Just back from India, where I’ve been on the discovery phase of Mudlark’s latest project, designing four mobile social impact games as part of the Half the Sky multi-platform project.
Half the Sky is already a best-selling book by Nick Kristof and Sheryl Wudunn, that tells stories of women in the developing world, stories that are by turns shocking and inspiring as they experience terrible deprivation and brutality and battle against them. The book suggests ways forward partly through these examples and also by laying out a series of actions and campaigns – political, moral, educational, medical, economic – that can not only improve the lot of females in these societies but the societies themselves.
Half The Sky is now extending out via a PBS special next year , a social action game on Facebook and a lot of work with NGOs, including the mobile games we are designing for Game For Change, the executive producers of the Half The Sky transmedia material.
I spent a week in and around Delhi with Games For Change and Indian developers and distributors ZMQ, meeting, talking and – most vitally – listening with and to a variety of NGOs, as well as visiting various communities at whom the games might be aimed.
We are designing for the very “established” Java, J2ME platform, because those are the sorts of phones you will find in these communities. Typically , there’s one mobile per family and it stays in the house , like a landline – in effect it is the landline. But everyone has some access to the key piece of technology and most of them are already playing games on their phones.
The constraints of the platform are also the challenges. The same goes for the issues we want to express and “play” in the games – both during the trip and since my return we have been brainstorming ideas for games that will help pre-natal health, get parents to let their female children stay in school after the age of ten, improve girls’ health so they can stay in education themselves, confront domestic abuse and even suggest the experience of enforced prostitution.
We are looking at twitch, puzzlers, platformers, tower defence, simple simulations… We want great gameplay on small screen that doesn’t require a lot of text and gets the player to think and learn, but also, most importantly, engage. Although the subjects are clearly pretty serious, we never want the games to be called “Serious Games”. We plan to blog about the project as it develops so watch this space.