What is the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word ‘games’? Is it the latest AAA console title you’ve been waiting for? The mobile game you played while waiting for the train in the morning? While those examples certainly fit the bill, games can also take many other forms beyond traditional video games, and DigiPen (Singapore) alumnus Jedidiah Siah is on a mission to demonstrate how through his start-up company, AlterCulture Studios.
Jedidiah’s fascination and appreciation for games started when he was a young child. He even tried his hand at game development early on — drawing mazes at age 7 and making his own board games by the time he was 10. Many years later as a young adult, he serendipitously discovered DigiPen (Singapore) while at the Singapore Institute of Technology open house. Intrigued, he decided to apply for the BA in Game Design — now renamed as the BA in User Experience and Game Design — program.
While at DigiPen (Singapore), Jedidiah had a chance to do an internship at the Civil Service College (CSC) Learning Futures Group. There, he worked with his colleagues to educate public servants and citizens on game design principles and gamification. “At CSC, I was developing and running games that were being used beyond entertainment,” Jedidiah says. “The work we did was highly exploratory and often involved us innovating new ways to solve problems related to education, including through the use of games or simulating different scenarios to prepare public servants for various situations.”
Though he was an intern, Jedidiah was given a lot of agency and freedom to choose and even lead projects with the support of his team. His positive experience at CSC planted a seed in his heart as he realized that there was still a long way to go in terms of raising awareness about the benefits and possibilities of developing games beyond entertainment. Recognizing that there was a growing interest from companies to develop and use games in their line of work, as well as a lack of people with expertise in how to do so, Jedidiah co-founded AlterCulture Studios with his business partner, David Cabral, upon graduation in 2020.
AlterCulture Studios is a management consultancy firm that harnesses the potential of games to facilitate organizational development and bring about positive cultural change. It does so by designing games and experiences to simulate real-world problems to help companies realize their objectives. This could range from educating staff to experimenting with new ways of doing things. When asked why games are such good tools for businesses and education, Jedidiah explains that when someone plays a game, there are many things happening beneath the surface. For example, the game player is quickly learning new sets of rules, interpreting and making sense of them. They’re also applying what they’ve learned and devising strategies or patterns in order to complete the game — all in one session. This element of immediate application and tactile interaction with new information makes games engaging and effective learning tools for various industries and organizations.
Some of the services that AlterCulture Studios offers include game education, game consultation, and ecosystem building. In game education, the team conducts workshops and webinars on topics relating to game design theory, giving their clients a deeper understanding of gamified and interactive experiences, as well as the usage and benefits of games. They also offer a workshop available for the public called The Paper Playground, which is a 3-hour workshop that guides participants through the creation of their own tabletop game prototype. Game consulting, on the other hand, is targeted at businesses or individuals who are looking for help to develop their existing game-related projects or ideas. Some of AlterCulture Studios’ own games that span tabletop, experiential, and digital games are also in development to support these efforts. AlterCulture Studios is also in the midst of cultivating an ecosystem of companies and partners both within and outside the game industry. This network consists of various artists, game designers, and games-as-a-service studios that can come together and collaborate on projects.
Through constant education and engagement with people from various fields and backgrounds, AlterCulture Studios ultimately hopes to expand the perception on what games can be and how they can be used. He cites the example of an interactive art installation that uses fun and engagement to educate the viewer on an important topic, or an escape room that teaches people how to work together to solve problems. “One of the biggest misconceptions that those who are not in this industry have is about what games are,” Jedidiah says. “People often limit their understanding of games purely to video games, but games can go beyond entertainment.”