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GAMES
COLONIALISM
Cultural Assumptions in
Serious Game Design
Who am I?
MOHINI DUTTA
MOHINI DUTTA
I am Indian
MOHINI DUTTA
I am Indian
I got into games in NYC
MOHINI DUTTA
I am Indian
I got into games in NYC
At Parsons,
I make
Serious Games
I make
Serious Games
I use them to
Explain complex ideas
I use them to
Explain complex ideas
Begin a conversation
I use them to
Explain complex ideas
Begin a conversation
Get folks to care about stuff
SUMMER 2012
SUMMER 2012
INDONESIA

PHILIPPINES

KENYA
GOAL 1/
INTRODUCE SERIOUS
GAMES
GOAL 2/
HELP LOCAL NGO’S
INCREASE COMMUNITY
ENGAGEMENT USING GAMES
We started with some physical
games, and everyone was into it
THEN SOMETHING
WEIRD HAPPENED
One of the games
had a ton of dice
…suddenly, folks got weird…
Many Indonesians are Muslim
Gambling is a
very serious sin in Islam
DICE=GAMBLING
GAMBLING=DAMNATION
How did we not realize this??
We are playing a betting game here
OMG, 2 OF THE 3 GAMES
ARE GAMBLING STYLE
Initial excitement about games
slowly turns to wary concern
THIS IS TERRIBLE!
So, were the games bad?
Nope, these folks got into it
But this is the Philippines,
they have a more western culture
GAMBLING IS NO BIGGIE HERE
So does that mean that
Indonesians have no Game Culture?
We must teach them our games.
Enlighten them.
Hold that thought
COLONIALISM
The practice of domination, which involves
the subjugation of one people to another.
GAMES COLONIALISM
The practice of domination, which involves
the cultural subjugation of one people to
the memes of another.
!?@!##
One group uses it’s media
(games in this case) to
prioritize it’s cultural tastes
and make it the norm for
everyone.
So when another culture
doesn’t relate to yours, it
isn’t your fault, it is theirs.
And now it is your
responsibility to
teach them the
“proper” way
US

THEM
THE othering of diverse
voices leaves the dominant
voice with the quick,
dismissive excuse
THEY just don’t get it.
But surely games don’t do that.
They are fun!
Games are serious
business.
We can have a cultural impact.
We can effect how people think about things
FARMERAMA’s digital drought on World Drought Day
Let’s revisit Indonesia, remember their little issue with gambling.

SO DOES THAT MEAN INDONESIANS
HAVE NO GAME CULTURE?
THEY JUST HAVE A DIFFERENT CULTURE OF PLAY

Beach Pencak Silat 2008 Asian Beach Games, Bali, Indonesia.
MOMENT OF TRUTH
I AM A COLONIALIST
Gandhi must be turning in
his grave...
I participated in this cycle of cultural
oppression by failing to recognize the
problem.
My own game design practice is so
tied in with western-style game
culture, that I just couldn’t see beyond
it.
LET’S DO A LITTLE EXERCISE.
You are a farmer in South Sulawesi

You had it good for generations.
EVERY. SINGLE. SEASON.
Your
traditional
forecasting
methods are
all off.
But you don’t
know why
Because climate science is complicated,
and you can’t understand it.
Some people come by sometimes,
and try to explain why it keeps flooding
But all you understand from them is
PLANT MORE MANGROVES
But all you understand from them is
PLANT MORE MANGROVES
&
DON’T CUT THE TREES!
WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT??
It makes no sense to you.
WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT??
It makes no sense to you.
That timber feeds your family when the
floods take all the rice crop.
They use some big words to tell you why it
is all so important
They use some big words to tell you why it
is all so important
But you don’t really understand any of it.
They use some big words to tell you why it
is all so important
But you don’t really understand any of it.
They have charts, but they look boring.
They use some big words to tell you why it
is all so important
But you don’t really understand any of it.
They have charts, but they look boring.
Plus, you are sleepy now.
Well, this was a waste of time.
Well, this was a waste of time.
You mostly came here for the free food.
Well, this was a waste of time.
You mostly came here for the free food.
…and most of it is gone already.
Well, this was a waste of time.
You mostly came here for the free food.
…and most of it is gone already.
So you doze off for the rest of it.
GAMES CAN HELP.
GAMES CAN HELP.
Participants can embody the system
and understand cause and effect.
GAMES CAN HELP.
Participants can embody the system
and understand cause and effect.
Instead of passively sitting and listening to science jargon
GAMES CAN HELP.
Participants can embody the system
and understand cause and effect.
Instead of passively sitting and listening to science jargon
This can be empowering!
But when this happens:

…and we use the wrong interface for the wrong audience
It reduces the experience to moral anxiety.
It reduces the experience to moral anxiety.
And makes the facilitators appear callous and uninterested
THE MESSAGE SENT IS:
We don’t understand your culture
THE MESSAGE SENT IS:
We don’t understand your culture
…and we don’t care.
THE MESSAGE SENT IS:
We don’t understand your culture
…and we don’t care.
We know better, and that’s all you need to know.
WHY IS THIS HAPPENING?
WHY IS THIS HAPPENING?
A large part of popular game culture is predominantly
American or Eurocentric.
HOW ARE SERIOUS GAMES GETTING MADE?
HOW ARE SERIOUS GAMES GETTING MADE?
Western funding for fund western designers to
make games for a third party.
WHY IS THAT RELEVANT?
Western style games use dice/cards ubiquitously
It is a stylistic choice that influences the design
of these games.
THE SYSTEMIC ISSUES
Game Designers work in cultural isolation from their end
user.
THE SYSTEMIC ISSUES
Game Designers work in cultural isolation from their end
user.
Content experts are academics who are also far removed
from interacting with the end user.
THE SYSTEMIC ISSUES
So does anyone verify the effectively of these games with
the end user?
THE SYSTEMIC ISSUES
So does anyone verify the effectively of these games with
the end user?
Not really.
THE SYSTEMIC ISSUES
So does anyone verify the effectively of these games with
the end user?
Not really.
So the entire workflow is based on assumptions about the
target audience’s culture.
THE SYSTEMIC ISSUES
So does anyone verify the effectively of these games with
the end user?
Not really.
So the entire workflow is based on assumptions about the
target audience’s culture.
Yup.
WE ASSUME IT WORKS FOR THEM
External aid is a hierarchal system
Composed of “Givers” and “Receivers”
WE ASSUME IT WORKS FOR THEM,
This system rewards the ACT of giving more than the actual
content of the gift
So, critique of the aid provided is unusual.
REMEMBER THIS DEBACLE?
SO, WE ARE MAKING GAMES FOR
OURSELVES?
SO, WE ARE MAKING GAMES FOR
OURSELVES?
Pretty much.
AND THEY ARE BEST AT MAKING US FEEL
BETTER ABOUT HAVING HELPED?
AND THEY ARE BEST AT MAKING US FEEL
BETTER ABOUT HAVING HELPED?
Not quite, but basically.
BUT DON’T WE ALSO NEED TO UNDERSTAND
AND EMPATHIZE WITH THE PEOPLE WE ARE
TRYING TO HELP?
THE ISSUE IS, RIGHT NOW THE END USER IS
THE LAST PRIORITY
Sure, but then let’s make games meant to
do just that.
THE ISSUE IS, RIGHT NOW THE END USER IS
THE LAST PRIORITY
But that’s just bad design!
THE ISSUE IS, RIGHT NOW THE END USER IS
THE LAST PRIORITY
But that’s just bad design!
Think of the target audience!
THINK OF THE CHILDREN!
SERIOUS GAMES, DON’T BE SUCKY!
Be awesome!
CLOSING THOUGHTS
Be self-aware
Be Critical
Listen before you teach.
Don’t make excuses for games that fail
Accept your shortcomings
Fix them.
THANK YOU!
Mohini Dutta
mohini@playistheantidote.com

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Games Colonialism: Cultural Assumptions in Serious Game Design