Humans today have and continue to create divisions among themselves based on caste, creed, religion, political standings, etc. The challenge, says game developer Greg Acuna, is how to get past these.
“I believe that the way to do this is by creating ways by which people see their common values and I’m convinced that games are a great way to do it,” says Acuna, who started the project called Project Earthlings through which he seeks to bring about a paradigm change in the world with games focused on promoting the concept of kindness and co-operation.
“The basic fallacy of the modern world is that people think that they can only feel good about themselves if they somehow feel better than others. In reality, it only makes everybody else feel bad. We need to find ways of connecting instead, and kindness is one of the best ways because it really makes us feel good about ourselves,” opines Acuna, who apart from developing games, has also written, directed and produced theatre productions and films, written novels, poetry, and been an IT consultant, among other things.
The first initiative he set out to create was an educational virtual world called Zarbul. In this multiplayer game, individuals sign in and then enter a space themed virtual area consisting of different planets. Each planet consists of a different theme or subject like algebra, physics, etc. Participants can also connect with up to four other players who could be either playing the game right next to them or be across the world. “If one player clicks on an educational video for instance, all the others in that group can see it and watch it together. They can also hit pause on the video and ask a question in the chat video,” explains Acuna, who later hopes to make this a platform for student tuitions. The prototype of this game is now ready.
In the early stages of working on the game, Acuna admits that he got a bit frustrated and thus decided to focus his attention instead on creating a card game called Acting Kindly.
Here, individuals form groups and then have to complete the tasks mentioned on the cards which could be either acts of kindness, doing silly things, etc. “The game is based on a simple premise. I believe that when you perform kindness in public, it gets to our common humanity and helps us connect,” says Acuna.
And Acuna admits that it took about six weeks of ideation to work on the game. “The key part in making the game was to make it about bonding. So the core of the game play was about being kind. It was also about making the game in such a way that players can interact with different people and then finally having it finish where everybody wins,” says Acuna, who also simplified the game for youngsters by creating Acting Kindly At School.
And indeed, in both versions of the game, there are no losers. “In the school game, what happens is that everybody playing is on one team but they play in pairs. Each pair has a deck of the Acting Kindly cards. At the beginning they choose the score they want to reach. This score is for everyone, which means that when one pair scores points, the whole team gets it,” explains Acuna. The deck also consists of a switch card, where the pair has to switch partners with another pair.
The other version of the game is slightly different. People start off in groups of two to five. As they progress the teams start merging until everybody playing becomes one big team.
Acuna and his team first presented the prototype of the game at a peace day event called Acting Kindly on Peace Day where individuals in 27 cities around the world played the game. In India, they partnered with Taught to Teach, and the game was played in the institutes where the organisation has its reach. Since then the game has been played in various places be it Denmark, Hong Kong, Spain, etc. In fact, about 15 to 20 people have also previously played the game in central Panaji.
“When we first took the game to a school, it was one of the greatest hours of my life because the kids wouldn’t stop playing!” recalls Acuna. Although the score to be reached was set at 100, the children went on playing it till they reached the score of 300. “
I am very proud of the game because a truly educational game is one where people aren’t even aware that they are learning. This game is like that. The children are having fun but they are also learning that it is nice to be nice,” he says.
In fact, the students loved the game so much that a couple of boys were insistent on buying the game right there and then. However, given that it was only a prototype then, this wasn’t possible. The game is now available on the Planet Earthling website. Acuna has also created an app called Kindness Aliens to enhance the experience.
Interestingly the characters on both the games Zarbul and Acting Kindly are aliens. And there’s an interesting reason why Acuna chose this. “Many years ago, I had the idea that if aliens come to earth they will not look at you as an Indian, an American, etc. We will all just be earthlings,” says Acuna. “So while a lot of people are talking about how we are different, for me, those things which are different aren’t as important as the things which make us the same.”
Acuna further illustrates a statement made by the Human Genome Research Institute which said that 99.9 per cent of our DNA is now identical. “Thus what makes each of us different is less than half a percent of our DNA,” he says.