game based learning · game design · Gamification · Interviews

Meet Greg, the man who believes Games are the best tools to change the world and beyond

1. How did it happen? Tell us what brought you in to game development.

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Greg Acuna, CEO of Earthlings Infotech, Pvt. Ltd.

First let me tell you about the genesis of the project. Over 20 years ago I became obsessed with the idea of changing the world by creating a platform where young people learn together through cooperation and collaboration. I saw in the early days of the internet an opportunity to break down barriers and empower youth to make the world a better place. Back then I created a short-lived website called Peacelings. Years later we produced an animation/live-action TV pilot called “Earthlings” which failed back in 2008 partly due to the global economic crisis.

When we started the TV project we always had in mind the idea of doing an educational virtual world and we even licenced our characters for a Nintendo DS game which started pre-production, but wasn’t made. Then, three years ago while unschooling my daughter Duniya, I had the idea we should try to make a game. After some research I learned the game industry had completely changed between 2008 and 2014. Tools for building games had been democratized by the likes of Unity3d and distribution had made it possible for indie developers to go directly to the market either on platforms like Steam or the mobile app stores.

I had a lot of content both in terms of ideation and art assets from the TV project so I decided to become a game developer excited by the fact that unlike TV where channels and big production houses are gate keepers I would be able to go directly to my audience.

2. Why did you pick Gamification but not Games? (You could’ve developed games that are played just for fun, but you picked Gamification, applying game design techniques to a non-game context which is challenging. Why so?)

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Myself with Greg at the Nasscom Game Developer Conference

First of all my hope is to blur the line between Gamification and what people think of as games. I want to find ways to create enlightening experiences which are part of the games we make. Still, much of what we are doing is Gamification. I’m doing that instead of games because my dream is to make a real difference. Since I was a little boy I looked at the world and often thought, “we can do better.” The Gamification of learning is an opportunity to change an antiquated educational system and empower young people. Our minds work differently inside games and I’m convinced that used properly it will lead to students learning more, remembering more and using more of what they enjoy studying.

3. Do you really think Gamification can be used in real life to bring in behavioural change?

Greg speaking about Games in Real Life at Nasscom Game Developer Conference

Absolutely! As a matter of fact I’m convinced it is possibly one of the most effective ways to change how we think and act. Also, I believe we haven’t even started to scratch the surface of the potential of using games in innovative ways to help people learn. This is an industry in its infancy. Exciting times.

4. Tell us something about your game ‘Acting Kindly’?

Acting Kindly is a game which challenges players to do random acts of kindness and playful deeds to spread joy. It’s created to be totally cooperative so when the game ends everyone wins. I created it as a kind of pivot for the project when I realized it wasn’t going to be easy to get funding for my virtual world dream project. The game is super fun. You play it out in public and in very little time you can feel the atmosphere of the place changing. People smile more and even strangers want to join in.

It started as a printed prototype. Then we did a mobile app/game for Android and iOS.

5. What’s next for Acting Kindly?

We’ve completed the design for the new “Acting Kindly in School” printed deck. Here is an overview of it and here are the cards.

There’s an organization in California who started a #7DaysActingKindlyChallenge on Black Friday to try to encourage kindness instead of greed. I hope the challenge will take off and spread kindness all over the world. Maybe your readers will take the challenge! You can read about it on our website

Idea is to use the Acting Kindly app to do one act of kindness each day for a week and everyday challenge two more people to do the same.

I’m also working doing an “Acting Kindly in the Office” deck for corporates to use for team building.

6. Can you give us a sneak peek into your upcoming educational virtual world?

The prototype of “Zarbul” our educational virtual world is ready for alpha testing. Best preview would be to checkout the brand new video below:

7. Is there anything you want to say to Gamification practitioners (especially in educational domain)?

There are quite a few misconceptions about Gamification. Many people are doing pointification thinking slapping points and leaderboards on things suddenly makes it more exciting. Research shows these types of Gamification can actually be counter-productive. There are real opportunities to try very different uses of game elements or to create more traditional games which have social impact.

8. What does 2018 look like to Planet Earthlings?

I’m tremendously excited for 2018. With the Zarbul prototype working people are finally able to see the vision which has been dancing in my head for a long time. The reaction has been fantastic! People seem to be truly excited by the opportunity to make learning fun while encouraging players to help each other and build things together.

In the coming year I hope to get young people both individually and in schools testing the virtual world so we can learn more about how to make it most impactful. Looking forward to building a team and challenging others to think differently about gaming. Most of all I just want to continue to create empowering experiences and I feel 2018 will take the project to the next level.

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That’s a wrap! I would like to thank Greg for sharing his views with us and wish his team good luck in changing the world. 

If you have something to add/say to this discussion, please use the comments section below. Happy Learning! 

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