-Generation Cities Institute (NGCI) is using a gamified urban simulation platform to bring together its research, data and models under a more holistic, interoperable lens. Leading the charge is new senior advisor Chris Gibbs, a long-time video-game industry veteran with world-class experience developing interactive, engaged user experiences (UX).
This simulation platform will play a central role in helping decision-makers and the public engage with the science coming out of NGCI and visualize potential solutions in real time.
From game development to gamified climate action
Gibbs has created games for major publishers such as Electronic Arts, Activision, Atari, Lucasfilm and LEGO. He is also an independent video-game developer with his own mobile gaming app.
His expertise in gamification principles, game and graphic design and software engineering positions him perfectly to lead the simulation platform’s front-end design.
After graduating with a degree in software engineering, Gibbs helped launch a small game development company, Attention to Detail, which quickly grew to a success. One of the company’s first major contracts was with LucasArts, part of the Lucasfilm empire.
Later Gibbs accepted a position as an executive producer and studio manager for Electronic Arts, where he spent another 10 years working on top video games. He began to focus especially on UX and exploring “how to maximize software to deliver the unique experiences you want users to have.”
This focus on UX drove him to leverage game-design techniques and gamification principles to develop engaging, responsive software.
In 2012 Gibbs left the corporate world, spending several years developing his own successful mobile video game, Smart Numbers, receiving hundreds of thousands of downloads.
“This was the first time I really started opening my eyes to the world beyond making games — looking more at politics, current events and especially the growing risks of climate change, which was reported on everywhere at this time.”
After a chance meeting with Ursula Eicker, founding co-director of the NGCI and Canada Excellence Research Chair in Smart, Sustainable and Resilient Communities and Cities, the two began discussing the merits of video-game interfaces and gamification. They quickly realized that Gibbs’s background and the institute’s engagement goals made for a perfect match.
‘Fast-tracking engagement with decision-makers’
Gibbs is charged with developing and overseeing a gamified urban simulation, initially titled the Future City Playgrounds. Work has been underway for some time on collecting the necessary data and building the back-end software and models for a state-of-the-art simulation of urban buildings’ energy and heating/cooling demands, which will ultimately come together to visualize buildings’ lifelong real-world carbon footprints.
Future City Playgrounds is the front-end visualization component. “Using this software, you can play around on real buildings and do retrofits — change the materials used for walls and roofs, change windows and panels, plant rooftop vegetation, add heat pumps for efficiency,” Gibbs explains.
“These changes then plug in to the back-end and change the models, allowing you to look at how your changes can make buildings more carbon efficient and sustainable.”
The playground has evolved to now envision a state-of-the-art platform for stakeholder and decision-maker engagement with real-time urban data across numerous urban systems and applications.
“It’s now more like a suite of gamified tools that can be customized and adapted to each use case or stakeholder need — whether it be for Hydro Quebec, an architect, a homeowner or a transit operator — always with a vision toward making a greener city,” Gibbs adds.
Looking forward, he hopes to build out several prototypes for different projects and simulations using this platform, encouraging collaborative efforts between Concordia researchers and external stakeholders such as municipal decision-makers, land developers and industry actors. He is deeply motivated by the engagement potentials of the project.
“Fast-tracking engagement with decision-makers is becoming more important than ever as we are running out of time to act on climate change,” Gibbs notes. “The fundamental role that these prototypes and this platform can play is to wake up the stakeholders and make them see concretely how we can reduce carbon emissions and improve the world.”
Find out more about Concordia’s Next-Generation Cities Institute.
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