Less than a month ago, the trending topic in the country was the CBSE score. Media and social media timelines were flooded with stories of wins and misses, chalking it up to the entire potential of the child. While academic scores are a worldwide benchmark for assessment of intelligence, and subsequently, success, research points otherwise – emotional intelligence and empathy are far more accurate metrics that correlate with success, as proved over and over again.
While we spend hours learning academic subjects, learning emotional intelligence is addressed in most schools through a ‘moral class’ session once a week, with even that session ceded to a ‘more important’ math class because the teacher is falling behind on the syllabus. Or kids perceive it as the time to catch up on sleep or games.
So one man decided that games it would be. Meet Greg Acuna, the founder of Planet Earthlings dedicated to creating collaborative apps and gaming content for kids, designed to raise empathy and cooperation among kids. With an unusual mix of skills from being a director of media projects to a creative and business writer, novelist, poet and songwriter to directing live-action/animation TV pilots and theatre plays- Greg has decided to bring all of this to where it matters most- children.
Greg began with a big goal of creating an educational virtual world called Zarbul where young people go inside a game universe to study and create together by helping each other learn and making things together, which is a 3D experience on a 2D screen (Computer, tablet and even phones) and not VR( which is an expensive medium) for the experience Greg aims to create.
“There are a few key goals for this part of the project. By making learning fun we can help kids with what I believe is the most important thing at the root of a great education: to learn to love learning. Then, creating cooperative and collaborative experiences based on learning together and creating things (art, videos, apps, games, etc.) can allow them to bond in a deep way. Making friends around the world in this way not only empowers the individual but in my opinion can help us overcome some of the biggest problems facing humanity…war, inequality, ecological disasters and more. We have a tremendous chance to significantly change the world if we breakdown the old barriers and come together as a species,” says Greg.
On the way to building the prototype of Zarbul, Greg came up with the concept of the Acting Kindly card games. The first version was for people of all ages to play out in public where small teams are drawing cards and interacting with strangers doing kind and silly deeds to spread joy. Later, it evolved into the Acting Kindly @School card games – an amazing opportunity for young people to step out of their normal roles and have bonding experiences where the feedback loop is “I’m nice to people and people are nice to me.”
We at Kidskintha had a brief chat with Greg. Read on to know all about the game that is fast catching up in schools globally, and what inspires the man…
Thanks so much for the lovely introduction. I have enjoyed trying out a wide variety of experiences and have been lucky to have so many opportunities. I came to work on a project for children because I’m convinced if we create ways for young people to interact cooperatively and cooperatively across the world, the world can be a very different place when they grow up. I’ve felt and experienced kids being more open to connecting across the artificial barriers of the past. My goal is to help them make those connections so they can deeply experience how we humans are truly the same.
Originally, I wanted to create a game to help players interact with strangers in a way people could overcome fears and spread kindness. When we started playtesting the concept, the response was tremendous. People were having such powerful experiences. I’m convinced this is because we had truly made it a game so players of all ages were connecting to that child-like approach which helped them interact with others in powerful ways.
I realized after the game was played in various parts of the world that it takes real effort to set up and play. Getting a group together, going out in public, overcoming initial fears of interacting with strangers…all of that takes real dedication. So I decided to create a version which would be easy to play and get back to my main desire to be working on games for kids…leading to Acting Kindly @School.
The @School version only takes moments to set up and can be played for as little as a few minutes- though half an hour is a great amount of time to have a wonderful game. The best part is the game is totally cooperative and when the game is over everyone wins. We do that by having everyone on one big team…but then paired up each with an Acting Kindly @School deck. Pairs draw cards, do deeds and then get points which are for everyone. During the game when they draw a Switch card they have to quickly change partners. When the whole group reaches the score goal the game is over and everyone has won!
I see the Acting Kindly @School game as a class activity which is best played during breaks where those playing can interact with others at school. This increases the impact of the game as players are bonding and at the same time creating a joyful and kind atmosphere for everyone. After the game, I’m hoping teachers will use the game to have a discussion about key ideas connected to what is being learned during gameplay: kindness, empathy, cooperation, collaboration and why it is more empowering to work together than to be constantly competing. There are also opportunities to use the game to learn a variety of things which the students will find fun and will enhance their experiences the next time they play. For example, there is a card “Paper Pro…Create something out of paper for someone!” If the kids have an opportunity to learn Origami or making great paper airplanes they will learn a variety of very important skills and that whole experience will connect to being kind. Then when they next play the game and can make even cooler things to share making the impact of the game even greater.
Though our crowdfunding campaign in India contributors made it possible for us to distribute Classroom Packs of the Acting Kindly @School game to over 70 government schools here in Goa. The Classroom Pack comes in a sliding drawer box with 15 decks for up to 30 players to play at one time and a 60-page booklet full of suggestions for playing the game, learning connected to each card and things which can be done at home and out in the community. We had a big event where one teacher from each school came to learn how to play the game and they even played it themselves. We are working on ways to study the impact in cooperation with the Directorate of Education, one of the local Education colleges and the schools.
We have a “Suggestions” card in the Acting Kindly @School deck which can help people use the same deck to play at home or out in the community, but we’re working on a crowdfunding campaign for the original Acting Kindly deck which is made for playing out in public and can be played by families, friends, organizations, etc.
We’ve had schools and young people play the game in Spain, Hong Kong, Denmark, Norway and at a number of places around the US. Schools in Colorado and Minnesota have already gotten Classroom Packs and the response has been excellent. One professor at a university in Nevada has been using the game in teacher training workshops as well.
The current Acting Kindly @School game is for ages 8+ but we do have plans to create an image only version which can be played by younger kids and internationally until we create localized versions. The original Acting Kindly game can be played by people of all ages.
This is an early stage version called Acting Kindly Mobile available for both Android and iOS. This has the original Acting Kindly game, but also a “Quest Mode” where players can draw cards and plan to do kind deeds when they have time and then share it with others.
I have two favorite stories. One is from the original game when a youth organization in Ahmedabad played it in the Municipal Market. Three young men on one team drew the card “Truth Sleuth…Tell someone something nice!” They approached a woman digging a ditch in the middle of the market. At first, she looked a bit upset to be interrupted, but then she smiled and I could see all four had tears of joy in their eyes. They had thanked her for the work she was doing for everyone. This is one small experience, but it is a start to breaking down the barriers between people and helping them understand we are all equal.
The other was when I took my 16-year-old daughter Duniya to playtest the game at her old school. Duniya has been Unschooling for about four years now. She’s a YouTuber (HeyItsDuniya), hyper-social and has been taught since she was a small child to always talk to strangers. To tell this story I’m going to quote from my TEDx talk:
“Duniya was greeted with a big hug from one of her good friends and then another girl grabbed her by the elbow and told her to go away. When we started playing Duniya partnered with her friend, but about ten minutes into the game someone must have drawn a “switch” card where players have to quickly change partners because Duniya was paired with the young lady who’d been rude to her. By the end of the game, they were hugging and hanging on each other. Later they connected on social media and would sometimes exchange messages, but the story doesn’t have a storybook ending. On a recent community camping trip Duniya told me the same girl was there, and to put it politely, wasn’t very friendly. Long-term change won’t happen with playing a single game just once, but I’m convinced creating games which are kind, cooperative and collaborative can make a real difference.”
When we created the ProtoDeck of Acting Kindly we had people in 27 cities around the world get the game including about 70 Teach for India fellows who played the game with kids in schools in all the major metros. The Acting Kindly @School game has been distributed to over 150 schools/people through a combination of sales, crowdfunding contributions and gifts to some of our supporters.
Acting Kindly @School can have short 5 to 10-minute mini-games, but the optimum length is 20 to 30 minutes. The time it takes to play the original Acting Kindly game played out in public depends on how many people and teams are formed. While playing the teams keep merging together until they form one big team. We’ve had wonderful games which have lasted an hour.
You are right- one of the next steps we have planned is a Kickstarter campaign for the original Acting Kindly game which can be played by families, friends, schools and even at work. We hope by introducing the game which can be played by everyone will help to get schools interested in the @School game. We’ve finished our Kickstarter video and are doing preliminary research and setup to get ready for the campaign. I feel there is a tremendous opportunity now as people are starting to realize we need to change the public dialogue and introduce kindness and compassion if we are going to survive as a species. I really want to be part of that change.
My vision is to continue to create innovative games with real social impact. I want to explore a wide range of ways to do that. We have one arcade like game called “Save the Aliens” where players are helping aliens come to Earth. It’s a fun, fast-paced game, but while playing we’re thinking about how kindness and diversity help the world. The prototype is ready and it already has a Steam Greenlight to be released on the biggest computer game distribution platform. I’ve also been working on the ideation of a mindfulness game for kids.
Of course, the big vision is Zarbul. That’s my dream. Something so cool kids all over the world will have fun learning…and so fast it can empower youngsters in small villages in the developing world. While bringing truly great educational content to kids everywhere we will also be helping them bond with friendships based on the cooperative and collaborative experiences I mentioned earlier. Think about it. If a generation of young people grows upon such a platform and they create intense friendships around the world…war becomes impossible and we can start caring for each other and our planet in new and powerful ways.
A word on what you like about Kidskintha?
I’m super impressed with the Kidskintha content. There is such a wide range of articles and the interview format gives us the opportunity to connect with and hear the true voices of those who are working on interesting projects. Glad to be part of that community.
*This page will be updated with Gregs’s TEDx talk in Panaji as soon as it is available.
Devishobha is the founder of Kidskintha- an online parenting resource repository dedicated to jumpstarting conversations around millennial parenting, encouraging parents to bring their attention to words, thoughts and actions that will enable them to raise a well-rounded, empathic and motivated generation. You can also find her on the Huffington Post, Parent.co, Entrepreneur, Lifehack, TinyBuddha and many other publications.