Play to Grow is an Arts Humanities Research Council (AHRC) funded research project exploring and testing the use of computer games as a method of storytelling and learning to engage urban users in complexities of rural development, agricultural practices and issues facing farmers in India.

Play to Grow follows on from the Arts Humanities Research Council, British Council and Science & Innovation Network funded UnBox Fellowship in India in February 2013. Working in partnership with the Delhi based non-profit organisation Digital Green, the UnBox Fellows Dr. Misha Myers, Saswat Mahapatra and Joshua Oliver designed Crop Cycle, a live action prototype for an online interactive social impact game aimed at promoting a better understanding of the reality of small farmers’ lives in India. In Play to Grow, the next phase of development of the game is  advanced by a new project team led by Dr. Misha Myers (Falmouth University) as Principal Investigator, and including Saswat Mahapatra as Animation Consultant, Associate Professor Nina Sabnani (IIT Bombay) as Video Consultant, and Professor Anirudha Joshi (IIT Bombay) as User Research Consultant.


Research Question
While social impact games are an expanding sub-genre of serious games, further robust evaluation and comparative study is necessary to determine what game technology and design properties and mechanisms might be most effective at promoting change-related agendas. While there is a range of activity in this area, there is also a need for more focused research on specific sociocultural contexts.

The Context
While small farmers symbolise the Indian countryside, their livelihood and existence is threatened by inequalities in bargaining powers of growers, financiers and distributors of food. Market-led economic reform in India threatens to intensify inequalities directly linked to hierarchies of power that prevail across rural Indian society, related to caste, gender, religion and politics. Representation of farmers takes a variety of forms in Indian media (e.g., rising food prices, GM versus organic debates) with farmers portrayed as poor and plagued by suicide (Padney & Kaur 2009).
Romanticised perceptions of village life persist amongst urban elites as does an urban-rural divide. While India has the third most socially active web-connected citizens worldwide with many of these from urban areas who connect on social media to discuss politics (Shrinivasan and Anwer 2012), realities of farmers’ lives in India remain relatively unknown and misunderstood by most web-connected urban users.

Aims & Objectives
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’s main aim is to leverage that knowledge through a social impact game. By increasing their awareness, empathy and identification with the crisis that is facing small Indian farmers, we endeavor to develop and test a game aimed at motivating urban users to take action that can promote farmers’, urban inhabitants’ and India’s socio-economic sustainability.

Our partner Digital Green’s primary business 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.  After consulting with farmers during the UnBox Fellowship, the team decided to focus on interaction with this video content within the game narrative. With our prototype and a user evaluation method we will playtest the game and consult with the project’s stakeholders to determine its efficacy at promoting a change-related agenda.

The Prototype
In Crop Cycle the player’s goal is to grow food to put on their table. Following the entire cycle of growing a crop to getting it to market, the player must undertake specific tasks and solve problems with their progress determined by choices made to form alliances or co-operatives to work towards mutually beneficial goals, or to farm by ox or tractor.
The player’s success or failure is also determined by weather, fuel, health and market cards which include narratives based on real-world challenges faced by farmers such as monsoons, drought, insect infestations, malaria, inadequate access to electricity, insufficient
The game invites players to make choices that require negotiation and discussion of different issues and values of farming in India, such as the mechanisation of farming over traditional practices, use of pesticides over more organic methods, etc.

Funding Support
This project is funded by the Arts Humanities Research Council and follows on from the UnBox Fellowship funded by AHRC,  British Council, Science & Innovation Network, UK.