Participatory Game Design for Life Skills in Rural India: A Multi-Site Case Study

Sreeram Kongeseri, Srividya Sheshadri, Alexander Muir, Christopher Coley and Rao R Bhavani

Extended Abstract

We present a game concept designed to teach life skills in rural India: ​Abhi Ya Kabhi (AYK, pronounced ah­BEE ya ka­BEE) meaning “If not now, then when?” This concept has been designed in a highly participatory process with forty participants in five rural village sites across five states in India. The concept includes a light strategy game for people with low to middle general literacy, as well as low game literacy. The rural Indian population is mostly at or below the poverty line, and wrestles with multiple “wicked problems.” Our participatory model is designed to be contextually sensitive and maximally productive for the target communities. In our series of exploratory case studies, AYK has shown itself to work at two levels. Firstly, the activities train the players in decision making relating to money management, happiness and well­being. Then, the discussion activities around the game support the participants in identifying and defining the real­life problems they face, and reflecting constructively upon them. As it occurs as part of a game, the feeling of ‘play’ enables more freedom for discussion than the often rigid social norms village life typically allows; bringing people together across caste, gender, age and economic divides. Indeed, our fieldwork team found AYK to be a surprisingly effective tool for creating a relaxed yet purposeful rapport with villagers — more so than the more formal development programs they also run.
The participation model, described here in detail, goes beyond simple player feedback to actively engaging with the participating communities that spur significant conversations within the village on sensitive social matters. Our main finding is that encouraging participation in game design and play moves from a simple sense of getting players’ input, to supporting the community itself to come together around key social issues. We bridge the related concepts of participatory design, as in the Scandinavian approach to IT design and participatory development (from the field of social science and development work in the developing world). Based on our observations from field testing AYK, we suggest four facets of meaningfully engaging participants.