This experience in India was the first of a series of on field missions for the Includo project. Straight in the plane, we found a bunch of interesting things. The number one forbidden item on the national entry form is “maps and literature where Indian external boundaries have been shown incorrectly”. Apparently this is more dangerous for the country than drugs and counterfeit currency. We later learned that the “external boundaries” concern the border with Pakistan in Kashmir, dating from just after the partition. Although for all intents and purposes this land belongs to Pakistan, India refuses to allow maps that show this reality.
In a Bollywood movie we saw actors play Carrom, a type of game that looks like a miniature shuffleboard. Upon a large wooden board, players flick circular pieces into other, trying to make them hit each other and put them into corner pockets, like billiards. Apparently this game is fairly well known in India.
As we left the airport the traffic was just crazy. The constant honking and swerving was very unnerving to our senses. This is one big thing we’ve been sensitive to in India, we are stuck in flow of deep feedbacks. Even if we experience the same physically supportive environment we felt that this overwhelming environment sometimes inhibits some kinds of communication. As we drove to our hotel, we did notice that some of the vehicles, especially the trucks, were simply beautiful, with detailed patterns and bright colors, perhaps tassels hanging from the windows and bumpers. Even many of the road signs appeared hand-painted, a technique almost completely lost in western Europe or the US.
MEETING ZMQ TEAM
ZMQ took extremely good care of us during the first week, including a ceremony of putting flower garlands around our necks. Alexandre didn’t want to take his off, it smelled so nice.
As ZMQ presented their activities more in detail, we learned that they do a good chunk of their work outside of India, including in Afghanistan and Uganda. They told us about their “game lab” concept, in which they use material produce by people to tell stories and teach people to make their own games. Their methodology is really close to our micro game jams. For example they do this in very rural areas so that women can tell their problems and turn them into board games using visual storyboards. They find that the technique allows people to work through their problems and inspires ZMQ with new ideas for initiatives.
In addition to these workshops, they have created a number of games and apps around public health.
Apparently, 1.3 million people in India and China have no regular access to toilets. To answer this issue they created a game to promote the use of toilets, for example, using the metaphor of getting a soccer ball into a goal. They also created a game to promote deworming, one of the least expensive and yet valuable public health initiatives. They designed a polio project for tracking polio immunization.
In a similar vein, their project “Freedom TB” tracks people taking tuberculous treatments. As long as patient continue taking their pills every day over a long period, they will protect themselves and those around them. However, it is easy for people to slip, which has lead to health organizations forcing people to come to the hospital and take treatments in front of the staff, which is obviously very expensive. Instead, in the Freedom TB program, patients are lent smartphones that remind them daily to take their treatment. The patients must “prove” they have taken it via audio or video messages. If they haven’t taken it, the app first tries to motivate them, before eventually alerting the health staff if the patient stops responding. They have currently treated over 3000 patients with this game program.
We also discussed their work with mental health. There is no national health coverage for mental health problems, and so often those with mental issues are left on the streets. ZMQ has been working to educate and train caregivers, such as family, to recognize health problems and to act accordingly.
Trying to investigate some other diversity topics we discovered that some forms of diversity are difficult to discuss in India. Homosexuality is outright illegal there, and the LGBT community lacks legal and police protection.
ZMQ crew also explained how important it is to that their mobile games work offline. Although connectivity is getting better across the country, it is still far from ubiquitous, and can be rather slow (2G). Their games are designed to work through downloads, and can stories for their games can even be copied manually from phone to phone over USB rather than going through app stores and in-app purchases.
The next day, ZMQ crew took us through an example workshop when we met with a few non-profits, including Pravah and CYC, that do wonderful work on promoting gender and ethnic diversity, by working directly with young people. Their approach does not use board game pieces as we have been doing in our “micro game jams” in Paris. However, they have a more formal worksheet process that takes participants through the process of selecting game mechanics, storylines, and describing the rules through worksheets.
Through this workshop we learned about the Indian game Kabaddi, where a person from one team tries to touch the other team and get back to their side. The complication is that they must constantly say “Kabaddi” over and over again and once they lose their breath they don’t get their point. We had heard of a similar game being played as part of the New Games movement, called something else, like “Dodo”. But where in the New Games this is played to develop “loving competition”, in India it is played very competitively and seriously.
After the workshop, we spent a while discussing with some of the participants, including Ashraf Patel, an Ashoka fellow from Pravah and CYC. She brought out an older tabletop game, Scruples, that they have adapted for their own use. The original game is meant to be played in families, in which an ethical question is read off a card. The other players must guess what the person who’s turn it is will answer, and then they discuss. They have made their own cards that ask tougher ethical, including about diversity. She suggested that we could try using it in our own workshops.
In general, it seems that board and card games might be more useful for organizations such as Pravah and CYC, who run workshops regularly with groups to discuss issues such as right as human rights. For example, CYC has created a “conflict-positive curriculum” that lasts from 4-6 days, in which they stress that conflict is a positive construct, and that it is important to take stances. Resolution must come from both parties as they move from “blaming to claiming”. They present an inventory of conflict resolution styles, and take the participants through “values clarification” and steps to agreement. They reflect on how world conflict stands in parallel to social conflict (such as within a family), with the goal of increasing empathy for others.
The next day we went to the Cluster Innovation Center (CIC) on the expansive and beautiful campus of New Delhi University. CIC boasts an interdisciplinary program powered by project-based learning.
This time it was up for us to run the workshop. We did something very close to our micro-jam format, except we allowed them to pitch game ideas, hoping that this would make the groups more interesting. Although almost none of the students had made games before, a bunch of interesting board games came out of it. Jesse’s favorite was essentially a religion quiz game, in which players had to know about the 4 major religions in India: Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, and Sikhism. It was difficult and led to interesting discussions.
At the end, the students asked that we run this exercise again, but this time over a whole weekend in order to make full videogames. Some of them would like to come to France to work with us. They also wanted to keep the giant ball 🙂
On the way out of CIC, two of the teachers took us on a tour. We saw an incubator space and what will soon be a fab lab. They also had interesting exhibits on Verdic mathematics, essentially mathematical tools that were described in ancient religious texts. Apparently this knowledge was needed for certain rituals, such as setting objects in an exact circle.
The last day we went to the life sciences division of Jubilent, a fairly large company outside of Delhi. ZMQ has contacts with Jubilent through their well-developed corporate responsibility division. This arm of Jubilent works to improve the life of those around the factories, and reduce the negative impact their installations may have. They spoke to us about the value of the Global Reporting Index (GRI) for which they publish statistics about their company’s social and environmental impact, and allows overseas companies that must follow strict rules to work with them.
After a short presentation on games, we got straight to work with a group of about 15 employees who came to our workshop. It was a bit difficult to get them started on making a game, but after the brainstorming got started it was impossible to stop them. There were two groups, and both came up with interesting games, based on discussion and guessing. In one group, the game was to guess what Indian city a person was from based on questions about the local food, greetings, and movie stars. In the other, players had to guess how a person felt about themselves as they talked about how they appeared to others.
The employees left quite happy with the workshop, and gave their OK for us to share their games on our website.
One last interesting idea that came out of our interactions with ZMQ is to create an application to count diversity. This could be something along the lines of the “count it” app made by WAX. We are concerned, however, that some of our partners would not appreciate it lack of diversity being pointed out. Also, large groups could be difficult to count in a representative way, but this could be worked around in smaller groups.
VISITING DSK IN PUNE
Alexandre stayed 2 more weeks in India. This was an occasion to discover new aspect of the game making education in India and local French authorities.
DSK International Campus is a leading global school in Indian design. It was established in the year 2008 to offer professional courses in the fields of animation, video gaming and industrial design. It’s particularly interesting for our project since the institute is a result of a joint venture between the Indian DSK Group, India and the French Supinfocom GROUP.
The academics are directed by the French institute to match international standards of education and the trainers are recruited on a full-time basis from various parts of Europe and Asia. Alexandre had the chance to meet English and French teachers that are senior game industry veterans with valuable profiles: one was a former Rockstar Games 3D artist, the other a game designer at Ubisoft.
Even if it was the spring break there, Alexandre met the placement officer and the CEO of the campus. It was really interesting to be guided all of the campus, from classrooms to the library to the sports facilities. Everything was really neat yet closed off from Indian society. The annual fees to get in the school are 6000 euros minimum.
The academics there were interested in meeting the CRI gamelab again to organize a masterclass on game with a purpose or even on scientific games with their video game students.
VISITING THE FRENCH INSTITUT
In his third week, Alexandre planned a daytrip with ZMQ in the countryside. It was canceled by the company due to a lack of availability. Alex scheduled also a presentation of the IncLudo project to the cultural attaché at the French Institut.
The French Institut in India offers several services to French and locals to reinforce cultural cooperation between France and India. These include a lot of different things, from cultural events to film festivals.
First, Alexandre met the person in charge promote French Film distribution in India. A new responsible of digital culture is gonna be our contact for IncLudo starting in September 2016.
The Institut also handles translation in vernacular languages and in French and provides a platform to writers, authors, editors, publishers, translators to exchange on relevant issues including those of copyrights.
Certification of French language levels by organizing regular DELF/DALF sessions across India. Promotion of higher education In France is done through sustained actions and events but also scholarships programmes. Next, Alexandre met the director of University and Scientific cooperation at the French Ambassy. Opportunities of fundings and promotion for IncLudo project have been discussed. A visit of the CRI has been schedule for april 12th, new cooperations between the CRI and the French Scientific cooperation will be presented to the François Taddei. Yet my quest to find the best Lassi continues!