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Thursday, December 24, 2009

One last post from Saint Lucia

Check out a collection of photos from our experience at the EMC blog:

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Poverty in Paradise

We are in the airport in Saint Lucia. We've been here awhile. Our flight is delayed from New York. We are assuming it is on the US side as it is beautiful weather here - as it seems almost always to be. So families and friends you may expect that we might not be in tonight. They expect us not to leave for two hours after our scheduled departure. This means our layover in NYC is very tight.
We've just spent a luscious day and a half in beautiful Saint Lucia. We explored the beaches, the sun, the shopping! The students finalized their Christmas shopping, explored, and did some saltwater swimming at the beach in Rodney Bay. Wendi, Ray, Jim and I were able to explore the national park at Pigeon Island. All of us were able to see some of the weddings the island is known for.
Away from our work, we saw the island more the way a traditional tourist would. We explored the darker side of the touristic events with a street party at Gros Islet - where stray dogs begged and then fought over plates of street food and poorer residents tried over and over to sell us braided palm and beads for much too much money.

However we also saw the beauty of a very fine restaurant and hotel with a pool that seemed more at place in Disney World. We strolled lovely beaches and met other tourists from around the world. The salt water and sunny skies called us to pull up stakes and relocate to Saint Lucia. And we began to understand and appreciate the pace of life here as a T-shirt Jim found that stated "Live Slow, Saint Lucia".
The striking thing is the paradox of poverty in paradise: the beauty of the surroundings and the beaten up nature of the living conditions. One thing I do know for sure, the people here are confident, polite, friendly, complex, and in charge of their destinies.

To see more of the contrasting images please visit our Emergent Media Center Facebook page and look through our photo albums.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Heart of a Culture

Part of the wonder of this project is being able to visit the heart of a culture – their children. It still amazes me how we've gotten to understand and know the children of this island within the context of their school lives. In a school one also sees how a community cares and teaches its children the knowledge it wishes to impart. Much like our visit to Africa, we are discovering the children here to be curious, affectionate, and open to us. In these communities, though also in poverty, there is an even greater knowledge of technology and how to use it. The schools however still do not seem to possess much. We find that the children may or may not know how to read.
Today we are compiling all our findings and I thought that it would be good to share some of my observations on the localities in which we ran the game tests.

Dennery: When we arrived in at the school in Dennery, we drove into a large empty parking lot to a series of low buildings that were had U shaped courtyards. Water faucets were outdoors (as we discovered they were at all the schools). There were two sports fields behind the buildings. One had a chain link fence surrounding it and a cricket match was in play. Despite 80 degree heat the players were in full uniform similar to old-fashioned baseball uniforms from around the turn of the century on the US. The field without the fence was the soccer/football field. Dogs and goats wandered freely in the parking lot and sat under the eves for shade.

The children were selected by the physical education teacher/coach. They all were football enthusiasts. As we were let into the classrooms the children were lined up outside the building sitting on a ledge. The classrooms were a bit ragged with open concrete grid work for ventilation.

The desks were an assemblage of wooden hand made child sized picnic tables or desks made of wood similar to the desks in our game but no metal legs. One classroom in particular was very gaily painted with primary colors and messages and objects upon the walls – it was their music room. Later we discovered that it was done by our PMC coordinator Alleyne’s wife.

Vieux Fort: After along drive through narrow twisting roads where cars passed –but just barely we arrived in Vieux Fort some children were waiting for us. Wendi logged the children in as rooms were opened up for us to test in. Each group of testers got a single classroom. The classrooms were like an arrow pointing to the highway (widest in Saint Lucia that we encountered) and were loud due to the proximately to the highway especially that classroom nearest the road (about 40 feet from the road).

Here horses walked freely along the roadside along with short versions of tractor-trailers and cars. The schoolyard was set up in a U shape with a high fence solid all around. The courtyard was paved with blacktop and exposed fully to the sun. Behind it was the technical school and playing fields. These classrooms seemed even poorer than those in Dennery with broken furniture, floor tiles, and water on the classroom seats from rain coming through the ceiling. Again it was open grid work ventilation. The desks were like those in our game for the most part. The chalkboards were dark green and light green some that could hardly take chalk anymore. Some signs were on the walls that contain motivational phrases, some information posters but not many.

Soufriere: Soufriere seemed to be geographically more remote. It is on the Caribbean coastline and to get to it, one drives a very rugged coastline through some very poor looking coastal towns. The town itself, though it is a tourist destination for the cruise ships is ramshackle and looks glued together. There is a coconut oil processing plant across from the school. It seems to be falling apart but has recently gotten a government grant to be updated. It used to employ about 300 workers and now has about 50.

When we arrived at Soufriere we drove into a school that had a classroom facilities and architecture much like those we had seen before but it was in one of the most spectacular settings with the Pitons rising above the school courtyard. The fenced in school and courtyard were off the road with large trees in the courtyard. It was colorful and looked inviting.

However we were not to do the testing in the classrooms. Instead there was a long building that housed the teacher resource room. It was air-conditioned and full of many sorts of learning materials: posters, manipulatives, and even books! This meant again that we would share the testing space. Two groups were in one room with conference like furniture. The other three were in a classroom like setting more familiar to American eyes with tables and chairs sized to groups of children.

However there was confusion when we arrived due to miscommunication. The person who had arranged to host us was an official of the football association and a local coach. They thought an American Football Team was coming to play against their team! There was a large football stadium behind the school complex. It had the largest playing field in Saint Lucia until they recently build the stadium for it. The stadium had multiple tiers of seats, an announcer room and a roof. It was full of mothers and children who had expected the American team. There was a young boy with a crowd of other young boys around him avidly playing upon his Nintendo DS.

A football match was live in session between two towns in the field. These children were our test subjects.

The coach could not pull the young people form their match which had two more hours to go. So after much negotiation and flexible thinking we were able to round up a group first of ten – then twenty children! We only needed ten children for the best results. They fell nicely within the demographics for our game. We split the group into two under a large tree in front of the Teachers’ Resource building. Wendi and I took half of the group of eight ranging in age from nine to thirteen and sat outside asking the marketing questions. A big takeaway for me was that they accessed the web both on the computer and through mobile. Often this was through the use of relatives’ hardware. They all played games – especially anything to do with football/soccer. And many used Facebook and some played Farmville. Another ah ha was that they have a girl on their football team much like in our game concept. Luckily she was one of the children being tested in the building by our Champlain team. She was the football coach’s niece.

The lack of ability to read should not be surprising. Much like in Africa, in general the classrooms here do not contain much. There is a definite lack of reading materials available in the schools. No books and yet the children manage to access the web through mobile and computer. Truly if information could be delivered in an engaging way (what is more engaging to a child than play and games) through the internet, we could educate a world – and in doing so compound the human capital and end poverty and much more besides. So do I believe in educational games? This trip only reinforces my belief. Do I think the entertainment world will rise to the question? Not yet. Do I think we are working towards solutions and that this process will deliver on this? Sure do.

Close-up photo of young boy in red shirt by Mollie Coons during our tests.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Day Three in Saint Lucia

Merry Christmas from a classroom in Saint Lucia. The children are all on break but we've been fortunate. Alleyne the PMC representative in Saint Lucia has rounded up children and teachers/coaches across this island to participate in our testing of the game.

The internet at the Inn can be iffy. I’m not sure if it is because of the amount of techies that have descended on it or that’s just the way it is. Long and short it took about 3 hours to try to upload our photos to Facebook and only partially succeeded.

Luckily our first day of testing, Wednesday, was very successful. We went to two schools. One in Dennery and one in Vieux Fort. We were able to work with approximately 30 boys between the ages of 8-15, and one girl. The group was a good slice of the demographic we are creating the game for.

Mollie relates that it was interesting when the goats and the horses walked into the classrooms.
Other observations from the Champlain College students are in regards to the game. There were slight differences in how the boys viewed aspects of the game dependent on age. Most of the participants thought that the game characters were roughly the age we created them to be although Mary was thought to be slightly older than we targeted. As for where the game characters came from – it ran a range from Brazil to Georgia to England to eastern Caribbean to a hotel (this makes sense because of the influx of tourist on Saint Lucia and the corresponding ethnicity discrepancy).

As for the game play that varied. One aspect was how they used the keyboard. There was a range in how they used it – some proficient and quick, others used two hands in a unique way and even collaboratively shared the keyboard. We tested both the skill-based games and the narrative. We did have some technical problems but even that brought forth interesting information. For example with a test in which the audio did not play throughout, a small group of boys they would follow along with the dialogue with voice over and refer to each other to make selections. When the play switched to the skill building games they would play singularly.

What was rewarding was that the boys wanted to continue to play and even asked where they could get the game. The only thing that trumped their desire to play the games was an actual soccer/football game that began when almost all the testing was completed. In that game Alex and Ray even jumped in to play!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Testing in Saint Lucia the Week Before Christmas

Twas the week before Christmas and all through Champlain,
the students were being tested except for a few...
And those few were the testing team from the Emergent Media Center and Population Media Center working on this project.

Until December 20th we are as far from snow and ice as a Vermont resident could get at this time of year. We are in the Caribbean island of Saint Lucia population around 180,000. The residents are 80% Catholic and equally of African descent. However this little island holds many more as over 500,000 tourists visit it a year. The economy is largely based on tourism, in fact we heard it is one of the most popular destinations in the world for honeymoons. Previously, an economic mainstay was the banana crop until other nations were able to grow and harvest them for a much cheaper price. The worldwide economic downturn has effected this small island nation as well.

We departed from Burlington, Vermont yesterday at the early hour of 5:30AM and after a long day of flights and a drive of about an hour arrived in Rodney Bay in the Northern end of the island.
We drove through roads that twisted and turned up through volcanic mountainsides, through the rain forest and past banana plantations. The weather is very warm and the colors are vibrant. Those we have met here are confident and friendly with a good sense of laughter.

Today we have spent most of the day in a small conference room preparing for a week of tests. We will be testing aspects of Episode I of the game in four different schools - one from each quadrant of the island. Stay tuned.

Friday, December 4, 2009

It's CRUNCH time!

In the game industry "crunch time" is the "critical period of time in which it is neccesary to work hard and fast" usually before a final milestone or shipping. Here's a link to a fun definition in Urban Dictionary, read the first one:

Here at the EMC it is the same on a number of fronts but particularily in regards to our game to end violence against women. We are promised to deliver Episode I, suitable for testing by the end of this month. At the same time, it is finals and the holiday season here. Everything is in high gear. The art team has planned a mass render of the poses and animations to be completed by early next week (did I mention they are still producing the poses and animations), the narrative team is realigning the storyline to encompasses a revised and powerful dynamic based on a conversation with UNFPA this week, the programmers will be incorporating the rendered art into the Episode and the UI and storyboard team are pushing to get those completed as well.

Then there's the rest of our team! We are planning the following for the next two weeks:

  1. a presentation to Dwight Assets about the project and thanking them for their support.
  2. a proposal to the UN for funding to get the project through to the World Cup,

  3. multiple meetings and brainstorming sessions with advisors from EA, A2M and JDK,

  4. producing the market plan and the mobile plan,

  5. and conducting a field test of the game in St. Lucia from Dec. 14-20 with a team of 12,

  6. a "mind meld" of other groups on and off campus to discuss the issue of violence against women!

So come join us for the “Mind-meld” Drop-In Discussion:
Violence Against Women ( ) Wednesday, December 9th

4:00 – 5:30 pm.

Miller Information Commons, Vista Room, 3rd floor

Cookies and cider will be provided.

And stay tuned for updates from our tests in St. Lucia!