Are Indian streets safe for women?

After I read Marissa and Bauke’s thoughts about their first day, being one of their ‘private city guides’, I felt I should try to answer that unasked question – why were their private city guides swinging from tenterhooks? Here’s an attempt:

I walk, mostly alone, and like walking alone. In my blog (rarely updated nowadays) there are many entries describing footpaths, the trees that grow in them, and shrines that greet you unexpectedly in corners. So, I have a fair idea of what streets are like. Are they safe for women?

 

Before I answer that, take another place where I have spent a fair amount of time – trains of Mumbai. I spent many years aboard the Mumbai local trains. Many intense conversations with a close friend of mine, whom I shall call A., happened as we waited for trains on crowded platforms. My strongest memory is of her eyes gleaming beneath those glasses, arguing passionately with her black rucksack hanging in front of her chest, like an adjustable kangaroo pouch.

 

We all did that – hold our bags in front of our chest. An armour of canvas beefed with books. Who had told us about this armour? I don’t know, I just remember holding bags in that fashion. Did it work? For the most part. Did that mean we were groped every day? No. Is that ‘normal’? No. Did that mean we were groped some days? Yes.

 

So, are Mumbai local train platforms safe for women? Are Indian streets safe for women? Is a market in Bangalore safe for two young and enthusiastic visitors from Amsterdam?

 

It was a time when my Facebook feed was furiously debating this: http://ireport.cnn.com/docs/DOC-1023053. The questions that were flying faster than you could press refresh – is India safe for foreign tourists?

 

I did not find the American student’s account dissonant. But I wish there had been a footnote or a paragraph that said this violence was not just directed toward her but toward women in India too. It could have then shielded the piece from being reduced by some to a white woman versus brown man frame – a reductive dismissal that doesn’t help anyone.

 

Overall, I was worried. I did not know how to answer that question, and I didn’t want to find out otherwise later. And so when we trotted off to city market, while soaking in the colours of chemically treated sindoor, scents of freshly washed flowers, and smiling at birdcages made of discarded fruit boxes hanging above, I kept watch. I watched all the men around, their eyes, where they went, where they strayed, whom they locked into, and what they said, and what they did not say.

 

What I saw made me relieved, and mildly surprised. What made me relieved is most of the looking was just that, looking. It was as if these vendors of flowers had chanced upon an exotic species, so they took their time to see, observe, smile, and ask questions. It was curiosity that was friendly. Some gave me flowers, these plump roses, and beckoned to me that I should give it to my newfound friends. One vendor took a pomegranate and sliced it open and thrust it into my hands. It was for my friends, his smile told me. These wares were given without any price tags, more importantly, without any strings. Never in my life would I have been given anything for free here, but here I was, my hands laden with freebies. As I said, I was mildly surprised and amused.

 

But then there were those eyes.  Two pairs. That did more than just look. They gazed, they rested awhile, took their time to stray, stop, and stare. When they had finished taking their full, they moved on and stopped when I came into view, at the end of the line. And when I locked my eyes into theirs, they looked away, like boys caught scribbling obscenities on the school wall.

 

Perhaps, these two men would not have done that if I shopped in this market every day. I too was a stranger, not someone who laughed with them over the price of onions. If were a familiar face those two men would have thought twice; those boys would not deface walls in front of their schoolmate.

 

Overall, we had a pleasant morning. Was my worry then misplaced? Is a market in Bangalore safe for two visitors from Amsterdam? Are Mumbai local train platforms safe for women? Are Indian streets safe for women?

First day in the city: who watches whom?

On the second day of our stay in India, August 27th, our brand new colleagues took us out to Bangalore’s city heart. Their goal was to introduce us the different sites of the city and, especially, the inherent changing ambience of those sites at other times of the day. But apart from that, questions with a more fundamental background were the incentive of this day’s site seeing.

 

In this first blog we will therefore report our personal experience of the city as a non-Asian visitor, but also address the local’s response on our presence as white foreigners in their native environment.
Starting around 11am, the City Market gave us a relatively quiet first impression of the city. The market appeared to us as a place of the people, where the authentic locals meet one another. No ‘white’ or ‘western’ person was around, which made us very explicitly the odd ones out. But despite our awareness of our odd appearance within the crowd, we didn’t notice the gaze of people around us. Captured by all the colourful scenes at the Market, we had no eye for the ones that did had eye for us.
But on our way to another site of the city, our private city guides expressed their astonishment on the staring of the crowd. It appeared that this gazing didn’t occur in the extreme fashion as they expected it to happen in advance. On the contrary, they were pleasantly surprised by their kindness and had never witnessed the friendly gesture of vendors giving away freebees as a welcoming sign to their city.

 

Stip

Using public transport introduced us to more busy places of the city at that time of day. We took the bus from Shivaji Bus Depot, an already more crowded and chaotic environment. The vehicle itself was pretty packed, though more passengers kept entering the bus at every stop. Nevertheless, it was something else that struck us more.
In the bus, all the women were sitting in the front, all the men on the back. A strict division that, at first, seemed just a funny coincidence, but soon got a more serious tone when we noticed every new passenger obeying this code. This way, the public transport trip confronted us as Dutchies with the division between men and women for the first time. Separation in sex, division in restrooms apart from this, and the differences in the constructed gender roles never occurred to us that much, certainly not in The Netherlands but until then neither in India. And however there was barely time to think about this phenomenon with all the bustle around us, questions started to pop up in our heads. Why is this division necessary? And why is this habit absent in our culture? Unconsciously it triggered our attention.
Though, during the rest of the day, it was the cautiousness and caretaking of our personal guides that caught our eye: continuously checking if we were still following, if that homeless man wasn’t bothering us and if we had our backpacks safely closed. The whole day they looked after us and made sure that we were feeling comfortable and safe on the streets and in public spaces. By the end of the day we have had a fantastic city tour and a marvellous first impression of the city without any bad experience of people responding inappropriate to our presence. Unfortunately, our guides were exhausted and their obvious relief with ending the day without any trouble couldn’t be unseen. A remarkable sign, that suddenly shed another light on the question of how the Indian locals respond on our presence as white foreigners in their native environment.

 
Familiar with all the current circulating worrisome stories questioning the safety of India’s public environments, we didn’t expect a pleasant first impression. However, though it became clear that our presumptions were proved utterly wrong by our true experience, who would have thought that this preconception would be shared by our own caretaking colleagues? Who would have thought that the ones being most surprised by all Bangalore’s kindness would be our private, Indian city guides?

MediaLAB in Bangalore

On the 26th of August we, Marissa and Bauke, left for Bangalore, India. We are former students of the MediaLAB Amsterdam. Last year we were working on the ‘Sound.it.is.’ project and the ‘LightChallenge’ project. In the end of the last semester, MediaLAB Amsterdam gave us a wonderful opportunity to work on a project in India, as an internship. This would be a mirrored project with the MediaLAB Amsterdam; the Amsterdam based team will be working on the same topic as us. We took our chances and without a doubt started packing our bags!

 

Here in Bangalore, or Bengaluru, India’s Silicon Valley, in the southern part of India, we are working on a project about women’s safety in public space. We are part of the research society Fields of View, located at the campus of IIIT-B. Our team in particular is 5 headed: Yashvanth, Daksh, Vikram, Marissa and Bauke, passionately coached by Sruthi. This blog will also be mirrored with the MediaLAB Amsterdam’s blog.

 

We have been here now for 3 weeks exact, already entering our fourth. We’ve been doing a lot and met many interesting people. Here is a short introduction-video we made last week. Enjoy, more posts are coming and we’ll keep you updated!

 

 

Report on Gaming Jam at Swissnex

On September 1st 2013, Swissnex India conducted a gaming jam event at their office in Bangalore. Fields of View co-facilitated the gaming jam along with Collaborative Community and IGDA Bangalore. Participant space comprised individuals from diverse backgrounds from different nations. Self-organised teams were asked to develop a physical prototype of a game on Indian culture. Apart from facilitating, participants from Fields of View were part of different teams at the event.
We will discuss the prototypes of games developed by teams which included participants from Fields of View.

 

Glutton

In team ‘Starks’, Murali and Rufael from Fields of View teamed with designers Simon, Kenneth and Debhasish.  Challenges with traffic jams set the base for initial discussion. However, participants felt that the theme was too serious for a game and decided to shelve the idea.
Rufael and Simon suggested a game on Indian gods and food respectively. They mentioned that lack of easy ways of getting information and knowledge motivated them to propose a game on gods and food. Considering the time constraints, and other challenges such as lack of expertise and chances of controversy involved in developing a game on gods,  the team moved ahead to develop a game on Indian food and etiquette.

Brainstorming on the game centred on Indian food, participants discussed below ideas:

  • A game to conquer a city based on regional knowledge of food,
  • A check list based game for food etiquette,
  • A card game for creating and enhancing knowledge on Indian food.

Unsure whether a physical prototype for the first two ideas was possible in the limited time, the team decided to proceed with the third idea.

glutton1

Quick prototyping and test plays helped the team to gain further insights into game mechanics and game theme. After few iterations, the team designed the physical prototype of the game.

A set of cards were designed for the game with 2-4 players. Initially it was advised to have at least one Indian player to help facilitating the game. Each card represented an Indian food item from breakfast, lunch and dinner and contained different scores based on the type of food, calorific values etc. Also, few cards represented common food such as  curd which could be taken along with food during breakfast, lunch and dinner.

glutton2

 

Goal and game play

In the game, players would be given 9 cards which would form their ‘plate’. Objective for the players in the game is to maximize their score by making  3 ‘3 card’ sequences out of the 9 cards. Each of this 3 ‘3 card’ sequence represents a combination of food items for breakfast, lunch and dinner respectively. In turns, players either decide to pick a new card or drop a existing card. The game ends when all the cards in the set of cards are used or all players decide to end it. Scores of all players are tallied to decide the winner. Card categories based on calorific values, vitamins etc. are used to decide a winner in cases where two or more players get same score.

glutton3

Participants believe that the full version of the game would help foreigners gain knowledge of Indian food. With proper modifications, this game could be tailored for kids in India.

 

मुझसे शादी करोगे ?

Team ‘Bangsterdam’ was a combination of Bangaloreans and one Amsterdammer. Together they looked at what caught their attention. It also had to have fun game-play. They chose marriage, seeing big differences in the marriage culture between India and Europe. They brought each other up to speed about the differences in each of their countries and began to think about how this broad idea can be changed into something real.

First up they started by making a mind map of already existing games, shows etcetera, about marriage and the ‘game of love’. Then they discussed on how to make a multi-player board game that captured the procedure of getting married in India. The team figured all the criteria that were before two persons, or a family, got married. Five main categories in this game we named as: Family approval, education, looks, personality and career.

Board layout and beginning

The core of the game was to fit the profile of the bride. The bride would be the game master, decided by a dice roll at the start of the game. The game master, or bride, sets up a profile of his or her perfect man of wife. He has 100 tokens to divide in these 5 main categories. He keeps his/her profile of his/her perfect man/wife secret.
The board’s core is shaped as a circle, divided in squares. Around this circle there are arcs, also divided in squares. There are 5 arcs, corresponding with the 5 main categories of the perfect profile of the game master. Some of the outer circles overlap. When you are in the education’s arc, half way you can ‘drop out of school’ and go on with your career. (See image)

Goal and game play

The objective of the game is for the players to correspond to the game master his/her perfect profile. The players don’t know this profile but during the play there are ways to find out.
The players begin in the core of the board. Rolling the dice decides how much squares he/she can move. The player can choose which arc he/she is going to follow. Do you think education would be an important categorie for the GM? If you already have a lot of career-points, then you might choose another category. The arcs overlap somewhat. So, during the arc you can choose to step over to another overlapping arc.

Half-way through there is a shortcut. A player landing on this one can take a risk. He/she can answer a question (Like: What’s the minimum age for marriage in India?) If one answers right, he get to skip the rest of the arc and receive all the points. In case he/she gives the wrong answer, his turn is over and needs to wait.
By passing over the ‘date-squares on the bord, player gets the chance to ask the gamemaster the value of one of his 5 categories. This information will remain restricted. Metaphorically the player gets to have a ‘date with his/her potential lover, and gets to know what their interests are. This information will remain classified.
By landing on a danger-square the player falls prey to a bad habit, like alcohol use, smoking, using drugs or stealing. This will give the player negative points. A player can have 3 negative points. The fourth one is the fatal one, the player is out. There is also a cleansing arc. This you can use to get rid of your bad habits by finishing this arch.
Then there are chance-arcs. These give you random points on one of the 5 categories. Easy score!

marriagegame1

The players get to know more and more about the interests of the Game master. When they feel they correspond (have equal or more points than tha Game master demands) they go to the core and propose. The Game Master can choose to say yes and mary, or to say no and end the game for the player.

This game is as much an understanding in how the ‘game’ of marriage in real life goes, as it is a fun game to play with a group of people. It shows you the power one has to ‘create’ the profile they want to be. It also lets the player know that one can change for another and there is noting like a destined one, people transform and are fluid.

Towards the end, each team presented the prototypes and invited other teams to play. On a whole, the gaming jam resulted in developing diverse prototypes of games by the participants.

 

Report on the SprintCity game session at FoV

We played a session of the game SprintCity on the 20th of July 2013. This session of the game was facilitated by Merten Nefs remotely, who also played the Zuid Kennemerland municipality. From FoV, Murali played the Alkmaar municipality, Harsha played the Zaanstad municipality, Vardhan played the Amsterdam municipality and Onkar played The Province. Namrata Mehta from Centre for Knowledge Societies, Delhi. This blogpost is a report of the game session, written by Merten Nefs.’

About SprintCity

SprintCity is a planning support tool which simulates urban growth and train frequencies along a rail corridor, over a period of 20 years. The purpose of the tool is to give decision-makers insight into the relationship of spatial development and infrastructure, competition between municipalities and the specific qualities and opportunities of each stations on the corridor.It is an initiative of the Deltametropolis Association, in collaboration with Delft University of Technology CPS and Movares. In its prototype phase it was partially funded by the Next Generation Infrastructure foundation. Today, the development of SprintCity is paid fully by the users of the tool, in most cases a Provincial government.

In order to include human decision making in the simulation, SprintCity has the format of a role playing game (ideally played by the real stakeholders), supported by a computer model with realistic data input. It features three types of players: The Province-player controls the overall development of the corridor, and needs to find an optimal location for regional functions, such as a hospital or educational facility. The Transport-player controls the time table of the rail services on the corridor, and aims to increase ridership while running a profitable service. The Municipality-players control the land use plans of each station area, and have the goal to develop these areas according to previously chosen ambitions and a master plan.

 

Participants
Bangalore: Onkar Hoysala (Province), Murali Krishna Ganji (Alkmaar), Harsha Krishna (Zaanstad), Vardhan Varma (Amsterdam)
New Delhi: Namrata Mehta (Rail Transport)
Rotterdam: Merten Nefs (Zuid Kennemerland)

Remote Game session of SprintCity
Remote Game session of SprintCity
merten
Remote Game session of SprintCity

Report of the game session at FoV

In the first rounds, municipalities competed severely over urban developments. In later rounds this problem was in part solved by communicating. However, Heerhugowaard and Sloterdijk kept having trouble to fill the extensive development areas until 2030.

 

The Municipality-players initally did not realise that they could zone areas by density as well. After this was clarified in the second round, the municipalities began adding varying densities of zoning in their regions. This added another dynamic to the game: the municipalities began communicating with the province and the Transport player about the sort of plan they had made, and what they would require for such a plan from the Province and Transport. For example, Zaandam player said he would need more train stations along all his stations as he had planned a very high density residential zone at Krommenie, Wormerveer, Koog Zandijk, Koog Bloemwijk and Zaandam. Similarly, Amsterdam player said since he had zoned Amsterdam Sloterdijk as high density commerical area, he would require hotels there.

stationareaplanning
Station area planning screen: current situation (left side bar) versus future situation (right)
traintimetable2030
Train time table screen (2030)
corridor
Corridor overview screen (2030)

Even though the session was held online, at three different locations, communication on the Google+ platform was fruitful, especially between Province and Transport players (concerning placement of new facilities and adjustment of time table).

 

Session results
The teams were able to accommodate 76% of the demand for urban functions along the corridor, hereby performing better than the Business as Usual scenario (56%) and slightly worse than the real stakeholders did at the Zaancorridor (86%).
These spatial developments resulted in the following increase in inhabitants, jobs (including visitors of facilities) and ridership. It must be noted that a great deal of the increase in jobs, visitors and ridership can be explained by the extraordinary building activities of the Province player. He built two education centers, two furniture retail centers, three hotel + conference centers, four hospitals and three recreation facilities, while in reality only one of each functions is needed in the area.

 

Future

We are trying to organise more game sessions of SprintCity in India, and we will be working on an English version of the game. With FoV, we are also planning to implement a version of this game for Bangalore.

Keeping the Feminist Lens “On”

“. . . in many ways is a terrible lesson; in many ways a magnificent one. . .”  

C. Wright Mills

 

Feminists often describe their intuitive and instinctive understanding of feminist lessons as a ‘light bulb going off’ in their heads. It is as if all the vague feelings, thoughts, and concepts they have been dealing with suddenly get crystallized into a theory and a collective understanding of the world around them. We learn to see things, relationships, and the world differently, or “at a slant”, as a friend would say.  But what has been true in my experience and a few others that I have spoken to is that once the light bulb comes on, it doesn’t always stay on.  We quickly learnt that this new perspective –this new lens – was all too easy to lose. To keep it on, constantly, was going to require a tremendous commitment on our part. We have to climb the steep ladder to reach the bulb for it to be turned on, again and again. And after a while, it gets easier to make the journey, but you do have to make the effort every time.

 

 

But why is this lens so easy to lose?

 

The answer to this question is simple. Structures such as class, race, gender, religion b(l)ind us in some unique positions. It is from these (subject) positions that our worldviews are formed, structured, codified, and fossilised. We do not always understand our social privileges and positions ‘objectively’ because the world that we understand is translated and navigated from these subject positions. In simpler terms, we cannot be outside of ourselves to understand our relations with the world, as the world is interacting and reacting to the relations that we have formed with the world. It is a continuously reinforced relationship and it is one that we form and are formed by. And this reinforcement is a very powerful one.

 

We all function within it, and it is extremely difficult to see in the normal interaction of life. It is only visible at the breaks and at disruptions of social mores and social relationships. Consequently, it is surprisingly easy to illustrate. Next time, you are talking to someone from the opposite gender, stand 5 cm closer than you normally do. Watch the person’s reaction – if they move, move with them. And if they don’t react, move closer (Caveat: please do this with someone you are comfortable with!). You’ll notice that there is an unwritten code that we all follow on the proper distance that an individual stands apart from another, and while it varies dramatically by culture, all societies have them – a ‘proper’ distance. Likewise, our social lives are wrought with invisible social rules and norms that are so pervasive and hidden that only the violation of them makes them visible. So, a newly acquired lens can often be lost in the normalcy of living one’s life, in the normalcy of interaction, conversations, and relationships that do not necessarily reinforce, engage with and to some extent, even accept this new knowledge or perspective.

 

Also, interaction with social systems is rarely based on a singular identity or system. For example, in any social situation that concerns the family, the gender AND age of the person matter. In fact, age coupled with gender coupled with marital status coupled with family and caste customs etc etc. – otherwise known as intersectionality of identities and systems – can often create myriad rules that are understood implicitly, but rarely articulated.  For example, young Indian women, interacting with their families, rarely raise their voice against elders in the family, and are rarely taken seriously, even if they do. It might be true for young men as well, but men can get away with violations of this code much more easily than women can. So, if you are aware of these social rules that silence women systematically, and you are tired of the silence, will you take the risk of going against everything you have been taught, and still speak up – perhaps, loudly or rudely – against those whom you have been taught to respect your whole life? This is an individual question, and each of us must answer it, and therein lies our own commitment to the form of feminism we have to practice. The truth of the matter is that in order to put this new knowledge into actual practice, we are not necessarily fighting with strangers, with ‘society’, or even with our families. We are fighting with our own selves – our value systems, our core beliefs, our understanding of the world that feels very ingrained (and therefore, ‘natural’).

 

The internal struggle is also made tougher by the problem of visibility. In order to fight it constantly, one has to actually see it, feel it, and hold onto it.  We have to keep examining our actions, our habits, our modes of thinking to understand why they work the way they do. And self-reflexivity, self-reflectivity, self-supervision, self-analysis, self-critique – all of these are so easy to ignore, because the social norms that we grew up with are so comfortable, familiar, and safe. For example, why do we think that a clean house is a reflection of ourselves? Why do we think about career moves that account for future families? Why do we keep quiet when we are truly truly angry? The answers are not always palatable, and we don’t always change our behavior in accordance to our changing thought process. But that struggle has been and is constant.

 

 

But why make such an effort? Why try at all?

 

I can speak for only myself, here.  Feminists have different reasons to make the commitment, and this might be one of the reasons why feminism tends to be deeply personal. We have our own specific reason of why we are committed, and what shape that commitment takes. For me, the reason why I fight to keep the feminist lens on is: once you gain a perspective . . . once you gain a glimpse into another way of seeing the world, you don’t want to let go. My experience of the world has been richer for it, and it has helped me to see the social world in a decidedly different way.

 

For one thing, it has made me more empathetic.  I slowly realized that having another lens allowed me a way to understand other people’s worlds. When you start to understand the effect of social rules and norms on yourself and on social groups, you start to look beyond a person’s individual action or behavior to make connections to the larger social structure, norms, and narratives. So, instead of merely disengaging or resisting social rules and norms, I started to look for reasons why these rules and norms exist, what purpose they serve, and how individuals use them. The more I looked, the more I realized that despite my initial understanding (frankly, cynicism), individuals do use their agency (loosely translated as ‘will’) to engage with these social rules and norms. While a lot of us don’t always know the manner in which social rules act upon us, we also resist, acquiesce, and reinforce them in many interesting ways.

 

Of course, this sounds a little bit like a rainbows, sparklers, and unicorns kind of world. . .but this empathy, this new understanding, and (to some extent) acceptance of human behavior is not an easy thing to do either. C Wright Mills when he talked about the sociological imagination described it as a magnificent lesson and a terrible one. In his famous piece on sociological imagination, he extorted those of us who wanted to enter the field of sociology to possess a level of gumption, because the lessons you learn in sociology (and to the extent that it is relevant to feminism) are not comfortable or comforting. It requires a critical inner eye that questions, that looks within, that looks beyond, and asks the hard questions. And that requires the inner eye to be constantly active, and to be constantly active is to be constantly fatigued.

 

For me, feminism means asking the questions AND living with the uncomfortable answers. It requires knowing why women never ever question why cleaning is always their responsibility. It requires knowing and understanding why a woman police officer who is a terror in her workplace comes home to be beaten by her husband. It requires understanding the social mechanisms by which a successful woman in a male-dominated field has to play by the man’s rules and be called a ‘bitch’ for her efforts. It requires patience to understand why men feel alienated in a world that they benefit hugely by. As a feminist, this looking inward and outward is even more important because the most famous slogan associated with the feminist movement – the personal is political – is not an empty statement. I know and understand that our individual actions are important and essential – because they reinforce and reify the cultural and social tropes. So, if we are to be committed, we have to be committed in our personal lives as well.

 

As a feminist, it takes something out of me to watch and live in a world that treats women (and men) in the manner that we do, but I also know I cannot fight everything all the time. So, I draw boundaries, make realistic decisions, let go of some battles and choose my own personal battles to fight. This doesn’t mean I do not sympathise, empathise, and extend solidarity with other feminist causes. It just means that I create spaces of advocacy and action in my own life that I deem are most important to me, and trust that there are enough of us who will do the same. Of course, not every feminist make these compromises, and life can be hard for them. And I owe these feminists a great deal . . . because I know through them, life is made easier for me. They are fighting the battles that I am not. And that knowledge – that I am living in a world of my choosing because someone else is not – can feel both safe and uncomfortable. And when I start to feel very safe, and when I start to cruise through my life without discomfort  – that’s when I know  it’s time to take the good old lens out, clean them up and put them back on – to see the world anew, again.

 

Understanding the complexity of energy systems with a simulation game

This post is by Dr. Émile Chappin, Assistant Professor of Energy & Industry, Delft University of Technology, and a Visiting Researcher at Fields of View. Dr. Chappin worked with us on developing a simulation game to understand to complexity of energy systems. These are his thoughts about the complexity of the sector and how a simulation game helps in understanding it.

 

Vibrant Electronics City sets the scene for three weeks of intensive research on serious gaming. We are driven by the need for stability and affordability of our energy supply – they are essential for flourishing societies. That’s the reason to deal with the nitty-gritty of typical European electricity markets in which billions of Rupees or Euros are at stake but where megawatts and megawatthours are easily mixed up. The key is not only in the details: electricity markets are complex systems, of which the performance is the result of the transactions in the market, the responses to the influences from outside, such as (proposed) policies, the evolving institutions and rational or irrational expectations.

 

This is where we start: how can we really learn to understand the essential workings of this system? The pure nature of complexity tells us that we can’t, really. But that’s not a satisfactory answer. We should do something that helps us – students, researchers, policy makers and companies – to gain better understanding of these systems. We need to start learning how we can somehow manage the system as a whole throughout the coming decades. Not in the classical sense of management, which presumes that some form of direct control is possible. We need to find new ways of shaping the system in a (more) desired direction. How? Join us in the world of simulation games!

We would like to share four insights we learnt from complexity and developing and using simulation games and models:

  1. The notion of optimality is void. There is no perfect outcome of this system/problem. Such judgments of the system state are observer-dependent, time-dependent and cannot be predicted. One can only speak of trajectories that appear desirable or not, given a set of strong assumptions, a time-frame, a set of objectives and a delineated system.

  2. Simulation and gaming should be used as tools for discussion. Because the system we’re observing is complex, any model we make and any simulation we run is definitively wrong. That, however, does not make them useless: they can be used as a digital laboratory, our laboratory in silico. By applying many modeling and simulation techniques capturing parts of the real-world system and its problems, and using those in a variety of relevant contexts, we may get a glimpse of understanding what patterns may emerge and how we can contribute in shaping the system [1]. That is the approach for TU Delft’s Energy Modeling Laboratory [2].

  3. Experience and involvement leads to deeper understanding. The complexity in the real-world system works in counterintuitive mechanisms and leads to patterns that are hard to really understand. Our experience shows that grasping some of these patterns by experiencing them in a serious game really helps to build an intuition for the consequences of the system’s complexity [1]. That in itself implies that lessons learnt – or patterns observed – may well contribute to understanding the complexity of the real world system and any effort in shaping the system accordingly. An example in our game is the understanding that ‘simple’ economic laws such as the notion of marginal cost bidding really work (at least to a certain extent). Other examples are the irrational response to soft information of future developments, the almost unbelievable developments on world markets for fuels, the wicked trade-offs between short-term profit, market share and the reliability and affordability of energy supply in the long run.

  4. Managing is the art to use the mechanisms that drive change. Understanding and exploring what the mechanisms are that drive our societal system is extremely difficult, if not impossible. Let’s consider this management that, making use of that, an art, an “attempt to bring order out of chaos” [3]. How to know what decisions matter, what actors matter and what outcomes matter? How to measure performance? How to measure change? To answer such questions, we need to bring together theory from various fields (history, engineering, multi-actor systems, complexity, economics, policy, design, etc.) and knowledge from application domains (energy, water, transport, IT).
    We hope that simulation and gaming contributes to this process. By doing so, we make the theory operational in specific domains: we ask questions such as how we can develop and maintain an affordable electricity sector which is both decarbonized and in which supply is secured. It helps us to define what change and stability really means and how we can measure it. That way we hope to find out how we may bring about changes that put our systems on a more desired trajectory. If we can manage our precious infrastructures – the backbones of our society – that may be how.

How can a three week trip to Bangalore help gaining insight in the Dutch electricity sector? Which countries – including their energy sectors – are more different than the Netherlands and India? Well… despite the fact that the Indian and the Dutch culture are fundamentally different, both societies show many communalities. Both India and the Netherlands are quite busy: at least traffic is a pain. The fraction of the Indian population that resides in Holland may not be so far apart from the fraction of Dutch people that are in India. What Indian food is, is impossible to define, as it is for Dutch food (although for different reasons). It is easy to complain about the weather – umbrellas are a requisite in your backpack. Dutch and Indians can express themselves in peculiar ways in English. Indians like chocolate and ‘stroopwafels’ as least as well as the Dutch. And… more often than not, we can meet each other in humor.

These commonalities show that the complexity of our societies does not mean we cannot try to understand and improve them. It means we need to find new ways of doing so. The mechanisms and laws probably do not work as we expect them to! There is only one way forward: dive in the deep, experience new things, debate with an open mind, challenge all assumptions, indulge in to cultural diversity, and… embrace complexity!

 

Literature

[1] Chappin, E. J. L. (2011). Simulating Energy Transitions, PhD thesis, TU Delft, the Netherlands. http://chappin.com/thesis

[2] Energy Modeling Laboratory, TU Delft. http://emlab.tudelft.nl

[3] Stephen Sondheim, composor and lyricist, 2005.

 

Solidarity and the Harvard Controversy

One of my cherished experiences of graduate school was finding a whole community of feminists to engage with. I remember being very excited about my feminist theory class, and finding that not only do these women understand my language, they can enrich it in so many different ways. None of my co-students were in sociology – they were in English Lit, Philosophy, Education, Political Science , Geography, Psychology, and so many others. None of us shared any interdisciplinary lens, and yet, by grappling with the most difficult of texts, we were able to construct our own language to talk to each other. We learned much about the theories of solidarity and the hard-won practice of it that winter.

 

As I moved through the different courses, I soon realized that this was not really an isolated incident – that themes of solidarity and difference are prominent not just in our personal/political relationships with each other, but also in the theoretical debates about the fundamentals of feminism. How do we recognize difference? How do we form relationships of solidarity with other feminists who are fundamentally different from ourselves? What of one’s privilege and power? How do we speak and represent another? These are still very important questions we are dealing with, as evidenced by the recent Harvard debates that exploded on Kafila (here, and here).

 

A friend wanted to know why there was such vitriol against an obviously well-intentioned move to understand problems – to build solidarity. And I remember writing to her and a few others about a few things that seemed self-evident to me, that according to another friend, ought to be made more explicit. I am reproducing the letter, with a few modifications:

 

I think the major problem about the statement that was released by the Harvard, at least for me, stemmed from two different sources. I’ll try to be brief about both of them.

 

The first is the Northern white privilege, that goes unnoticed, unacknowledged and is largely invisible to the North and South audiences . The thing that pisses us ( those of us who think of ourselves as the Southern feminists) no end is not only the manner in which White Northern feminists take over, but the fact that they rarely acknowledge the historical privileges that their voices have. When they are brought to the table, they are automatically heard. Their voices are always considered more ‘evolved’, more articulated, and often more authoritative. And feminists have been crying themselves hoarse for eons about why this practice, this pattern has to be deconstructed, how this has to be dismantled, and how these processes have to be dealt with more sensitivity by feminists themselves. I think, given this long history of engaging with power even within our own circles, we feel frustrated when someone, especially if they are feminist , comes along and ignores all of this. It feels like a slap in the face of all that effort we have made to understand, deconstruct, and deal with our privileged positions.

 

The second is the importance of self-reflexivity in feminism. It is perhaps the cornerstone of most feminist philosophical thought. We are taught that our views are the product of where we stand, with respect to the intersection of various multiple identities. So, if I am a Hindu non-Brahmin Middle-class Woman, then I must acknowledge the various biases, privileges, blind spots and opinions that come with that position. So, we are trained to engage with these positions and statements tentatively. We are not ‘holders’ of truth, we are not ‘definers’ of fact . We are trying to view the world from our own warped positions, feminism is the lens we view this world from, and that is our perspective. Our conclusions, when we draw them, have to have this element of self-critical engagement, and more importantly, self-reflexivity. It has often descended into excessive navel gazing. But the reason we do this as a method, as a practice is because we are aware how invisible privileges hurt all of us – we have to be aware of our ‘subject positions’ to understand the ‘dimension’ of truth that we are examining. And that ridiculous paragraph in the Harvard blog had nothing of this nuanced idea of solidarity. It is so self-congratulatory in its tone about the linkages of different forms of violence. . as if they are the first to have ever come up with the idea. I think it can piss off anybody, as far as I can tell.

 

I think what happened was because these debates are so internal in the feminist community that it can often go unvoiced in the diatribe against the Harvard post. I think it is important to voice why we are pissed off, not just for us, but also for the students of the Harvard community. They need to understand that because they are at the table, they automatically, by the power bestowed upon them, exclude others on that table. They have to ensure that those voices are heard, and that that system of exclusion is highlighted.

 

So, I get the vitriol, I get the sarcasm, and I get the anger. It comes from an old wound, yes. . .but it also comes from the disappointment of having to suffer a new one, once again.

 

Of games, gaming simulation and piracy in games

One of my fellow researchers shared the following game with me:

http://www.greenheartgames.com/app/game-dev-tycoon/

Game Dev Tycoon™ is a business simulation game available for Windows, Mac and Linux as well as on the Windows 8 Store. In Game Dev Tycoon you replay the history of the gaming industry by starting your own video game development company in the 80s. Create best selling games. Research new technologies and invent new game types. Become the leader of the market and gain worldwide fans.

He found it really interesting,

“What happens when pirates play a game development simulator and then go bankrupt because of piracy?”: http://www.greenheartgames.com/2013/04/29/what-happens-when-pirates-play-a-game-development-simulator-and-then-go-bankrupt-because-of-piracy/
They ran an experiment where they released a pirated version of the game and saw how people reacted when during the simulation they ran out of money – because of piracy!

Interesting, yes. But the limitation of such games is that it is a game, as against a simulation.  An example of this effect is; most tycoon games simplify external effects as the more it is a simulation the less fun it can be. The tycoon style game play is a very popular design for  management/financial games (A close cousin is “Diner Dash” or “Farm Frenzy” which sheds light on logistics and functional parts of an organisation). Consider this, if you have played The Sims, you can find a job by simply using a computer in less than 20 seconds. But one can make an entire game out of the context of finding a job (in effect simulating the entire experience). Would you still be interested in playing The Sims if it simulates all the frustrations you experienced while finding a job?

Game Dev Tycoon simplifies the issues surrounding piracy and how it can be tackled to a great extent. Often the high price for ‘good’ games makes it inaccessible to a large audience. Some reasons for a high price may be:

  1. The game was developed using unrealistic targets. (Example: Duke Nukem Forever, no pun intended 🙂 )
  2. Games developed in mainstream  studios  Vs Indie studios

Some innovators in the field tackle piracy in the following ways  (instead of  slapping on a restrictive DRM):

  1. FTP (Free To Play) models offer a glimpse of the game before asking us to pay. The payment is usually a continuous nominal subscription versus a one time payment. The jury is still out on this. Example: LOTRO, Dungeons and Dragons, host or other games. Premium content for the players (enhancing their game-play and/or in game status) are also offered by such games.
  2. Innovative DRM systems in marketplaces  such as Steam and Uplay instead of an always on system (Example: The latest SimCity).
  3.   A low/high priced game followed by high/low paid DLCs (Downloadable Content). Example: Skyrim,  The Sims (Some DLCs for The Sims 3 is more expensive than the base game!).

Currently in Steam,  the beta version of the game is available at a lower price. The players test the game as they play beta versions and then get access to the full version for free when it is released. A very interesting experiment in reducing costs in the game development process and using the “crowd” for both testing and funding.

City Game session with kids from Tara Trust at IIIT, Bangalore

City Game session – TARA Trust from Fields of View on Vimeo.

 

We played the city game with 13 children from Tara trust who were at IIIT-B for 17 days for a summer camp. These kids were from under privileged areas of Goa and Bangalore. Amar Chadgar (Photographer and Observer), Akhil Sukumaran (Observer), Vardhan Varma (Note-taker) and Bhagyalakshmi (Note-taker), Juhi from Tara Trust and I (game-master) were also a part of the game session.

 

The game was an interesting experience for us because just that morning we had a game session with kids from Sri Kumaran Children’s Home. We were excited to see the differences in the these two cities. We began the game with a round of introductions and said that we would do a trial round. A mixture of Kannada, English and some broken Hindi were the main languages used to communicate. After the trial round, we just continued the game to the 2nd round.

 

They sat around in a circle and put in a lot of factories, big bazaars, mountains, drinking water (separate for humans and animals),  Majestics [sic] (3 of them), Infosys, speed breaker, road, Chinnaswamy stadium, community TV, animals, solar company, Agra Taj Mahal, Mysore palace, Mysore zoo, an IIT,  Indian ocean river [sic] to name a few that were interesting! In between they started placing aspirations such as ‘I want a beautiful city’ and ‘save water’, but we asked them to replace these with actual places.

 

After 13 rounds of the game, when asked if they wanted to live in this city, all of them said they would like to live here. It was a crowded, clustered space with almost everything one could think of. We then asked them what is missing in this place that they need to live. A few pointed out there was no poultry, farm or milk – where would they eat? Then one of them said we could source all of these through the malls they had. One of them pointed out fire stations were missing. They also said there was no place they could buy gold or a place to cut their hair, or even a place to buy spectacles!

 

This game was a special one for us, as these children built a city of their experience. Some of these building came up as a result of their experience at the summer camp and a few were from back home. They said since this place had a lot of factories, the city could hold up-to 2 crore people.

 

As a facilitator, this to me was an ideal use of the game where we actually saw their perceptions brought out so clearly through the game. The city that they built looked like a perfect mixture of Goa and Bangalore. Here is how Go-Bangalore, which is what the kids called it happened – https://vimeo.com/64564481