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First computer game in Ngaanyatjarra under development

Shape, Technology

Date: 12 September 2016

Teenagers spend a lot of time on computer games, but few computer games draw on Indigenous languages and cultures.  Creating such a game is the focus of Game Maker: Ngarlpuputju, a project of the ‘Tjaa Yuti – Western Desert Verbal Arts’ team, together with the ARC Centre of Excellence for the Dynamics of Language (CoEDL).

Ngaanyatjarra linguist, ANU and CoEDL Research Fellow and ARC Discovery Indigenous Fellow, Elizabeth Marrkilyi Ellis says the endless runner game Tjinari (meaning ‘someone always on the go’ in Ngaanyatjarra) is delighting Ngaanyatjarra schoolchildren during its development phase.

“The whole process is exciting for them and us. We have recorded the children’s voices for the game so when they go to play the game, it will be their own voice or a friend’s voice that gives the warning ‘palayi’, meaning ‘watch out’ and when they successfully complete a task or navigate the obstacle they will hear their own voice saying ‘walykumunun’ meaning ‘excellent’.”

The students at the Warakurna Campus of Ngaanyatjarra Lands School in Western Australia are continuing to help the team refine the game and adding ideas as they go along. It is an exciting project producing a unique Aboriginal language game, which everyone hopes will become an open source template for other Aboriginal languages.

Game artwork by ANU School of Art student Conor TowIt is planned that the game will comprise seven levels of activities. The key character is a runner who must acquire the correct plant to give to a traditional healer to save a young girl. The runner faces many obstacles and barriers, such as giant animals, with all the challenges being culturally appropriate. The higher levels will also involve some Ngaanyatjarra word activities.  

When completed the game will be available to download onto Android devices and tablets.

A project like this needs the collaboration of people with different skills. Elizabeth Marrkilyi Ellis is working with linguists Inge Kral and Jane Simpson at ANU. Conor Tow, a student at the ANU School of Art, has drawn all the images to depict desert landscapes, plants, animals, monsters and concepts.  He is working with programmers Jiamou Sun, Qiancheng Wang, Jixuan Cao and Shuaichen Song as part of the ANU Research School of Computer Science ‘TechLauncher’ initiative.   Project management and inspiration are supplied by ANU student, Alexandra Grant.  Team members meet regularly and are using modern collaborative software development practices and tools.

Some Gamemaker team members share their development and planning ideas. Photo: Inge Kral

Further information:
Leanne Scott, CoEDL Communications and Outreach Manager
Ph: 0437 839 216

Above: Inge Kral (left) and Lizzie Ellis showing the endless runner game Tjinari to students at Warakurna Campus of Ngaanyatjarra Lands School. Photo: Jenny Green

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