The Innovative City for the Next Generation(the MZ Generation): Advancing Towards Ultra Connectivity and the Real World

The Seoul Design International Forum 2023 has obtained written consent from the speaker to publish the summarized and edited content

Session 2. The City of Tomorrow: Future city of sentiments established through a new vision of design

The Innovative City for the Next Generation(the MZ Generation): Advancing Towards Ultra Connectivity and the Real World

- SONG IN-HYUK, Co-CEO of Unique Good Company

This forum is an inspiring time for myself as well. Until now, we carried out discussions under the theme of the types of spaces that can act as the main characters and about relevant humanizing activities. In this session, we will talk about the perspective where we are the protagonists. 

Do you happen to know this song? ‘I love to play all day. Come join me, all my friends’. Do you know what it is? Yes. It is Pororo. What would have happened if we had children in this space? They would have disappeared as soon as we started because they would have said ‘This is not fun. I’m bored’. When we think back on our childhood, children could play all day long wherever they were as long as they had three things. The three things are playground, toys and friends. 

As long as there are playgrounds, they can invite anyone passing buy. A new play game can be made, and another play game can be made if the first one is boring. It is fun to play all day long. We have become adults, and we have money to buy toys and do whatever we want, but strangely enough, what we do is boring and static. In truth, we still have that fun child within us. We want to have fun like children. Our playground would be our workspaces and the city. I will talk about how we can have fun in this workspace and the city, and how people can gather in the city and engage themselves as the protagonists of a meaningful story. 

Real game where I am the main character

I believe answers may vary by people. Do you like games? I really like games. I am in my late forties. Even last night, I played the game, ‘Call of Duty’ for 1 hour and went to sleep thinking ‘Oh no’. There are several types of games that I enjoy playing. I also like movies. Do you watch a lot of movies? Recently, I really enjoy watching ‘Moving’. I am sure many of you are watching it as well. I watch Netflix and YouTube every day. I am sure most people are doing that as well. I sometimes go to the movie theater. I try my best to watch the movie on the first day it is released. However, where do we enjoy things in our daily lives? Where do we enjoy movies and games to the extent that sometimes we feel that we might be addicted? 

It is home. You will either be at home, or in transit or in a theater. Spaces where you enjoy such experiences are mostly the same such as your homes or your work environment. However, how would you feel if the space that you are in changes to become a completely different world depending on the game that you are playing or the movie that you are watching? For instance, when you are experiencing a fantasy genre, your room may become a space where a true fantasy spreads out, and when you are watching a horror movie, it will become a scary place that makes you feel as if a ghost may come out even with a small rustling noise. In truth, we are used to thinking that our space defines the experience in a content space. However, when we think of games or movies, the story defines the experience. The story defines the space you are in. Your space changes to a completely different one depending on the game that you are playing or the story that you are seeing. There is no need to wait. No matter how many people are playing the game or enjoying the movie together, you can enjoy them immediately by accessing those contents. In other words, it could mean that the stories can be distributed and turned into an industry. 

Should we look at this from a different perspective? This formula does not work when we look at the space in reality. This is our world that we experienced for such a long time. The real space is the opposite. The space defines your experience and space defines the contents. We are so used to that. Let us assume that we are in a café. This is where we drink coffee. If we were to go to a memorial hall, exhibition or museum, we build our experience while passing by artworks in those places or various types of object. Everyone enters the space, but since we are ultimately experiencing contents that was created by the space, we end up having the same experience. What would happen if this was a popular location? That would lead to the issue of us having to stand in a line because everyone has to have the same experience. At the beginning of the year, I went on a family trip to Singapore. When you got to a place called Fort Canning, there was a remarkable spot where you can see the stairway to paradise. However, what would happen when you are trying to take a photo at this spot? You have to line up for an hour to even as long as 3 hours. You have to wait painfully without doing anything to take a photo in the passing moment of time. Experience is often used as a fancy term, but in reality, it is not so. Because, standing in line means that the experience cannot be distributed and that it cannot be industrialized. Despite having to repeatedly stand in line, people still want to travel. Why do we want to travel in our daily lives? It is the same as the needs I have in wanting to play games and watch movies. This is because we want that special experience of getting away from everyday lives to be the main character. This is being realized in games or in movies. In a space, I am not the agent but the space is the main character. What would happen if we can turn this around? What if an experience in a space is more fun than movies or games? 

Story becoming the main character instead of space being the main character

What would it be like if our real space can unfold like the space in games? That would be really fun. This is a scene from a game that I made. You can play the game like the character here. The outdoor escape room game, ‘Jeongdong Secret message’ allows the player to experience a type of a universe. 

The player discovers a mysterious phone at the Kyobo Bookstore located in Gwangwhamun. The phone rings, and the player answers the call. The player becomes the main character of an independence movement and gets a special mission to safely deliver the independence fund in a risky situation. The player can go around historical spaces in the Jeongdong-gil region like the character here and can find clues while becoming the protagonist of a case. While doing so, the player can enjoy the experience of being a protagonist of a thrilling story. Usually, people get touched when they finish the experience and come out crying. This experience would be remembered forever. 

Until now, we talked a lot about space. We talked about design related to space and how to move people in a space. However, what we didn’t consider here was the story, the ‘narrative’. This narrative was simply discovered until now by reading or watching something. However, in contrast, how would it be if the narrative were to unfold based on your behaviors or responses as if in a game and would interact with space in line with the circumstances? It would be more dominatingly immersive than any virtual game. It would be great to be able to create a path based on your intentions, to create a path based on your will and not someone else's, and to be able to do it in a way that everyone can have an individual experience even if they're playing together instead of alone. What if we could incorporate immersive technology to that?

A door suddenly opens when you go to a place and say ‘open sesame!’. You point a camera at something and it reveals something that wasn't there before like augmented reality, and you pick up the phone. Or you use GPS to find your location. Wouldn’t it be fun if all of those situations that we see in movies were to play out front of you? I thought about what it would be like if we were to turn all of this into reality. I also thought about how to use technology to unfold the story with interactive components. So, I made a solution to incorporate all possible immersive technology such as AR, GPS, chatbot, transit card, NFC and so forth to the narrative as you can see in the video. We call this Real World. It is just as the name suggests. We are providing a portal to allow the users to leave their everyday lives to embark on an adventure right away. We prepared 6,000 online and offline games by providing authoring tools that enable anyone to create games including those enjoyed indoors and those enjoyed outdoors. Even now, contents we created are being played in more than 250 regions in Korea and 18 overseas countries. Because of this, we are receiving the spotlight to the extent that our services and contents were selected as the megatrend of the MZ generations in 2022. 

Individual stories playing out in the same space

Let me show you an example. I will show you how a special or fun experience in my daily life where I have fun and play all day long or how an experience where I become a meaningful character can be applied to space of a certain form. First, I looked at the other side of Seongsu that is hip these days. In Seongsu, there are many boring buildings like these knowledge industry buildings. This is an area where people normally don’t pass by. I thought about turning this space into one that is filled with games where fun adventures can be enjoyed. So, I turned this into a space where more than nine SF, romance, horror and other games could be played right away. Ultimately, this became a landmark of Seongsu with more than 100,000 annual visitors in just a year. Should we take a look at the inside? 

When you look at the inside, various generations including the youngsters and family members can all have fun. Usually, when there is a crowd, people have to line up to have that same experience. However, this is a place that is full of people but still with individuals playing their own story. So, you don’t have to care about what other people are doing beside you. You already leapfrogged from your own world to experience another world. That is why it is different when you have a bunch of interesting experiences in plain space. ‘Experience that cannot be shared will not spread’. There are very different games that can be enjoyed here. It is the same as how there are countless games and movies in the same space called home. Different experiences are carried out by playing and watching different things in the same space. Likewise, when there is a diverse set of contents in space people think, ‘This time, I tried this but I will return to try something else’ and we can create space that people revisit. 

Real World ‘Pop up store’

Annihilation of city is not only an issue in Korea but it is a global issue. Korea is also facing more and more regions that could be annihilated. Would people come if these regions said, ‘Please come, we will offer you accommodation coupons and gift coupons’? These do not provide reasons for people to visit the regions. It would be best to ensure that people can really enjoy the experiences in those regions. Recently, we are working with the Seoul Tourism Organization on the campaign related to abandoned mines in Gangwon-do Province. There are many good spots in the abandoned mines in Gangwon-do Province to the extent that these spots can be called ‘places that must be visited before we die’. However, younger generations are not even aware of the existence of such regions. 

Even if were to show advertisements in various places, people do not see them. So, we thought of creating space that can be directly experienced by people in bustling regions. We decided to operate pop ups that allowed people to enjoy experiences as if they are in the abandoned mine areas of Gangwon-do Province. We created a strategy where people would enjoy various types of game in the pop up and would actually visit the Gangwon-do Province after having gone through that pop up experience. Ultimately, a lot of people came to enjoy the pop up immediately after it opened, and these people realized how splendid the region was through the pop up. We are also carrying out successful campaigns that lead to traveling to the abandoned mines. What is more important is the following. In the past, when we search abandoned mines online, we would have negative images being returned as relevant keywords. Now it has changed so that the pop up shows up first when abandoned mines are searched. This can generate a trigger where people will say ‘Oh, I can experience this here’, which leads to them deep diving into the relevant contents. We could generate this sort of an experience. 


Ways to remember and commemorate the city

Let me show you another example. Many stories about the memorial were mentioned in the previous presentation. These are meaningful places such as exhibition halls and memorial halls. Unfortunately, children do not like to go to these places because such areas are full of countless serious texts. However, in truth, such spaces are grand and full of exceptional stories. What would happen if we were to play such stories? 

We collaborated on many experiential contents related to various interesting spaces such as the contents called Lost Wars and contents related to prison escape. The player can become a character of the story about a war veteran that lost his or her memory after coming to this place. After finishing the game, people cry because they are genuinely touched. This place even provides multilingual contents that can not only be enjoyed by Koreans but foreigners as well. However, no one is told to read something here. They can follow along the storyline within their own flow and be immersed to watch the scenes as they play out. 

There was a situation where several thousands of UK jamboree scouts suddenly had to go to different regions including Seoul. We needed unique experiential contents to be enjoyed by these scouts. Generally, it would be extremely stressful to provide guidance to thousands of people. But there would be no problems if there is such an interaction system. People can use their smartphones and play with friends in groups or based on his or her own pace even where there is a huge crowd of people. As you can see in the video, we usually don’t read those texts. However, when we are staring hard into those screens, we do our utmost to find the clues of the story and to follow the flow. This was so phenomenal that even a deputy commander in chief of UN troop came and saw how students were having so much fun. Then, he started playing after watching the students for a while and became a huge fan. Afterwards, he started promoting this experience. He even asked us to create such contents in other places. 

Many spaces in the city are boring. However, spaces are actually not that important. It is more critical to create relevant stories that can be experienced by people within that space. If so, as you saw in the video, we have to turn normal city spaces into areas to experience interesting stories. We can create moments where family and friend roam around in groups to enjoy the urban centers. As for the Jeongdong-gil region that I mentioned at the beginning, 53,000 enjoyed the experiential campaign for 43 days. No guide was required and many people could each create moments that they could sufficiently enjoy. We typically only think about walking around when we think of experiences in cities. This is because the space was the main character until now. However, there are many ways to enjoy the entire city from our own perspective. There are many cars and there are many bicycles. Can’t we create a type of experience that allows people to enjoy the entire city? When you watch movies like, ‘Davinci Code’ or ‘National Treasure’, you can see how cool it is to go around cities and countries to have a grand experience. We can also create that. We can provide a new form of leisure that can be enjoyed while roaming around the entire city in a car. The entertainment shows and movies that we saw before can be turned into experiences and we can come up with various configurations where stories of their own can be experienced in those spaces. 


City that can be experienced by everyone while having fun

Nest week, a festival that will be involving and crowding the entire Seongsu region, ‘Real World Seongsu’, will be held. What we are trying to do is the following. We want to show that cities can be newly defined and become dynamic through contents. We are working with many people and preparing to turn the entire Seongsu region into a global space with confidence that it is no longer centered on existing space and can be transformed into a story centric city. 

Now I will wrap things up. I was born in the analog era. I went from an era without internet to an era with internet. Afterwards, I experienced how music was played on MP3 players, and now I have moved to the digital world where people cannot survive without internet. We call the current young generation the MZ generation. The MZ generations were born in the digital era. We call them digital natives. Digitization was a new continent for people born in the analog era. On the contrary, what would it have been like for people born in the digital era? To them, offline spaces and real spaces are new continents. They are looking for special experiences in the offline space, and now we are seeing the emergence of new activities in the reality that allow this generation to be protagonists. MZ and Alpha generations account for 70% of the population not only in Korea but also in Southeast Asia. MZ and Alpha generations are no longer minorities but the center of the world. They desire new experiences that can be enjoyed in real space. 

When you are thinking about what to eat at home (which was also the case during Covid-19), you think of services like Baemin or Uber Eats, and you think of YouTube or Netflix when you want to watch something. Then, imagine this. Is there a solution that pops up in your head when you think about what to do today or on the weekend, or even during vacation? You might not be able to think of anything right away. Against this backdrop, when everyone wants something, that something can be a completely new opportunity area. Now, ‘real crime scene series’ or role-playing type and party-like contents market has grown to be ten times the size in just a few years instead of contents that have to be watched and read like web novels or webtoons. Market that allows interesting story of the space to be experienced is growing to become enormous. There are even types where thousands of people can enjoy an experience together or even types that can be enjoyed by several tens of thousands of people. In other words, the entire city can become a single playable space. Now, when you are traveling overseas, you are no longer looking at exhibits in a museum but you can now be the protagonists of an adventure within a real story. This is the type of experience that we want. From now on, all areas that we belong to will transform into a playable form that can also be enjoyed even by adults. The shape of the city will change completely depending on the diverse forms the experience can be enjoyed and also depending on the number of people that enjoy the experience. I am confident that if there is the city of yesterday and city of today, this will lead to city of tomorrow, that is, Seoul of tomorrow, and the future city will be overwhelming with completely new experiences. 

Samsung Electronics made the following announcement at the CES in 2020. ‘The following 10 years will be an era of experience and it will be an era that completely transforms the way of experiencing and communicating while completely integrating the real spaces and technology’. I will conclude with the following quote. Shakespeare once said, ‘All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players’. From the perspective of a city, a city is a huge playground and we can all become players. You can be all create and enjoy this play. I hope that we can make a playable city that allows in-playing and I hope that we can together create a more dynamic humanizing city.  

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