Recently I mentioned in this blog about research that showed that mobile games can work wonders in rural India. I found another article by the same authors, in which they learned that designing games for rural children in the non-western world is not a simple task. (M. Kam, A. Mathur, A. Kumar, J. Canny. Designing Digital Games for Rural Children: A Study of Traditional Village Games in India. CHI 2009, April 4–9, 2009, 31 — 40)
First they took a few Western-style mobile games, and made them look more Indian (just added some crocodiles and dancers). The result was that rural children didn’t understand the games. Although the games were adapted to everyday scenarios familiar to the children, they were not culturally meaningful to them.
So the researchers decided to study traditional games played in the villages to get an idea how to design digital games that would be culturally appropriate for those children. In their article they thoroughly analysed the elements of the traditional games and their differences from Western video-games.
If you have downloaded the article and read the sections called “Elements of traditional games” and “Contrastive analysis” from the beginning to the end you surely deserve a bar of chocolate. If you have not only read those two sections but also understood them completely, so that you can retell them in your own words then the doctor’s advice for you is to stop reading scientific articles till the end of this week — you’ve had enough science for now.
But they did a great job, and finally designed a game that rural Indian children loved to play.
I have an idea. It would be nice to design a university course, something like “Mobile games for different cultures”. Students could study similar research findings, and then do a field project — design a game and test it in a remote village in Bangladesh, Somalia or Papua New Guinea. Some students could even discover something totally new and publish their findings in academic journals. Such research is important because the majority of population in the developing world live in rural areas, and mobile phones are much more popular there than computers. And what an adventure could such a project be!