James Madison University

Culturally Anchored Game Wins Innovation Award

By: Daniel Vieth
Posted: November 8, 2013

Though the terms “science” and “culture” do not often come up together in conversation, the two can certainly drive each other in positive ways. At James Madison University, for example, the Department of Integrated Science and Technology often looks at innovative ways to bring these two words together, both locally and internationally. 

PHOTO: EramatThe culturally anchored game ERAMAT!, designed by a team of faculty and students from both ISAT and the Office of International Programs, is an example of a project that brings science and culture together. The team is comprised of ISAT professor Dr. Michael Deaton, ISAT Associate Professor and Associate Executive Director at the Office of International Programs Dr. Jennifer E. Coffman, and ISAT Student Jacob Loorimirim. Culturally Anchored Games was recently recognized as one of the top five projects in the 2012-13 James Madison Innovations’ Intellectual Property Incentive Program. With this recognition comes $2,000 in prize money designed to reward the process of innovation at JMU and spur learning.

James Madison Innovations (JMI) is a non-profit organization affiliated with JMU that manages intellectual property and helps commercialize innovations. JMI specializes in moving products to market by licensing the innovations to existing or newly launched companies. In an effort to encourage student and faculty creativity and entrepreneurship, the Intellectual Property Incentive Program was developed. A subcommittee of the JMI Board of Directors votes on the most innovative projects annually, taking into consideration such factors as academic, business, and commercialization potential. As a project that demonstrates potential in all of these areas, ERAMAT! was selected as one of the top five projects at JMU.

“Culturally Anchored Games” is a phrase coined by the team that refers to games that, according to Deaton, “are designed for a specific group of people in a specific cultural context to address an important problem that their community faces.” In essence, each game is tailored to a target audience and “anchored” to their cultural values and practices. These games are designed to educate the target audience on a relevant problem that needs solving and to provide a learning environment for exploring alternative solutions. .

PHOTO: EramatERAMAT! was designed in close cooperation with the members of the Maasai communities in southern Kenya. The issue that the game addresses is the devastating cycle of “boom and bust” in the cattle herds among Maasai in the region. “This problem is rooted in greatly increased population densities in the area, cultural values, evolving pastoral practices of the participating Maasai, and climate change,” Deaton explained. “The ERAMAT! game was designed as a learning and problem solving tool for this group of people to help them explore their own roles in this boom/bust cycle and to allow them to explore alternative survival strategies in “fast forward time” without waiting years to see the consequences of their actions.”

Deaton and his team were thrilled and surprised to be recognized as a top innovative project at JMU. “I think that the recognition is a wonderful way to encourage the JMU faculty and students to make sure we document our ideas and work,” he said. “There are many excellent projects underway across campus, and some of them have commercial potential.”

The Culturally Anchored Games/ERAMAT! team plans to continue their research, adapting their innovative ideas to other problems in East Africa. With its academic and commercial potential, it is obvious why the Culturally Anchored Games project was recognized by James Madison Innovations as one of the top five projects at JMU.

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