Last year I made part of Brown University's GEI immersive research fellowship. It took place in Cape Town, where we were tasked with generating sustainable and inclusive entrepreneurial opportunities for its township context. My proposal is a free mobile app that gamifies the experience of starting a small business in the townships of Cape Town. Disguised as a game, it seeks to teach basic administrative and financial skills needed by any township entrepreneur.
The premise of the GEI research fellowship was to create entrepreneurial opportunities. However, after months of immersive research it became clear that 'entrepreneurship' was in fact not an inherent cultural trait to the local community. There were not only scarce role models in the field but the limited access to pertinent education and aspirational jobs were leaving young adults with little motivation and empowerment to seek the entrepreneurial career path. So, I thought to myself, how may we provide these kids with useful skills and motivate them to seek an entrepreneurial career?
I wanted to figure a way in which to break the entrepreneurial 'ice' with young adults. Gamifying the most popular entrepreneurial initiatives in the townships of Cape Town would make the experience more accessible to them. The idea is to provide a fun and indirect way to help them get familiar with the process of starting a business. It'll teach basic administrative and financial skills by posing real challenges, allowing space for mistakes, and repetition.
HOW THIS WOULD WORK
For this idea to work, the collaboration of local experts in Business, Social Innovation, and Programming is imperative. For which, while in Cape Town, the following stakeholders were identified:
CAPE TOWN UNIVERSITY'S BERTHA CENTRE Specialists in Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship. For insight on the key administrative and financial skills needed by township entrepreneurs.
PLATFORM 45 Cape Town based mobile and web software development company. For collaboration on the game's interface & experience design and programming.
Access to computers, and the internet for that matter, is extremely limited in the township context. However, BlackBerrys is the most common cell phone brand in the Cape Town townships, and BlackBerry Curves the most popular phone. Via data bundles people can access information and communicate from their devices.This is our opportunity to reach them. Even though smartphones are popular and the phone of 'choice', not many young adults own them. BlackBerrys give us a particular set of constraints for interface and interaction design. Adjusting to its hardware and software parameters will mold the nature and look of the game.
GAMEPLAY As a speculative design, the idea is that gameplay should be similar to that of SimCity. The player needs to be involved in the process of building and the developing of its business. The experience should go from selecting the type of shop (barber shop/salon or a Spaza), its location, the player's avatar shop-owner, to selecting stock items and the decor of the shop itself. Then, the player will observe and monitor the progress of its business and interact by answering simple decision-making prompts (such as those seen in popular "educational" economics game Drug Wars/Dope Wars.) With these decisions, the player will test and grow its knowledge of entrepreneurial skills by figuring out best practices.
OBJECTIVE The objective of the game is to build, maintain and grow a business of a specific kind in a simplified simulation of the Cape Town township context.
INDICATORS AND SETTINGS There should be progress bars that let the player know the state of each challenge category. For instance: customer satisfaction, stock, capital, debt, etc. The player should be able to access and alter the settings of its business to restore progress on these parameters. Which would be similar to managing a pandemic in the game Plague Inc. (click here to watch a clip.)
VIEWPOINTS The game should be based on 3 different points of view. First, a macro isometric view of the game, showing the shop and its surroundings: customers, roads, competitor shops, wholesalers and other services. Then, there should be a isometric view of the inside of the shop to visually monitor its present state and its progress bars (ex. how many customers are waiting, cleanliness, safety measures, etc.). This should be the main view of the game. Finally, there should be a click-in menu display, as a "control room" where to access parameters of the game, where the player will generate actions to make necessary changes to advance in the game
FICTIONAL TIME The fictional time should be an accelerated time-lapse of our normal day hours, mimicking real customer behavior. However, the game shouldn't be too short that the complexity of running a business is lost, nor too long that restarting after losing becomes discouraging.
ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE What makes this game useful is that the Artificial Intelligence of the game will pose hurdles inspired on real-life problems often faced in the townships of Cape Town. It will mimic user behavior according to the district you pick to set your shop in. Including delivery fee and time of stock from wholesalers, etc.
AESTHETICS The aesthetics should be developed in collaboration with experts and actual young adults from the township context. It should represent their environment in a descriptive yet simplified way due to the capacity restrictions of a BlackBerry Curve. Some references can be Monument Valley: Forgotten Shores or Sega's 1987 version of OutRun. Simple, color-blocked, minimal game aesthetics.