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| 11/21/19: Endless Network

A PhD Explains Why Loading Indigenous Languages into Endless Computers Is A Form of Activism

The classroom in San Juan Quiahije, normally filled with notebooks and young students studying math and geography, looked very different than it normally did. Having finished an eight-hour drive to the small municipality in Oaxaca, Dr. Emiliana Cruz was addressing a roomful of adults who listened as attentively as if they were students and she was a teacher explaining square roots. A stack of boxes was perched intriguingly nearby.

“It was really fascinating what happened,” recalled Dr. Cruz. Carefully, explaining each move as she went, Dr. Cruz opened one of the boxes, took out a set of parts and, before the eyes of the school committee of local officials and parents, she assembled an Endless computer herself. Most of the parents were tentative about Dr. Cruz’s next direction. “I said ‘each of you grab boxes and put it together,’” she recalled. Computer programs much less how to assemble tkeyboards, hard drives, and screens was mostly foreign to the parents, who feared breaking the parts. But Dr. Cruz was encouraging and soon 18 Endless computers were humming to life in the small-town classroom in Oaxaca.

Dr. Emiliana Cruz

The 6th graders were called in and parents, many of whom had not graduated from elementary school, explained to their children how to turn on the computers they had just built and open typing programs, a dictionary, or a built-in library of stories written in the local indigenous language: Chatino. On top of the life-changing software, baked into each computer was an activist plan to strengthen indigenous communities in Mexico that Dr. Cruz had been planning for years.

San Juan Quiahije

Dr. Cruz was born in San Juan Quiahije, a stronghold of indigenous culture that suffers from the same lack of opportunities that affect indigenous communities across Mexico—limited access to healthcare and education, plus economic limits that disadvantage the entire community. At 23, Dr. Cruz migrated to the US to receive her MA and then her PhD in linguistic anthropology. As she climbed the ranks of academia, she did not want to lose sight of the legacy of activism she had learned from her father, Tomas Cruz Lorenzo. “The lessons I learned from him were: no matter what you do in life it is good to help your community, to work with new generations, to continue with the language, and continue practicing some of the traditional ways.”

Dr. Cruz’s language was Chatino, an indigenous language originating from the Zapotecan language family and, as of a 2010 census, is spoken by an estimated 45,000 people in Mexico. Despite a 2003 General Law of Linguistic Rights that established a framework for the conservation of indigenous languages and obligated the government to offer public services in local languages, the government continued to send teachers who did not speak the variety of Chatino to local schools, meaning both students and parents had to speak Spanish to communicate with the teacher, disempowering indigenous communities and relegating them to second class educational experiences that made their local language only useful within the confines of home. “In Mexico,” said Dr. Cruz, “there are more disadvantages is you speak an indigenous language than if you only speak Spanish.”

San Juan Quiahije

Dr. Cruz was determined to change that.

First, she launched the Chatino Language Documentation Project, collecting a body of linguists who recorded the many idioms and tones of Chatino. Then, she partnered with the HARP Foundation to bring those experts to teachers and local schools for workshops to not only preserve local languages, but reinvigorate and empower the community around them.

And then, she and the developers at Endless struck on the idea of pairing technology with her linguistic activism. Together, they began to load her research into computers in the form of Chatino dictionaries, short stories, tone libraries, and a writing system to explain the grammar. “If we can use Chatino in technology, then it’s not that the language is only for home,” she said.

Endless and Dr. Cruz brought computers to two communities in Oaxaca: San Juan and Cieneguilla, where they were placed in a library and a classroom. The larger goal of the pilot program is to take Chatino beyond the home and tie it to technology and the promise of future jobs. Now, in addition to learning the basics of typing and software programs, students can write stories in their local language and share them with each other.

Dr. Cruz knows that years of subsuming indigenous language and culture won’t be overturned by a few computers. But she’s optimistic about the larger trend. “To undo the ideology that Chatino is not a useful language is going to take a lot of time and I might not see it,” she said. But watching parents assemble computers, children write in their native language, and teachers gather alongside to support the program has been an amazing experience. Ultimately, all share a common goal, explains Dr. Cruz. “We all want the best for our children,” she said. “We want our children to have access to the best of the best.”

Children use computers with built-in libraries of stories written in the local indigenous language: Chatino

| 11/15/19: Endless Network

Launching The Endless Mission: My Dream Game

I’ve been dreaming about this moment for five years. We are launching our Endless game!

About five years ago, our team at Endless realized that many of our engineers learned to code as kids when they realized that they could hack their video games. We started imagining a game in which everything could be hacked. What might that look like? Our amazing partners at E-Line, the creators of Minecraft.edu and Never Alone, joined and magic started to happen.

As we started developing the game, a narrative started to unfold in which “The Academy” is calling you on an adventure to free a generation from the forces that control their code, all in an adventure game that lives within a game creation engine. I am still blown away by the ambition of the game that has unfolded. This game now allows you, the player, to hack games across genres, build your own 3D games with high-quality assets, share them with your friends, and hack their games too. The scope of this dream grew into a universe in which the players are the heroes in both the digital and real world. 

This game has been in development for years. It launched today on Steam Early Access. 

It’s an honor to introduce you to The Endless Mission: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Vq-CSXDZLg

Here is our first ever review and more keep coming. I’m so happy to see the reactions.

We are all shaped by the technology that we interact with. Yet we rarely know how it all works. Our goal is to empower players to be able to create, and not just consume, their games and technology. Achieving this at scale is all about making a wildly fun game. Sandbox games like Minecraft and Roblox have been an inspiration, and we wanted to grow the genre to include the ability to hack, mod, and create across diverse genres, made possible by the powerful Unity game-making platform. In the process, we want to unlock the power of creation to everyone.

The delight that we’ve felt in building this game is the same that we hope to bring to our users. We hope that you’ll join us on this journey of building The Endless Mission into what you want.

You can find the game on Steam: https://store.steampowered.com/app/827880/The_Endless_Mission/

Share this on social media! Help us spread the word!

| 11/14/19: Endless Network

Seven Experts Answer: What Should You Keep in Mind When You’re Building an Impact Game?

One thing that unites Endless with many studios and game-changers across the world is a belief that the medium of games and entertainment can change the world for the better. But designing games for impact can feel like a different kettle of fish than aiming for commercial stardom. The landscape is uneven, there are more stakeholders involved, and the metrics for success are obscure.

We asked a few of our favorite impact experts, including a few members of the Endless team: What’s one thing to keep in mind when building impact games?

Don’t think you’re the first person to discover the field

Alan Gershenfeld, President, Co-Founder, E-Line Media

Do rigorous landscape and opportunity analysis. There’s a lot of people playing in the space, a lot of projects that have worked and a lot of projects that haven’t worked and you don’t want to make the same mistakes. You want to learn from those experiences. It’s important to know that ‘games for impact’ is not new. People are already doing or have done projects in that space. Don’t just jump in and assume that you’re the first. Really figure out what lessons there are to learn from the folks that have been doing this for the last 10, 15, 20 years.

Pick yourself up, dust yourself off

Diego Rodríquez Calvo, founding partner, Fair Play Labs

It’s a bit cliché, but basically keep in mind that it’s ok to not get it right the first time. Learn and keep growing.

Check back in with your audience: do they care?

Virginia McArthur, Executive Producer, Endless Studios

After making games for 20 plus years you realize that, instead of focusing on profit margins and 50% plus return, we can actually make a difference and focus on impact, reach, and engagement. However, just because you have experience under your belt does not give you the right to set the parameters. It is our players that need to set those for us.

Kids might not know what they really need, but they know what they like. I would argue that every kid, every personality, needs something different to learn. Successful impact gaming involves not being afraid to experiment and try new mechanics, searching for the right formula to teach and have fun while learning something that will impact future growth and knowledge for kids’ future success. Focus test, involve, and work with your players to give the right balance of fun and learning. One needs the other in order to really impact the game player’s future.

Your business model can start with passion

Heather Chandler, game producer, founder Whole Brain Escape

If you want to work on an impact game, one approach would be to find out the thing that you want to make an impact on, create a small team, then make the game that goes with it. Then you can apply for grants and do all kinds of different things. Getting into impact gaming is probably a little easier than getting into commercial games because with impact games if you have that desire and passion you could create something that can get grants and funding and lead to all sorts of things.

Fun comes first

Carlos Rocha Silva, Founder and CEO, Dreams Uncorporated

Pick a value and then think about clever and funny ways to subtlety educate the players about that value or idea that you want to communicate. Fun comes first, don’t forget that.

Put everything into what you want to teach. Then make it invisible.

Dennis Bartels, Managing Director, Endless Networks

It’s all about design: design to a clear purpose. The design should be so well thought out that it’s invisible to the user. I’m a huge fan of one of the early exemplars of this standard in the Logical Journey of the Zoombinis. It was so beautifully designed that most gamers had no idea they were learning mathematical set theory. But they knew it intuitively and this game tapped it with such elegance that it is still a standard of learning games today.  

Measure your success with data
Nan Chu, Director of Game Development / Design, Endless Studios

Don’t lose sight of the end goal and what kind of knowledge, emotions, or reactions you are trying to impart to your audience when building an impact game. Do research and learn from experts in the field of the topic you want to tackle. Interview and playtest with your intended audience to understand what resonates with them. Define your measurement of success and track the results your game actually has from beta testing to launch. Having qualitative and quantitative data to track your game’s performance will help you better achieve your game’s end goal.

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