The SimPa story in words

Posted on June 11, 2009


scr_Hokonui2 copyLooking back (and forward!), SimPa is quite different to how we first conceived it. Despite these differences,  or perhaps because of them, it has far exceeded our expectations.  Here’s the first stab at the words to follow the SimPa pictures (these are my personal thoughts, Tori is doing the same, tomorrow they join forces to become a real paper).

At the start of the project we proposed a process of participatory development for each Runaka. For each group we saw a process of helping the community identify important stories and then converting these stories to a game-based environment. Of primary importance was the “SimPa toolkit”. We hoped that the resultant GamePa would be used in engaging and educating the community. “Sustained interactivity” would be the use of these GamePa with Runaka work with schools and possibly in tourism ventures etc. We saw a new field, that of the “Maori digital education specialist”.

So, how did we do?     SimPa is better than we expected, different yes, but better:

– the linear flow of the Simpa development has been very much more organic.

– the SimPa toolkit has been much more about process – partnerships of ideas and capabilities – than about the technology.

– the partnership has evolved significantly.  The most important change was a realisation that to achieve the outcomes the SimPa team had to be indistinguishably both Otago Polytechnic and Iwi.   The most successful capacity building has been of this evolving team.  We see this as a very positive outcome.

– the intended target for the project “the teenagers dis-engaged from both their culture and education” proved hard to hit.  We  had most success with people in with young families (widely recognised as crucial for cultural development), the very young, and the more mature.   Some of the Runaka, though, are actively using SimPa to connect with their youth.

– the use of SimPa as recruitment tool for students into computing did not occur.   There is a role for the “Maori digital education specialist” but it is difficult to see a predictable career path into this.

– the project has taken far more partnership negotiation than we ever imagined.  This has been constant and evolving.   We believe that this model of engagement could be the model for further partnership.

– the development of each GamePa has been quite different to what we expected.   None of the five runaka GamePa could be considered “games”.  All, though have made extensive use of the 3d gaming environment.

– the recreation of the landscapes (the first stage on the original process) had a fundamental impact on the runaka.   Without exception, the engagement at that stage was sufficient that further development (of the game environment) was unnecessary.  No groups developed characters with scripted behaviour, in all, the landscape is the foundation of the story.

– runaka have had some extremely interesting debates about digital representation of images.  For landscapes the debates are sometimes pragmatic – how to represent an area one group insists was always grassland whereas other families remember playing in the forest that once stood there.  For people and stories, we need to recognise that there is rarely an objective truth.  As the stories become older, the representation of a single image in a digital setting becomes problematic – just what did this ancestor look like?   In part this was avoided by not having direct characters, but also by recognising that this is “our” version of the story, it is quite acceptable for you to tell another version.

– every runaka saw the potential for combining the game environment with other digital media – primarily audio and video.  This occurred in both directions, the incorporation of audio narratives in the game environment, and, completely unexpectedly, with the use of the game environment as “film sets” for telling more complex narratives.  While the stories are hosted in the game environment, this was used a platform for further engagement.

– while we were explicitly funded on the promise of game-based narratives, we have spent a very great deal of time engaged in wider knowledge – and wider applications of digital technology.  For, example, one runaka has a long held a special role as archivists for the Iwi.    They saw the potential for SimPa to help with this role.   Before we could sensibly talk game environments, we spent a very long time helping the runaka with editing and sustaining existing media.

– every runaka produced a “GamePa”.   In the original funding application the GamePa were described using deliberately ambiguous terms.  This was to allow each Runaka to tell their own stories.   We did not expect the form of the GamePa to vary so much.

– we expected the project to focus on the original GamePa.  We expected these to be developed as robust products (along the lines of a packaged game).  We expected any further benefits to come from the use of the GamePa in marae-based teaching etc.   These benefits did occur (despite the lack of polish), with most of the runuka actively using their GamePa for “virtual tours”.

– we have been surprised by the surprise shown nationally and internationally that we were leaving the stories with the respective Papatipu Runaka.   The assumption is that a project such as ours results in a contribution to a central archive.   We have taken a very different approach:  we have helped the Runaka retell their stories to themselves.    In their new form they are still knowledge transitted and retained within each Runaka.   Even as project manager, I have not seen several of the GamePa.

– the best thing to come from the SimPa is the initiatives beyond the original GamePa.  This demonstrates a very successful community adoption of digital media.   These initiatives have included both game environment form and video form of GamePa, but put to quite unexpected uses.

–  the subject matter has extended beyond the traditional stories to include contemporary narratives: the story of Puketaraki’s new carvings, and Moeraki’s expedition to Te Papa.

– the relationship between SimPa and landscape was further explored by the Otakou runaka who used it in visioning wetland restoration to reform mahika kai.