A game jam with open data at the European Commission

There is an increasing amount of open data which could help us address social issues such as air pollution, climate change, the housing crisis, and others. Open data hackathons have been used as an approach to motivate citizens to engage with open data and develop new solutions. However, (open data) hackathons have been criticized for being “solutionist”, as conceptualised by Morozov (2013). In developing an app or a service, participants tend to oversimplify the social issue to justify their proposed technological solution. We need an approach that moves the focus back to identifying and articulating social issues. Rather than inviting participants to produce an app or a service based on open data, we asked participants to collectively produce a video game. We expected that videogames would be better-suited for the articulation of social issues because:

  1. previous literature claims that game-making supports thinking by doing and turns data into knowledge (Schouten et al., 2017),
  2. games can be worked on by participants with diverse skill sets (not just coders, but also artists, game designers, sound designers, and others)
  3. by discussing how to model the social issue into a game, participants effectively discuss the issue’s boundaries, causes and consequences

In my research, I organize one-day game jams. At these jams, participants are invited to make a video game about a social issue of their preference. On February 16th, we organized a game jam at the European Commission in Brussels with 11 civil servants. The game jam was supported by Maria Claudia Bodino and Alessio Lucci (EC), and Lærke Christiansen (TU Delft, TPM). The jam has been organised in the context of the collaboration with the Digital Innovation Lab from the European Commission (DIGIT iLab), and included participants from multiple Directorate Generals at the European Commission. In the morning section of the jam, participants brainstormed a game idea and drew mockup screenshots. We supported participants with ideation sheets, which included items about datasets that can be used to describe the issue. We also used energizers to keep participants motivated. The afternoon section was dedicated to actually producing a game prototype using a popular visual coding game engine. Participants were divided into three teams and produced game concepts about the societal issues of: population decline, information archival at the EC commission, and work-life balance. We observed participants during the workshop and collected data using pre and post-test surveys. The approach seems to be promising, but needs to be further refined.

Special thanks to Maria Claudia Bodino and Alessio Lucci (European Commission) for inviting us, for advertising the workshop internally, and supporting us throughout the day. Thanks to Lærke Christiansen, (PhD Candidate at TPM) for observing participants and collecting data.


Morozov, E. (2013). To save everything, click here: The folly of technological solutionism. PublicAffairs.

Schouten, B., Ferri, G., de Lange, M., & Millenaar, K. (2017). Games as Strong Concepts for City-Making. In A. Nijholt (Ed.), Playable Cities: The City as a Digital Playground (pp. 23–45). Springer Singapore. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-10-1962-3_2