Serious Board Game Jam 2021 : “Strengthening Collaboration and Connecting Ideas through Making Games”

Annisa Arsyad

Observer at SBGJ 2021

PhD Student at Kyoto University

In 2020, I flew from Indonesia to Japan bringing my dream to discover serious games in Japan. As we all know, Japan is a well-known nation for its anime, games, and fictional characters. Although the current reach of Serious Games is not as big as Entertainment games, serious games has become an emerging field and gained attention in both academia and the practical world for the past few years. I believe a country like Japan has its own community with a strong interest in developing serious games, not just for entertainment purposes, but also educational purposes.

In the midst of the pandemic, I finally managed to start my PhD in Kyoto University majoring in Environmental Education. During my study in Japan, I need to do an internship related to my research interest.  My research interest is about the use of serious games to improve learning outcomes for marginalized students. Back in Indonesia, I worked at a small social enterprise, Ecofun Indonesia, where we design, produce and sell educational board games for the Southeast Asian market.

Luckily, I found this Serious Board Game Jam (SBGJ 2021) through Dr. Kazuhiko Ota, who later became my internship supervisor. I was very excited to hear about this SBGJ 2021, because I have never participated in any board game making event before. Most board game events I ever joined were all about playing the games. This is an interesting approach to teach participants on how to learn about an issue by putting them as a game designer and they have to design the game spontaneously in a short period of time. First time in SBGJ 2021? Read my story below!

SBGJ 2021 is the third Game Jam program organized by Dr. Kazuhiko Ota and Akihiro Takakura. The program was held as a series of events, consisting of Webinar, Bibliobattle, Game Jam, and Game Trial. Just like the previous SBGJ, the program is supposed to be held face-to-face in Kumamoto Prefecture, but due to the pandemic situation all programs have been moved to online. SBGJ 2021 Webinar aimed to introduce the process of serious game design and present the current issues of food. The Webinar helped the participants to understand the context before they have to choose the specific food theme for the game. After that, Bibliobattle was held as the continuation from the Webinar. This time, each participant will be asked to share about one book related to the food and present the book summary.

 

In the Game Jam, all participants will be divided into 11 groups. In two days, they had to discuss and build a game prototype under “Food” theme. The Game Jam utilized an interactive gamified platform called GatherTown where participants virtually meet using cute avatars. I was so surprised at how GatherTown brought the session more alive and real.

 

As an observer, I had a chance to listen to the discussion which I was helped by my senpai for the translation from Japanese to English. I thought my role would be to only sit and listen, but I noticed that one group was discussing religion-based food restriction. I thought I can give some additional information related to Muslim dietary based on my personal experience as a muslim. During the observation, I was intrigued by how all participants actively participated in building the game concept and other essential parts of game development. I also had a chance to interact with the SBGJ’s partner. I met Risa-san from unigames and she told me a brief story about unigames and their products. I learned that unigames make a religious themed board game called Caliphate. This game aims for Japanese audiences to learn about Islamic history. I was surprised to see Islamic history-themed game has a place in non-muslim country.  It made me think of how games can engage people to something that is culturally unfamiliar.

From the Game Jam, seven games have been made and presented at the SBGJ 2021 Game Trial. Here is the the list of games (including English title):

  1. Team A : 素晴らしい食卓 (A wonderful table)
  2. Team C : 自分探しのグルメ宇宙人~まだ見ぬ食を求めて(Gourmet aliens looking for themselves-in search of unseen food)
  3. Team D : でたとこレシピ (Detatoko Recipe)
  4. Team E : くまったなぁ (Bear Year)
  5. Team G : 生まれ変わり食餌日記 (Reborn Food Diary)
  6. Team H : 王とリンゴのタルト (King and Apple Tart)
  7. Unigames : これを食わねば俺は死ぬ (Eat and Let Die)

 

Joining the game testing was my favorite session of all SBGJ 2021, because I played the games directly with other participants. Some games are language neutral, and some others are language dependent, thankfully I got help from my senpai to help me in translating the instructions and commands. I found it very interesting that all games have their own uniqueness. I think all groups have worked so hard making this game appealing and visually attractive. Here are some of my discoveries on SBGJ 2021:

 

Games for Raising Empathy and Tolerance

According to the research, games have an ability to deliver one issue from various points of view, which in academia, we call it Transdisciplinary. Although the main theme of the game is food, it is not just about how we eat or what type of food.  The seven games tried to go across discipline by putting social, ideology, historical, economic perspective of food. “A Wonderful Table” game made by team A talked about how to deliver the food based on different dietary requirements. I can see the value of empathy from “素晴らしい食卓 – A Wonderful Table” game. We learned that people around the world have different customs and beliefs which affect their diet. Team A visualized it well. This game can be a good entry for those who want to build empathy by tolerance by respecting someone’s dietary preference. Another example is “これを食わねば俺は死ぬ – Eat and Let Die” by unigames. The premise of this game is how struggling students can feed themselves by making pickles. We learned that not everyone can have a proper way to feed themselves, so “survival mode” is necessary. “Eat and Let Die” offers a strategy on how to survive by arranging and sharing ingredients. I like how the game mission is not only seen from the content, but also from the mechanic (exchanging cards).

 

Game as Time Machine

Flexibility is a word to describe the power of games as educational tools. Some people used games to study about future scenarios and how we can create a better future by making a present change. But, games can also be used to learn about history. Learning about food menu from Medieval age from 王とリンゴのタルト (King and Apple Tart Game) was very satisfying and totally unexpected. The game invited players to guess all ingredients from the assigned menu from the Medieval era. At first, I thought the challenge was very easy, but it turned out that the mission was very hard to guess. I observed that most players guess it wrong, which makes the game more addicting. I think team H has successfully created a simple but tricky game for the users. “King and Apple Tart game” also has a potential to be expanded by creating more series of eras, for example: Viking era, Silk Road era, Shogunate era, etc. There will be more unexpected menus that come from different eras, at the same time, players will learn about food from different periods of history.

 

Board games, but Online

In my opinion, board games have always been seen as a physical product which is played face-to-face. After the pandemic started, we are all forced to run all the activities online as the only choice. I was a bit sceptical to see if board games can be played online, does the interactivity and engagement will still exist? SBGJ 2021 has shown that interactivity from online boardgaming can be achieved. Through SBGJ 2021, I learned some useful digital platforms such as Udonarium and CCFolia to help game designers to showcase games and board-game players to play games. Furthermore, online boardgaming also supports the idea to combine hybrid way of learning by playing. でたとこレシピ (Detatoko Recipe) by team D is one of example on how the game persuade players to look for some clues from the internet and use it to achieve the game mission. The game shares some ingredients and players have to create recipes creatively from those ingredients. If they miss one or two ingredients, the points will be reduced. So, they have to search some references from the internet to verify that their proposed recipes are valid.

 

In summary, my impression of joining SBGJ 2021 is the sense of optimism that everyone can make a game from scratch. Inclusivity is another keyword that I found after joining all sessions. participants come from different backgrounds and are able to work together and unite their ideas through making games. Moreover, I am surprised that the graphic design of all prototypes are visually impressive. My experience of joining online SBGJ 2021 brings me a new perspective of the gaming world in Japan.

 

On my last note, I would like to express big gratitude to Ota-sensei for this opportunity and also all participants who were kind and warm to allow me who doesn’t speak Japanese to participate in the game testing. This experience will enrich my study and also future work as an educator. Using my native language, I want to say “Terima kasih!” (ありがとうございました!)

 

 

 

 

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A Game Story : Living with My Game Console

“I always knew that I was born to play..”

子供の頃 

Selama bulan Ramadhan di Jepang, saya menyisihkan waktu buat main game setelah sahur. Kalau saya tidur langsung habis sahur, biasanya perut jadi agak mual pas bangun. So, saya suka terjaga sebentar sebelum memutuskan untuk tidur kembali. Belakangan ini, saya lagi ketagihan main “Overcooked”, game kolaboratif-kompetitif buatan studio Team17 yang bertema masak-masakan. Ternyata, bermain game setelah sahur ini membawa saya flashback ke masa dulu, which I thought it’s kinda crazy. How childhood video games put permanent effects on me. I have to thank my decision to buy the Nintendo Switch this year (I literally purchased it on January 1st). I’ve been thirsty to play console for years! Also, I have to thank Alvin for showing me his Switch, I played Overcooked for the first time on his console while we’re having New Year’s Eve dinner. It was fun. 

Ritual bermain game setelah sahur itu sudah saya mulai sejak SD. Sebagai anak yang doyan banget game, Ramadhan selalu saya asosiasikan dengan main game. Saya berasumsi kalau main game itu akvitias yang membuat waktu berjalan lebih cepat, biar gak berasa puasanya, hehehe. Meski tentu pasti banyak yang komen “daripada main game mending melakukan amalan sunnah dan mengaji”. Apalah saya ini hamba yang hanya berusaha bertahan agar puasa sampai selesai, hehe. Satu memori yang saya ingat dulu, saya suka banget main game adventure macam Harvest Moon, Harry Potter, dan Crash Bandicoot. 

Dulu saat bulan puasa, saya sempat main “Harry Potter & The Chamber of Secrets” di Play Station 1, as a Potterhead since I was 12 y.o. Playing this HP game is a must for a gamer like me. Plot game sendiri ngikutin persis kayak di novel-nya, which was more exciting. Mulai dari ngendaliin mobil biru-nya Weasley ke the Burrow sampai bertarung melawan Basilisk. Oh gosh, I feel like I can remember everything! Mulai dari soundtrack-nya yang agak agak creepy, visual grafis nya yang bakal bikin mata anak anak Gen-Z puyeng (jaman dulu sih grafiknya masih terlihat wow, hehe), sampai sound effect-nya kayak suara “ugh, agh” tiap Harry manjat dan “Flipendo!” mantra andalan Harry di game yang gak ada di novel, kalau diplesetin bisa jadi “Nintendo!” wkwkwk. Masih kebayang excitement saya yang bikin momen post-sahur sangat indah. I would give anything to time travel back in those days.

Mungkin saya harus berterima kasih ke tetangga saudara saya yang jatuh bangkrut saat itu. Kalau mereka engga bangkrut, saya mungkin gak akan pernah punya PlayStation sendiri. Sodara saya bilang kalau ada tetangga-nya yang bangkrut dan lagi jual-jualin barang milik mereka untuk menebus hutang. Dan entah gimana, Mama saya beli PlayStation 1 bekas milik mereka. This is a blessing in disguise. Masih ingat betul saya gimana rasanya ngeliat PS1 di ruang TV. Rumah bagaikan surga, saya udah gak perlu lagi ngantri main PS di rumah sodara. Namun, PlayStation 1 bukanlah game console pertama yang saya punya. Jauh sebelum PS1, game console pertama yang pernah hadir di rumah itu Nintendo “abal-abal”. Saya bilang abal-abal karena merk console nya bukan Nintendo (entah apa merk-nya), sepertinya game console buatan China yang meniru Nintendo dan kasetnya berisi game Nintendo seperti Ice Climber, Mario Bros, dan Contra (sampai tamat nih main nya!). Dulu, ayah saya sering proyekan di Batam, as you know, yang dikenal dengan pulau yang jual banyak aneka jenis elektronik mulai dari tape recorder, handphone, sampai game. Suatu hari Ayah pulang membawa sebuah kotak besar game console (sayangnya saya lupa merknya apa) ke rumah. Saya duduk di bangku kelas 2 SD, my prime time to learn new things. And I learned it from my very first game console. 

If I can remember my childhood days, I never separate it with games. I play games, even I live with them. I remember how simple my life was back then, I found a reason to wake up every morning.. to play games! Andai saya udah mengenal istilah Ikigai dari kecil, maybe my little-me will say ‘game is my ikigai!’ 🙂 Sayangnya saat itu saya tidak tumbuh dengan ide bahwa game akan menjadi masa depan saya. Saat itu, istilah pro-gamer tidak ada, bahkan saya pun tidak tahu menahu dunia game design. I found no one in my family who does any kind of work related to games. No enabling environment to convince me to take ‘gaming’ as my future. I was too far from the industry, even though I play with the product all the time. 

What goes around, comes back around.

 

環境ゲーム

Sepertinya ada kilatan petir yang menyambar otak saya ketika saya sedang duduk brainstorming bersama peserta conference di Malaysia. Saat itu, kami diminta untuk menciptakan sebuah ide sebagai solusi mengatasi dampak perubahan iklim. Saat itu saya masih mahasiswa semester 4, masa sedang menggebu-gebu nya sama isu perubahan iklim. Disitu tercetus ide di kepala saya untuk membuat simulation game seperti the Sims, tapi perintahnya di-custom agar pemain bisa menerapkan gaya hidup ramah lingkungan. Ide yang menarik, namun sayang saya gak ngerti cara bikin game digital. Alhasil saya putar otak kembali, dan muncullah ide board game ECOFUNOPOLY. Yang tentunya tak bisa saya sangka, ide board game yang sebenarnya iseng-iseng berhadiah ini ternyata malah menjadi proyek yang mengubah hidup saya dan akhirnya mengarahkan saya kembali ke dunia gaming, meski mungkin misi yang saya bawa bersama game Ecofunopoly itu berbeda dengan misi bermain saya waktu kecil. Berangkat dari keilmuan berbasis ekologi yang saya tempuh saat kuliah, ternyata berakhir kembali ke sesuatu yang sebenarnya sangat saya cintai.. Game.

1st Ecofunopoly Playtesting – June 2009

Meski semua terasa berjalan alami, keputusan yang diambil saat kita dewasa bukanlah hal yang mudah. As we know, the more we grow older, the farther we are from choosing the thing we love, which makes us choose the realistic path to our lives. Dengan segala hiruk pikuk kehidupan yang telah saya lalui, saya beruntung sekali diberi jalan oleh Allah untuk kembali melakukan hal yang saya cintai sejak kecil, sepaket dengan adjustment untuk menjalankan model yang sustain lewat jalur entrepreneurship. Engga mudah untuk menjalankan pilihan yang kita cintai tanpa menemukan model yang tepat. Membawa ECOFUNOPOLY ke dunia bisnis is like riding a thrilling ride for me, but I do learn a lot.

Afirmasi terhadap dunia gaming semakin menguat ketika saya berada di ambang keraguan. Saya sedang mencari sebuah jawaban yang tidak bisa saya temukan dari dunia bisnis. I need this answer from a different standpoint. Saya ingat waktu saya baru lulus S2 dengan rasa traumatik (yes, I was traumatized instead of joyful). I promise to myself, “I won’t go back to study again!” namun beberapa bulan kemudian, saya revisi statement saya “well, it’s possible to study again.. with an important note: it has to be something that I really love, it came from me, not from others, not from the current trend or demand”

And, here I am now.. holding my status as a PhD student, who said right from the very first time I met my supervisor “I’m interested in games, I’m interested in climate change education, I want to learn both of them”.

Mungkin terdengar gila kalau dipikir-pikir, I have no degree to support this idea of doing gaming research. Tapi gue jadi lebih fearless (plus nekat) sejak gue mulai berbisnis tanpa modal apa-apa, I start everything from scratch, and I believe if I can survive in entrepreneurial world, so does in academia. So here I am.. bringing games into my academia.

Kalau melihat diri sendiri di posisi sekarang ini, jadi mahasiswa PhD yang mau bikin riset tentang sesuatu yang pernah memberi impact ke masa kecil saya, kadang masih banyak yang gak percaya kalau saya beneran mau riset tentang game, hehe. Mungkin game masih dianggap kayak main-main kah? jadi kelihatannya tidak researchable. Ah mereka aja yang kurang jauh mainnya :p

To me, I found it very cool to spend a lot of time researching games. Reading lots of literature of how researchers test the game, measure the learning effect, examine the features and factors that can engage people better. How interesting!

 Terlebih lagi, saya belajarnya di negara yang salah satu basis ekonomi utamanya itu Game!  

Siapa sih yang gak tumbuh bersama SEGA, Nintendo, Sony Playstation, Namco, Bandai, or you name it. Enabling environment yang saya dapet gak kaleng-kaleng, langsung di Jepang, plus di Kyoto pula! 

Kyoto di mata banyak orang lebih sering dikenal sebagai “Yogyakarta”-nya Jepang, kota yang kaya akan budaya dan sejarah, penuh dengan kuil-kuil dan bangunan tradisional. But did you know that Nintendo company was born here in Kyoto?

 

任天堂 

Ya, Nintendo (kanji: 任天堂) lahir disini, di Kyoto. dan kamu tahu kapan Nintendo lahir? Tahun 1889. Jauh sebelum almarhum nenek saya lahir. Nintendo pertama kali buka toko kecil di Kyoto dengan menjajakan Hanafuda, game kartu bergambar bunga. Buat penggemar Korea, mungkin lebih familiar sama Hwatu, card game yang dimainkan di film Minari sama Space Sweepers. Hanafuda dan Hwatu agak mirip. Satu hal yang bikin saya respect sama Jepang itu bagaimana mereka memulai segalanya lebih awal. Gak cuma game, tapi industri lain. Saya sempat ke museum Pocky di Osaka, terkejut sekali bagaimana Pocky ditemukan tahun 1955, empat tahun sebelum Ayah saya lahir. Gak kebayang memang tahun 1889 itu kayak apa, apakah warga Jepang sudah game-friendly atau belum, tapi yang bikin salut adalah gimana Nintendo bisa terus bertahan dan konsisten melahirkan game-game ciamik. That consistency is another level, bro. Setelah baca perjalanan Nintendo udah lebih dari seabad, rentang waktu Ecofun masih belum ada apa-apanya, instead of making me insecure, it is actually telling me ‘you have time, don’t worry’.

Nintendo’s original headquarters (1889–1950s) in Shimogyo-ku, Kyoto

Ternyata perjalanan Nintendo juga gak mulus-mulus amat. Di buku ‘Range’ karya David Epstein, ada sebuah chapter yang menceritakan seorang laki-laki bernama Gunpei Yokoi. Dia direkrut oleh Nintendo untuk membuat game baru saat Nintendo lagi di ambang kebangkrutan. Surprisingly, Nintendo dulu sempat pivot ke bisnis lain, mulai dari kuliner, taksi, sampe hotel, bukannya cuan, Nintendo malah punya hutang besar. Gunpei Yokoi hadir menyelamatkan perusahaan dengan melahirkan game “Ultra Hand” yang terjual 1,2 juta kopi. Dari penjualan game tersebut, Nintendo berhasil melunasi hutang nya. Gunpei Yokoi terus melahirkan berbagai jenis game yang melejit di pasaran. Karena keberhasilannya mendesain permainan, Presiden Nintendo meminta dia untuk menjalankan R&D untuk pertama kalinya. Dengan penuh kagum saya membaca perjalanan Gunpei Yokoi yang cukup anti-mainstream dalam merancang game. Gunpei Yokoi meninggal tahun 1994, but his philosophy didn’t die with him. Sampai saat ini, Nintendo masih menganut filosofi “Literal Thinking with Withering Technology” atau 枯れた技術の水平思考 “Kareta Gijutsu no Suihei Shikō” dalam proses Research and Development. Dia salah satu orang yang berjasa besar dalam keberhasilan Nintendo sekarang.  

Cerita Nintendo di atas menjadi bagian dari proses discovery saya selama menempuh studi di Jepang. Saya juga belum membahas tentang dunia tabletop game (bakal saya bahas secara terpisah ya), yang mana tabletop game ini menjadi lini utama dari bisnis Ecofun. Game itu memiliki genre yang sangat luas, dan saya tidak mau membatasi diri untuk memilih genre game yang yang saya mau. I am very much open to any kind of games. Rasa penasaran saya semakin memuncak untuk menggali lebih dalam seluk beluk dunia game dan perkembangannya dari masa ke masa.

Back again to my research, I am currently thinking hard to find what I really want to find out in this research. I hope this post can be a stamp to remind me that I should keep going. As Jimin said to himself, “Jimin you’re nice, keep going!”  And of course, I would be happy to write more about games! Dipikir-pikir saya jarang banget nulis soal games ya, malah banyakan nulis soal traveling, andai badanku bisa dibelah-belah, satu nulis game, satu nulis traveling, satu nulis jurnal, Hehe.

I am just happy to be where I am today.

Tiba-tiba, saya teringat mas Hangga, tetangga saya di Shugakuin pernah bilang “asik banget nge-riset tentang apa yang kamu senengin”.  

YES, OF COURSE I AM! 🙂 

I love games, I play games, and I am researching about games!

If you are new to games and curious about it, here are my recommendations to start:

  1.  “High Scores” Documentary on Netflix
  2. “It’s All A Game” Book by Tristan Donovan
  3. Video Games and Pandemic : https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2021/03/20/video-games-pandemic-friends/
  4. Dark Side of the Video Game Industry by Hasan Minhaj https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pLAi_cmly6Q
  5. Settler of Catan, a board game designed by a German dentist https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=niTSTcZkriA

 

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