Global Players and Makers Manuscript

Global Players and Makers is about players, game developers, and game artists whose work is of global reach and origin, underscoring the games of those who have overcome infrastructural challenges and varied digital divides in the global South. Players and media artists develop and play digital games in cities like Sao Paolo or Jakarta, expanding the envelope of urban digital play resourcefully and poetically. Game piracy is reframed as a game media literacy service for those living in less affluent regions of the global South. For instance, Vietnamese players reconfigure Pokemon Go mapping data in order to play the augmented reality mobile phone game in cities like Ho Chi Min. In so doing, they adjust the game for a dense Asian city that has relatively less of the recreational park zones appearing on Google Maps that are optimal for generating nests of collectible Pocket Monsters, thereby countering the North American bias of the game’s original design.

Designers in Thailand, Cambodia, and Indonesia design casual games whose mythological and cultural settings, as well as puzzle play mechanics, are locally influenced. Professional localizers in Brazil and many other countries convert games originating in the global North, from Japan, South Korea, and the United States, into more palatable entertainment for new demographics of customers in Latin America and Southeast Asia, including women and girls. Freemium games that are initially cost-free, replete with sophisticated analytical data analysis tools, have become the prime model of such game monetization for mobile and other games across the global South.

My review of these Southern player publics, developers, and games is more than an uncritical affirmation. At times, I question whether the emerging global financial relations of the global game industry, rather than being empowering of Southern players, replicate exploitative, post-colonial economic transactions between North and South. Even if more young women and girls across the globe are playing games, who is empowered when profits ultimately flow back to game companies situated in the global North? For example, I discuss a set of young male business graduates from Northern institutions like Harvard Business School who have positioned themselves to localize games for casual, mobile player markets in Brazil and other Latin American nations.

Developers in both the North and the South also apply their design skills to global causes beyond entertainment, to designing games to encourage solutions for water scarcity in Africa or to raising funds for endangered Orangutans in Indonesia. I take a evaluative look at the use of such games as a medium for persuasive rhetoric. One potential pitfall for well-intentioned yet privileged Northern developers, is that their charitable or political games at times unwittingly replicate patronizing views of the global South.

New media theory and art criticism, post colonial theory theory, digital ethnography, cultural analysis, gender studies and feminism are some of the theoretical optics and methodologies brought to bear on the games and practices discussed throughout this investigation.