Saturday, May 26, 2007

One Laptop Per Child Game Jam

This story about a new One Laptop Per Chlid (OLPC) initiative came through quite the conduit of blog posts--including Wonderland blog and the Serious Games Source. The group that coordinates OLPC recently announced that it will be holding a 3-day long "game jam" in June, bringing together developers, educators and artists to create a series of open source edugames for its XO, hand-cranked laptop (designed to give kids in developing countries access to computer and internet technologies). According to the Serious Games Source:
The weekend game jam will gather game developers, educators, authors, musicians, artists, and writers from around the US to work around the clock to create the games that will then be released under an open license, and featured at San Francisco's Experimental Gameplay Workshop. The winning team will receive a production model XO laptop and free passes to 2008's Game Developers Conference.

I'm not sure what the different areas of expertise of those involved will be, but I immediately wonder if (and hope) they will include play/games scholars, anthropologists, folklorists or others with an understanding of intercultural, not-merely-Western approaches to play. The US-centricity of this project has always been problematic, as demonstrated by its critics, and it would be a shame to overlook important cultural differences in play and games when the team designs these first games. Caillois' hierarchical notions of ludus vs. paidia play also spring to mind--as does the possibility of a sort of cultural determinism that could see highly rationalized games privileged under the guise that these are necessarily more "educational" or "better" than other, non-rational forms of play. (Even though open source could/would then allow a more malleable trajectory)

I'm also quite surprised that there is no mention of child-participants in the OLPC game jam. Perhaps they have already done some participant design research or user-centered design with kids, but it nonetheless seems important that children--particularly children from different backgrounds and with different skill sets--be somehow involved in the creative process. This would seem to be in accord with their own statement of principles, which includes the following:

Our commitment to software freedom gives children the opportunity to use their laptop computers on their own terms. While we do not expect every child to become a programmer, we do not want any ceiling imposed on those children who choose to modify their machines. We are using open-document formats for much the same reason: transparency is empowering. The children—and their teachers—will have the freedom to reshape, reinvent, and reapply their software, hardware, and content.

Either way, I'll be keeping an eye on what comes out of the project and what kind of games are ultimately selected. In the meantime, you can read a summary of the critiques against the OLPC project on Lee Felsenstein's blog here.

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