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Let the games begin

As part of her undergraduate thesis, student of BITS Goa, Mahima Samant designed two live action role playing (LARP) games inspired by the escape room format and set against the backdrop of the Goa Chitra Ethnographic Museum, Benaulim. Through her thesis, Mahima seeks to design and test different types of real-world story-based quests at Goa Chitra and see how ‘play’ can promote a first-hand learning of culture and history. In conversation with NT BUZZ

ANNA FERNANDES | NT BUZZ

Q. Tell us about the games you will launch at Goa Chitra. What is your main objective?

‘Lost in Time’ is a practical game about a tribe’s quest for survival and identity in a land where the lines between past and present are blurred, while ‘Thus the wheel spoke’, a more philosophical game, is a magical quest for the perpetual motion machine. The conceptualisation for these games began as I combed through the artefacts at Goa Chakra (museum dedicated to the wheel) and started researching old stories. I imagined all sorts of possible interconnections and delved deep into various sources of information. Eventually there was the process of scripting, deciding props, trial runs and other logistics. These two games begin with an all-knowing ancestral spirit guiding the players through a narrative with various riddles, tasks and questions to reach the final goal. My objective is to create an immersive experience so people can make these stories come alive and understand the value of our shared past in the making of the present.

Q. Who is your target audience?

Everyone. Initially I thought the game format would work better with younger people and college students. But during the course of the trial runs I discovered adults connect with the deeper themes and give valuable insights in the discussions after the game. These games are for anyone who wants to connect with culture and people in a new way.

Q. What has the feedback been like based on the trial run of the games? Did the user experience differ based on age group?

The feedback has been good. With regard to the age group between 10 and 30 years, they had a wonderful time with the tasks, stories, and brain busting. A 21-year-old player told me that she never liked social science as a subject but through the game she began to enjoy it and was intrigued by its nuances. Older people who played it said that the game was a uniquely nostalgic experience for them and raised questions about how today’s world could use older communities as examples to combat issues of loss of identity and loneliness.

Q. How do the games bring to life the rich history of the Goa that is displayed at Goa Chitra?

Goa Chitra has painstakingly restored so many objects that would have otherwise been limited to descriptions in a few texts or would have disappeared from human recollection. Through these games they are elevated from facts and information to relics that represent the way of life of a Goa and India influenced by dynasties such as the Portuguese, Sultans, Marathas, British, and many others. The players look at them not as mere objects but functional beings that are entwined with life. In fact, the secret tasks facilitate this connection even more.

Q. What is gamification and how does it enhance the museum-going experience? What are some elements that make the experience appealing?

Gamification is the concept of using game mechanics to promote non-game contexts. Here it’s using fantasy quests as an alternate means of exploring a museum. Since there is a purpose to the quest, players constantly strive to understand the narrative and their place in it. Also, elements such as puzzles and questions to reach the next level make them wrack their brains in ways they never imagined. However, the best part of the game is the direct interactions and tasks gamification offers in a story-based format. This makes the entire experience quite practical and enjoyable.

Q. One of the main objectives of gamification is to promote first-hand learning. How can history and culture be studied and explored through this exercise?

In today’s age we mostly study history and culture through a third person perspective in text-books as factually accurate paragraphs. This is a fantasy game influenced by history, it places you with a first-person perspective in a fictional narrative with bizarre seeming situations. So, we look at history and culture not as something to deliberately memorise and copy, but to explore with artistic license and get familiar with. It is this two-way friendly dialogue between players and the historical facets of the game that promote first-hand learning.

Q. We live in an age that is characterised by rationalisation and disenchantment. In that respect how does gamification encourage users to use their imagination and think creatively?

If we look back at the diverse past of festivals, rituals and occupations that people collectively practiced, it is clear that they emerged as a response to the constant risks and mysteries they lived through, in the absence of all-powerful technology. Unpredictable nature, wars, diseases, and so much more were their everyday reality and these community struggles and questions shaped them. Today the world still struggles with similar as well as different issues but the demons we blame are not mysterious forces or moody fate, and so there is disenchantment and a sordid acceptance. Through games we place players in an imagined world and allow them to creatively use their bodies and brains to explore questions most of us vaguely wonder about but rarely discuss. We are born with the innate need to play if we look back on the make-believe games we used to play in our childhood. Gamification helps us tap into that need and ignite our imagination.

Q. In the name of development our local heritage, traditions and cultures are in danger of being lost. What are some steps we can take to safeguard our history?

There is some amount of admirable work being done for the preservation of local heritage but unfortunately it tends to be limited to very niche circles due to lack of government intervention and aid. The issue is that people feel in the midst of problems such as over-population, unemployment and global warming, that preservation of local heritage is not a pressing issue. Technology for development is looked upon to provide answers just as people use pain relievers for headaches. The truth is culture has evolved over the years to nourish society just as nature evolves to give us natural resources. At the rate we are going we might just end up popping technology quick fixes and forget our own social responsibilities as a community. Of course, the past is hardly perfect. We do not need to replicate it but understanding it will certainly go a long way in helping us tackle current issues in an innovative way. And so, we the general public need to start taking initiative instead of waiting around for the government to wave a magic wand.

(The two live action role playing games will be launched on August 3 and August 4 at Goa Chitra Ethnographic Museum, Benaulim. In case the slots fill up, those interested will be allotted another weekend slot as per their convenience. Pre-registration is compulsory. Details: 9850466165/22772910-11)

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