Playing to Grow: Augmenting Agriculture with Social Impact Games

Lead Research Organisation: Falmouth University
Department Name: The Academy of Music & Theatre Arts

Abstract

The proposed research explores the use of computer games as a method of storytelling and learning to engage urban users in the complexities of rural development, agricultural practices and issues facing farmers in India. The primary business of the project's partner, Digital Green, is to generate and disseminate videos co-created with farmers for farmers about sustainable farming practices. These videos provide a window into the world of small and marginal farmers in India. Within the UnBox Fellowship, the original Fellows worked with DG to re-conceptualise and improve upon their existing online Facebook game Wonder Village aimed at attracting and engaging a wider audience to their work to promote an understanding of small farmer's lives. Together with DG and in consultation with farmers the team came up with the concept for a game platform where the DG videos take centre stage. The proposed project will take this concept further to develop a digital prototype of a game platform that integrates DG's videos directly into game play with game mechanisms designed and tested to be most effective at influencing social change.

While the small farmer is the symbol of the Indian countryside, their livelihood and existence is threatened by inequalities in the bargaining power of growers, financiers and distributors of food. Market-led economic reform in India threatens to intensify these inequalities directly linked to hierarchies of power that prevail across rural Indian society, related to caste, gender, religion and politics. Representation of farming takes a variety of forms in Indian media (e.g., rising food prices, GM versus organic debates), but perceptions persist of an urban-rural divide and of farmers as poor and plagued by suicide (Padney and Kaur 2009). The realities of farmers' lives in India remain relatively unknown and misunderstood by most web-connected urban users. Interviews with farmers during the first phase of this project, as part of the UnBox Fellowship, emphasised the need for the game to promote the message that urban users' own survival is interconnected with that of the small farmer.

India has the third most socially active web-connected citizens in the world with fifth most Facebook users and 18 million twitter accounts. Recently published statistics indicate that 75% of web users in India are under 35 and 45% of these are mostly from urban areas and connect on social media to discuss politics (Shrinivasan and Anwer 2012). Recent research has shown that younger generations are increasingly using new social media tools for entertainment and self-gratification, but in moments of crisis, they are also using them to mobilise significant human and infrastructural resources to make immediate interventions (Shah 2011). While these users may remain ambivalent about identifying with particular political causes, this project aims to leverage that knowledge through a social impact game. By increasing their awareness and understanding of their implication in the crisis that is facing small Indian farmers, the game will be designed to motivate urban users to take action that can promote farmers', urban inhabitants' and India's socio-economic sustainability.
 
Title Bumper Crop 
Description Bumper Crop is a social impact board game created in both physical and digital platforms based on the experiences and challenges of being a small holding farmer in India. The digital beta version is published and available for free download on Google Playstore. The game equipment of the 3D physical version is available to download in paper format in both Hindi and English on the project website www.playtogrow.org. 
Type Of Art Artefact (including digital) 
Year Produced 2014 
Impact The digital game has received 100-500 downloads from the Google Playstore. The game equipment has had 573 downloads both of Hindi and English versions. As part of the research methods for the development and evaluation of Bumper Crop several groups participated in playtest sessions including: 30 games professionals, staff and students at the India Institute of Technology Bombay, 15 young urban adults in Mumbai, 23 farmers from Madhya Pradesh. Over 200 people including farmers, professional games practitioners, activists, agricultural educators, development workers and organisations, academics and members of the general public from different groups in India, UK and Canada took part in playtest workshops of the different prototypes of the game developed through the various iterative stages of the project. The following are some notable impacts resulting from the experience of the game and the methods of its development: • developed innovative strategies for integrating game-based activity for training and knowledge sharing in development sector; • sustained, developed and expanded creative and inter-disciplinary partnership between UK and India academics and practitioners and third sector organisations. • generated innovative participatory methods for co-designing appropriate, relevant and representative content and platforms for social impact games and game-based learning technologies by engaging with real world problems and the diverse cultural experiences and expert knowledge of the communities affected by those problems. 
URL https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=foam.bumpercrop&hl=en
 
Description Over the course of the research, the project partner's (Digital Green) objectives changed. A pressing concern became the development of a virtual training framework (VTI) and video-courseware. This would enable them to manage the up-scaling of their organisation to offer access to their services by partners across Sub-Saharan Africa and Asia. Therefore, questions about how 'gamification' might enhance and contribute to the improvement of their training methods became a more immediate and relevant concern than purely exploring ways to promote civic engagement and awareness through games, one of the original objectives of the project.
Although game evaluations with farmers and DG mediators were originally intended as part of the project's participatory design methodology to develop the game concept and narrative in consultation and co-authorship with these core stakeholders, a physical game platform enabled the use of appropriate technology to physically playtest the game directly with this group. An important finding was that the game was extremely valuable to these stakeholders towards their own learning, knowledge-sharing and enjoyment.
This led us to examine the efficacy of social impact games as tools and platforms both for advocacy and promotion of engagement with social issues, and for knowledge-sharing and learning of practices amongst communities and constituents. However, contrary to expectations, another key discovery was that the evaluations with young urban adults did not support the effectiveness of the physical board game to promote empathy. In fact, some players tested seemed to perceive less empathy, generally, after playing the game, and playing to win was more important than playing for its narrative content.
In contrast, farmers and DG mediators' comments suggested they enjoyed the game and took it very seriously, because it strongly related to their own life, which demonstrated the game's potential as a serious device for their own learning of better agricultural practices and strategic planning and preparation. They also commented on the value the game would have to teach their own children how to farm. This led us to consider how serious games may be used as tools for engaging communities in sharing and learning practices and knowledge that may promote their resilience.
While the digital platform may appeal more to young urban adults, further evaluation among this group to confirm or dispute this was beyond the scope of the iterative stages planned for this project. Additionally, we found that with the move from the physical to digital platforms, the game design lost many of its most engaging strategic features, which required more sophisticated coding and artificial intelligence than was achievable within the available timescale and resources of the project. Nevertheless, the development of the physical prototype as an innovative tool of communication and training enabled new potential purposes and audiences to be found within the gaming and development sectors.
Exploitation Route The findings of the research suggested that games may be useful for Digital Green and other similar third sector organisations as new methods (1) for training development workers to better understand and initiate dialogue with the communities they work with and learn and practice skills in facilitating groups and (2) for farmers to visualize and explore new strategies for improving their communities. As a result, DG is planning to include game-based learning within their new virtual training platform frameworks they are working on. Working with FoAM Kernow and new contacts developed through the project key project findings will be used to create an open source game design tool as a platform for peer-to-peer learning and knowledge sharing where bespoke game-based learning frameworks can be customised and designed cost-effectively by third sector organisations with appropriate technologies relevant to their training needs and contexts in developing economies.

Another aspect of the project that may be put to use by others is as a method of presenting and transmitting intangible cultural skills and knowledge through art and digital technologies. This may be taken forward and put to use by others as a model for methods of digital scholarship, visual and digital ethnography and presenting, preserving and transmitting initangible skills and knowledge of cultural heritage.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Communities and Social Services/Policy,Creative Economy,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Education,Environment,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections,Other

URL https://www.playtogrow.org
 
Description Over the course of the research the project partner Digital Green became interested in including game-based learning within a new virtual training framework and worked together with the research team to produce a case study on the value of gaming for their primary stakeholders. This project helped them develop their vision and case for support for the development of a new virtual training framework. This project not only showed great potential for innovating strategies of training for both their mediators and farmers to share knowledge and develop skills and practices, but it also generated methods and tools, which are of direct benefit to their wider network of farmers, researcher partners, NGOs, foundations, government agencies, philanthropic foundations and India's Ministry of Rural Development who already played the game during the course of the project. While existing research has found that computer games can promote more direct, self-connection between players and game world events (Klimmt 2009), identification and empathy formation across cultural divides (Bachen et al 2012), influence self-efficacy or impact on motivation, perseverance for success or recovery from failures (Peng 2008), the project generated new knowledge by contributing (1) further evaluation of the efficacy of social impact games, and (2) a specific socio-cultural case study with global applications to related contexts of marginalisation. Furthermore, the iterative design process and evaluation methods employed offer innovative participatory methods of engaging diverse cultural experiences and expert knowledge, which are of direct benefit to games industry professionals in terms of co-designing appropriate, relevant and representative content/platforms for social impact games and game-based learning technologies. As such, the model developed herein will directly impact the wider games industry. The project successfully sustained, developed and expanded a creative and inter-disciplinary partnership between UK and India academics and practitioners working across cultures and disciplines of arts, technology and development. A diverse network of contacts was developed within the games industry and development organisations, which extended those of partners and researchers involved. Altogether, in line with the Nesta Next Gen report (Livingstone 2011), the project brought together expertise in arts and humanities research-led innovation and video game development to promote rigorous interdisciplinary approaches combining academic, commercial industry expertise, and a third sector organisation partnership to address real world challenges.
First Year Of Impact 2014
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink,Communities and Social Services/Policy,Creative Economy,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Education,Environment
Impact Types Cultural,Societal,Economic,Policy & public services

 
Description New Training Methods for Digital Green
Geographic Reach Multiple continents/international 
Policy Influence Type Influenced training of practitioners or researchers
Impact Quantitative and qualitative evaluations of the game-based strategies developed through the Play to Grow project conducted with small-holding farmers in India and Digital Green mediators have shown the direct benefits of integrating game-based activity for training and knowledge-sharing in the development sector. As a result Digital Green will integrate such innovative methods into the development of their virtual training framework to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of their service delivery, provide solutions to rural development problems, and improve the educational and skill level of farming communities.
URL http://www.digitalgreen.org/media/docs/events/Workshop_Report_India_March7.pdf
 
Description Digital Green 
Organisation Digital Green
Country India 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution The research team brought expertise in arts and humanities and design to develop innovative methods for engaging a wider audience for their work, for training village mediators and front-line development workers they work with and for delivering their services.
Collaborator Contribution Digital Green brought their extensive knowledge of working with digital platforms and rural development and their network of NGP organisations, researchers, stakeholders to the project. They helped facilitate and host workshops with farmers that were essential to the co-design methods developed and employed in the project.
Impact The design of the game produced as the main creative output of the research was the result of a multi-disciplinary collaboration involving the following disciplines: interactive storytelling and performance (Dr. Misha Myers), visual storytelling and design (Professor Nina Sabnanai), user testing/HCI (Professor Anirudha Joshi), visual design (Saswat Mahapatra), game design (David Griffiths, FoAM Kernow), rural development (Digital Green).
Start Year 2013
 
Description FoAM Kernow 
Organisation FoAM Kernow
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution The research team brought new participatory and iterative co-design methods to the collaboration with FoAM Kernow. The project also contributed to the organisation's existing portfolio of complementary projects involving games and applications relevant to agriculture.
Collaborator Contribution The digital game prototype was developed by the award winning game developer Dave Griffiths of FoAM Kernow.
Impact The design of the game produced as the main creative output of the research was the result of a multi-disciplinary collaboration involving the following disciplines: interactive storytelling and performance (Dr. Misha Myers), visual storytelling and design (Professor Nina Sabnanai), user testing/HCI (Professor Anirudha Joshi), visual design (Saswat Mahapatra), game design (David Griffiths, FoAM Kernow), rural development (Digital Green).
Start Year 2014
 
Description International Institute of Technology Bombay 
Organisation Indian Institute of Technology Bombay
Country India 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Profs. Nina Sabnani and Anirudha Joshi, both of Indian Institute of Technology Bombay (IITB) joined the research team as new collaborators for the Play to Grow project.
Collaborator Contribution Sabanani and Joshi each contributed to the design of the game produced as the main creative output of the research in collaboration with farmers in the Madhya Pradesh regions of India and mediators and staff of Digital Green. Sabanani and Joshi also brought connections and engagement with Design staff and students at Industrial Design Centre (IDC), IITB, which became the venue for core activities of the project. The evaluations with young adults included in the project were conducted by a group of Master of Design students as a part of the Usability Evaluation course led by Joshi at IITB.
Impact The design of the game produced as the main creative output of the research was the result of a multi-disciplinary collaboration involving the following disciplines: interactive storytelling and performance (Dr. Misha Myers), visual storytelling and design (Professor Nina Sabnanai), user testing/HCI (Professor Anirudha Joshi), visual design (Saswat Mahapatra), game design (David Griffiths, FoAM Kernow), rural development (Digital Green).
Start Year 2013
 
Description Digital Platforms for Social Change Talk (Falmouth) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact 28 Cornwall businesses, academic and professional practitioners attended a talk on the Play to Grow project as part of an event that explored how digital platforms can be used to affect social change, which initiated productive knowlege exchange for future collaborations and innovations. One business commented afterwards that the event allowed 'academia and business to come together, share ideas and explore possibilities'.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL https://www.falmouth.ac.uk/content/digital-platforms-explored-open-air-workshop
 
Description Digital interactive systems conference (Vancouver) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact 20 professional practitioner, industry/business and academic attendees of the Storystorm Workshop at the ACM Design of Interaction Systems Conference 2014, Vancouver, took part in a playtest of Bumper Crop, which initiated discussion and new ideas about potential applications of the research in other fields.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
URL https://sites.google.com/site/wearestorystorm/myers
 
Description Games for Business Impact Talk (Falmouth) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact 25 Cornwall businesses and professional practitioners attended a talk as part of an event exploring the impact of games for business, which initiated questions and interest in related applications and subject areas.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
URL https://www.falmouth.ac.uk/content/beyond-games-impact-game-mechanics-your-business
 
Description Play to Grow Website 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Third sector organisations
Results and Impact Over 2000 downloads have been made of materials made available through the project website, including physical game equipment and three project reports.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013,2014,2015
URL http://playtogrow.org
 
Description Presentation of project findings for national gallery 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact This presentation was part of the UnBox Showcase at the Institute of Contemporary Art, which presented an overview of selected projects from the AHRC / British Council sponsored UnBox Fellowship programme.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Videogames conference (Oxford) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact 34 delegates including professional games industry practitioners and academics attended a talk at a video games conference, which led to an invitation to visit the Play Research Lab in Valenciennes, France, and exchange of ideas for future collaboration.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
URL http://www.inter-disciplinary.net/critical-issues/cyber/videogame-cultures-the-future-of-interactive...
 
Description Workshop (Cornwall) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact 9 members of Duchy Rural Business School staff attended a playtest of Bumper Crop, which initiated interest in using similar game-based methods for training farmers in the UK.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
 
Description Workshop (Delhi) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Third sector organisations
Results and Impact 66 delegates from a global network of rural development NGO's and policy makers, including representatives from Oxfam, PRADAN, DIFED, Gates Foundation, Indian Minister of Rural Development and others, attended a workshop hosted by Digital Green, which included a playtest of the Bumper Crop game as part of the programme of activity. Participation in the playtest led to meetings and discussions with and interest from other organisations (Spring and PRADAN) about developing similar games as innovative tools for promoting knowledge around issues relevant to their services.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
URL http://www.digitalgreen.org/media/docs/events/Workshop_Report_India_March7.pdf