Outset and the Conception of an Idea:
Before I “made my passion a profession” so to say and became more or less a full-time game designer, I studied Social Work at the University of Applied Sciences in Linz, Upper Austria. During my studies, I concentrated myself on international development aid and did a practical placement abroad to work with Arthik Samata Mandal (in short ASM), a huge and renowned Southern Indian rural community development institution, founded and run by Indians, for Indians, in order to learn about development aid where it is actually done.
It has been 5 years now since I feel terribly ill with a tropical disease during said placement which almost killed me and rendered me unable to continue my promising studies of social work. Well, as it so often happens, a crisis can be a chance and I made the best out of my situation, pursuing my hobbies and passions with tireless effort and commitment, which gained me a humble recognition in the international gaming scene. Long story short, the world has been good with me and so I want to give something back – remaining a Social Worker at heart after all. It is my sincere conviction that we here in the “western” world are very privileged and that with privilege there comes responsibility – responsibility for our fellow humans, be it near or far.
Hence I decided to get involved with and support the Indian development aid institution, ASM, again. So an idea arose, a plan assembled gradually in my mind, a vision if I may put it that way. I concluded that I could best serve the worthy cause of ASM and “do my part for the bettement of humankind” if I may say that so boldly, by doing what I am best at. Well I am an artist, a creative mind in general and many have said that I do quite a good job in designing various board and card games. So the idea was born to “make the world a better place – through games!” What a wonderful motive and what worthy cause indeed – at least in my opinion.
Together We Are Strong!
Luckily, I got quite a headstart on the game design aspect of this undertaking, as I had developed a very simple, easy-to-learn and play, cooperative card game for social workers, theraphists and other professionals working in the social sector as well as for their clients while ago already. The game, “Together We Are Strong” (TWAS for short in the following), which was made with the context of Austrian / European / Western Social Work in mind, was well received with the target groups in mind. Please find an overview on the game here.
I tested TWAS extensively with professionals as well as with clients, who all concluded that TWAS fulfilled its purpose greatly and was indeed a highly useful tool to explore problems and find ways to solve them TOGETHER. Furthermore renowned game reviewer and distinguished expert in the gaming scene, Cyrus “Father Geek” Kirby gave TWAS an unexpected but very thorough review (check it out here if you want to know how the game works and what Father Geek had to say about it) and, while not giving the game his acclaimed seal of approval, recognized it as highly suitable for the purpose it was developed for. Surely, and Father Geek mentioned that, it is not a “gamers game” and was not intended to be such. Please read the statements from the Social Workers who played the game towards the end of the Father Geek Review.
So having a great “Social Work Game” which works very well in the “Western context” made me think if this would be something of use for an Indian development aid agency and the impoverished village communities they are working with. Making use of my “expertise” as semi-professional game designer, social worker (at least at heart) and as someone who has first hand experience in the field, I came to the conclusion that this game, TWAS, would be a highly useful and efficient instrument or tool for use in and by the rural village communities ASM is working in and with, if only “localized”, that is rethemed and adjusted in a way so it would reflect the particular life circumstances and environment the Indian village dwellers find themselves in, thus having relating and appealing to the “target audience”.
Thus the idea of “Kalisunte balam”, that is “Together We Are Strong” in Telugu, the local language, was born!
So how can impoverished, largely illiterate and destitute villagers in rural Andhra Pradesh, Southern India benefit from a card game?
I have personally witnessed how a large number of self-help or empowerment groups, formed and run by the villagers, the clients, on various topics be it sustainable farming, microfinance or gender equality and women rights among many others, are in place under the guidance and with the support of ASM. It is in the context of these numerous groups that Kalisunte balam, that TWAS could serve as a valuable tool for various purposes which I have (not comprehensively) listed on the promotional poster I made to “pitch” the game to ASM. Please have a look:
I have a vision:
“A Game for Every Village / Group!”
I will explain in detail how I will try to realize that vision and supply ASM with a sufficient number of games for distribution among the villages and empowerment groups they work with. But before I do so, I want to provide you with a little more information about the institution Arthik Samata Mandal itself…
Arthik Samata Mandal, shortly ASM, means “Society for Economic Equality” and was founded in 1977 during the aftermath of devastating cyclones and floods that had wrecked havoc in the coastal parts of Andhra Pradesh, Southern India. ASM was founded by Indians, for Indians on the lines of Gandhian policies and humanistic values and works in the sector of sustainable and comprehensive rural community development. The programs ASM has initiated try to tackle, in a comprehensive approach, many problem areas the impoverished, largely illiterate village dwellers of rural Andhra Pradesh are facing, making considerable use of sustainable, community-based methods such as empowerment groups on various topics as I have mentioned before. Among other things ASM strives to provide guidance and counsel as well as infrastructure etc in the sectors of schooling and education, health care and health education, emergency disaster relief and reconstruction, income generation and livelihood, mainly by means of microfinance and thrift societies, in improving the living conditions of their target groups as well as creating awareness for human rights, fighting the still persisting, inhumane caste system and discrimination of women and girls in particular. I would love to point you to the ASM website but as it seems the domain expired just these days and the website is down. That is how much funds and support would be needed over there pretty much.
Working with ASM in the field, right in the middle of poverty and misery, was one of the greatest, most valuable (learning) experiences of my life. I can only tell you what I witnessed were not impoverished, desperate villagers, but more and more proactive communities who are snapping out of the old fatalism perpetuated for ages and taking their fates in their own hands, under the guidance and with the support from ASM, organizing in all kinds of self help / empowerment groups about the various problems and issues they are facing in their living environments, in their day to day lives. I will provide you with an update in the form of a photo story / report of my field experience with ASM.
In this climate of emancipation and at the dawn of progress, I think the game I developed could serve well as an instrument for educating old and young, initiating discussion and debate, identifying problems and finding possible solutions together, as a group, as a community. This is why I would rather supply the rural communities of Andhra Pradesh with a valuable tool, than to just send over money, striving to make a lasting impact and a change for the better in the lives of these brave people – through a simple card game!
“Give a man a fish and he will not be hungry for a day. Give him a fishing rod and teach him how to use it and he and his family will never have to go hungry again.”
…or so the saying goes. This is the prime idea and motivation behind my plan and efforts.
How I plan to make this happen:
The harrowing ordeal of my terrible illness which I contracted during my placement with ASM in India, which shatterd my life to pieces and was a huge incision in my life, not only by forcing my to quit my social work studies, was also a great opportunity for me. All of a sudden, I had the time to pursue my game design hobby with much effort and commitment, so I was able to build a humble reputation and followership as an indie games designer in the international gaming scene. As part of this, I was able to establish extensive, international contacts in said scene, personally being in touch (and on good terms) with some prominent figures within it. I have been able to establish a great network of friends and contacts throughout the gaming scene and gaming industry. I will mobilize “all i have” so to say to make this “games for india” campaign actually happen and succeed, including my network of contacts in the “games biz” as well as heavily making use of social media such as facebook and twitter etc.
Since Kickstarter, who shamefully and disrespectfully turned me down in my cause, with empty phrases copy/pasted from previous mails, was not an option, I asked around and Indiegogo was brought to my attention as an alternative to Kickstarter, an alternative means of raising funds. So what I am going to do is start a fundraising campaign on there, just in time for the Christmas Season, when everyone in the Western word is in a charitable mood (supposedly we Westerners are…) and willing to chip in to my “noble cause”. In my opportunity, the campaign should be very appealing to many gamers around the world, who are, from my personal experience, in general a kind, supportive and helpful lot, and I am pretty confident that the idea to “make the world a better place – through games!” should be interesting and worthy to support in the eyes of many.
I would probably put it this way:
Give a minimum of 20 USD to grant X villages access to the game. Every Y USD you give in addition to this, will give another Z villages access to the game.
The rewards will probably not be actual copies of the game, which would eat up a lot of money for postage for reasons I will provide shortly, but rather personal thank you letters from the villagers in India, maybe including photos of the games being actually put to good use in the communities ASM is working with in rural Andhra Pradesh. I think offering copies of the game as rewards to the “western” gamers / supporters would be pretty obsolete, as I would figure said supporters would rather see “their” copy of the game being handed out to an empowerment group or village in India. That is at least what I would want if I was to decide if I wanted to back this project or not.
How much money I would need to make this happen:
I have quotes from the Polish printing company of my choice and according to those…
I would need no more than 1500 USD…
…to fund a minimum print run of 500 copies of the game. Mind you that I cannot order fewer copies as 500 units is the minimum print run required by most large printing companies. Also know that while 500 copies for one institution seems a bit much, ASM is working in hundreds of villages and with an immense number of empowerment groups. At least that was the case back in 2008 when I worked there.
And now something important:
Any surplus money raised that is not needed for funding the production of the actual game will be donated directly to ASM, India. I will not keep a single cent of the money collected as my intentions are purely altruistic. If this will give me a good name in the gaming scene or wherever, so be it. But as for the money raised, it shall all be put to good use in India, where it is needed most and this undertaking of mine is purely a non-profit campaign.
Printing in India – Keeping it real!
I have re-established ties with an Indian (card) game manufacturer whom I have worked with in the past and who are providing mainly highest quality playing cards for professional poker players among other things. They requested the quotes from the Polish company and are, as far as I can tell, determined to beat their offer. And even if they cannot do so, printing the game in India would have many, many benefits as it would not only give the project credibility – think about it this way: A game intended for Indians, printed by Indians – and also be somewhat more eco-friendly in a sense that we would not have to send a huge package halfway around the world, from Poland to India, in a plane. Not to mention, taxes and shipping fees would be kept at a minimum, thus leaving more money for games and to be donated to the institution direclty.
What you can do:
Well first of all you are as a matter of course very welcome to consider donating money once the Indigogo fundraising campaign is live. I will notify you on this here blog and via social media. But even if you do not have a lot of money at your disposal, you can still support the campaign and help me to make this all happen. If you are a games reviewer, I’d gladly send you a copy of the game to review or promote somehow. If you run a blog or website somehow related to games or social work or development aid or whatever, mention the campaign or offer me ad space. If you are just a “general good guy”, your adivce, input and ideas prior and during the campaign would be most appreciated. Anything you can think of that could be helpful for “making the world a better place – through games” would be very much welcome.
If you think you can and want to help please do not hesitate to contact me directly at my personal email at
Thank you for your interest and for taking the time to read through this rather lengthy overview of my “games for india” project plan.
P.S.: Here’s a picture of me with the “village president” of one of the rural communities ASM works with. I will follow up with a proper report in the form of a photo story and post it on this blog soon!