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Open Access Downpour! – Flood risk communication through interactive immersive street games

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In this paper, we discuss the potential role of immersive interactive games in public engagement with environmental science, in this case flood risk management. Recent high magnitude storm events in the UK have fuelled great public interest in flooding. However, there remains an apparent mismatch between the scientific voice of flooding research and the wider public discourse, which we argue games may be able to address. Downpour! is a street game that casts players as flood risk advisers in a fictional flooding scenario. Players work in teams to respond to an immediate crisis and make longer-term decisions about mitigation through a series of encounters with actors, films, puzzles and treasure hunts. The game was created by a street game designer in collaboration with film-makers, environmental scientists and public institutions, with performances at the Manchester Science Festival and the Festival of Social Science 2016. Based on observations and responses from these events, we discuss how the game fostered understanding of, and engagement with, decision-making in flood risk management. Games offer people the agency to experiment with decisions in a safe space. As a result, we found that players begin to independently interrogate both scientific and political dimensions of flood management. The immersive nature of a street game further creates an emotional connection with the issues, which has the potential for triggering active involvement in flood-related efforts. We conclude by reflecting on the process behind the game creation, commenting on the strengths and difficulties of innovative collaborations between environmental scientists and creative practitioners.

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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: February 1, 2019

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  • Research for All is a peer-reviewed journal focusing on research that involves universities and communities, services or industries working together. Contributors and readers are from both inside and outside of higher education. They include researchers, policymakers, managers, practitioners, community-based organizations, schools, businesses and the intermediaries who bring these people together. The journal highlights the potential in active public engagement for robust academic study, for the development of involved communities, and for the impact of research. It explores engagement with different groups and their cultures, and features theoretical and empirical analysis alongside authoritative commentary to explore a range of themes that are key to engaged research including the development of reciprocal relationships, sector-specific communication and participatory action research. The journal is co-sponsored by the UCL Institute of Education and the National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement.

    Research for All is supporting the 16th International conference for Public Communication of Science and Technology being held in Aberdeen, Scotland, UK, 26–28 May 2020. Authors of contributions presented at the conference are invited subsequently to submit papers to Research for All for a special feature on Public Communication of Science and Technology.

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