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I write this from the greyhound bus between Burlington and Montreal.  I’ll be making this commute roughly every week for the forseeable future.  I spend most of the week in Burlington then head back to Montreal for the weekends to take care of things on that side of the border.  I have rented one apartment on each side (rooms, actually,) so my biggest ongoing concern is my cat, Ornette.  I don’t own a car, the bus doesn’t allow pets, and anyhow he is old and frail, so I can’t shuttle him back and forth.  No matter where he lives, I need to find someone willing to take care of him for the half week when i’m not around.   This weighs on my mind.

Anyhow.  Practically speaking, that’s how I’m doing all of these projects in two countries at once.

So far this week, my “hello world” post hit the blogosphere, apparently stirred up some controversy amongst game journalists (based on what little information they had, i take it) and garnered a bit of publicity for the projects.  Cool.

I want to further introduce our partner organization on the UNFPA-funded game, the Population Media Center.  This Vermont-based non-profit is a leader in developing entertainment-education in partnership with local populations in the developing world.  Their principles are based on the research, writing, and life work of Miguel Sabido.  In the 70’s, Sabido (then Vice President of Research at Mexico’s Televisa) realized the degree to which television watchers in Latin America were inspired by the characters in serial entertainment (telenovelas) to make changes in their lives.  For instance, a storyline that included a female protagonist buying a sewing machine and starting her own small business led to an unprecedented increase in the sales of sewing machines.

Building from the basic principle that we learn behaviors from watching the experiences of peers, and from archetypical characters and stories, Sabido focused on creating entertainment that also embodied positive social values.  Media created following the Sabido methodology is first and foremost entertainment.  But underlying the characters’ motivations, values, and behaviors is the idea that by successfully modeling positive and negative behaviors, and showing the outcome of each, and by showing that it’s possible for a person to grow and change, people WILL see that more options are available to them, and act on that knowledge.  The basic fact is, it works.

Until now, however, every single media campaign following Sabido’s principles has been long form linear narrative: telenovelas and radio dramas.  None have ever been interactive.  SO our challenge on the project is to take the wisdom gained by PMC’s years of experience in creating Sabido-style programs, and combine that with our own knowledge of game mechanics, interactivity, systems design, and so forth.

So, on Wednesday we had a fantastic introductory lesson from PMC’s President, Bill Ryerson, on the history and basic principles of the Sabido Method, and how PMC have applied it in projects around the world.  It was absolutely inspiring to hear about their work and start thinking about how we will apply these philosophies and methods to the challenge ahead of us.

This challenge has me really excited – it’s difficult but so worth doing.  Here we have a problem that has been fairly well solved for one paradigm, but not at all for our own.  The powers and strengths of a game are not at all the same as in a radio drama.  So, how can we use things like player control, realtime feedback, decision making, and other core interactive abilities to enhance or replace the qualities that are strongest about a linear serial medium like camera techniques, dramatic suspense, scene editing, acting and story pacing.

Another important element of Sabido is that each entertainment-education program is developed for and by the specific population that it will serve.   Traditionally, the serial shows are written and acted by teams of local dramatists who have been trained in the Sabido methods.  Starting from local social policies, the writers determine the values (good and bad) that they want to portray, and then develop those concepts into the characters and plots.  So, part of our research trip to Cape Town is to meet with potential creative partners who will co-create the game with us.

Working with PMC, we have access to some amazing insight about making entertainment media that really could change the world for the better.

Oops.  Time to go through customs again.  I wonder if the border agents will call me by first name some day…

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