First Person Encounters: Dhruv Jani

This podcast has Souvik Kar and Aritro Bhattacharya of Games Studies India Adda in conversation with Dhruv Jani, game maker and founder of Studio Oleomingus, a small, independent game and arts studio, based in Chala, India. Studio Oleomingus’ Somewhere Franchise of games, involving interactive digital storytelling and postmodernist graphic art, declares its goal as an “attempt to study colonial power structures and the histories that they occlude and how interactive fiction might be used to pollute a single reductive record of the past or of a people.” (“About”, Studio Oleomingus).

Starting off with a question from about his own genesis as a gamer and his childhood experiences of gaming in India, Jani discusses the ways in which the circularity as well as endlessly inventive, hybrid nature of Indian narrative traditions had fascinated him from the very beginning as an integral part of the way games were approached in India. Jani tells us that he is aware of the mark this has left on him as a game designer, when he chose interactive digital storytelling as a format rather than participate in the immersive experience that most major games now promise players. Sharing his thoughts on user agency in games, Jani points out that he prefers a particular distance from the story that unfolds in the game even as through some interactions the user is still involved in the story being narrated (while wandering through rooms and worlds of beautiful, surreal graphic art). He situates himself firmly as a postcolonial gamemaker, reiterating that all of his games try to retreat from colonial structures of power and violence that had percolated deeply into Indian cultures and haunts the nation till date. Discussing his games, he tells us that he is interested in fragments instead of completed stories, and the recurring presence of the fictional poet Mir Umar Hassan, the (mis)translations of whose writings the games purportedly adapts, is a way to both tell a story and yet leave it open to interpretation and questions, a nuanced way of sifting through discourses of power and oppression without surrendering to a hardened position that only reduplicates the binaries it fights. Jani ends by telling us about his hopes for gaming as a therapeutic, affirmative space of rejuvenation for Indian traditional forms of storytelling that are more egalitarian, more effective questioners of power and archivers of loss, and perhaps more important than ever for a non-binary, democratically inventive world.

-Souvik Kar

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