Game Changers: A non-profit disrupting the Gaming Industry
The gaming sector is a behemoth, projected to be worth $300bn-plus by 2025, with upwards of 90% of UK children aged between three and fifteen actively engaged in gaming. However, amid concerns of cyberbullying, addiction and negative stereotypes, a non-profit organisation called Tales of Us (Tales) has emerged as a trailblazer. Led by Eva Vonk and Stefanie Plattner, Tales seeks to revolutionise the gaming market by prioritising collaboration, diversity, and inclusivity.
In this interview, we explore Eva’s journey, delve into the challenges faced by enterprises in the hyper-competitive gaming space, and uncover how Tales and their upcoming World of Us Game, planned for launch next year, is redefining the future of education through gaming.
Igniting Change Through Innovation
“I had a background in storytelling and film production”, says Eva, the CEO of Tales of Us, when asked about breaking into the gaming sector. Although not from a gaming background, her passion for authentic and diverse narratives, coupled with advancements in technology, propelled her to explore the potential of gaming as a medium for positive change.
She explored this space of possibility through various multi and trans media projects including a coffee table book, an online miniseries, mythology lectures, game development competitions. All of which takes us up to the present moment, and the launch of her newest venture; a free online information hub - worldofus.info - built to foster an exchange of knowledge about education innovation in the digital era.
“The pandemic led us to focus on gaming as a platform to share important stories and address challenges faced by children and parents with increasing screen times and lack of safe spaces for exploration,” Eva says, “the result of this will be our upcoming World of Us Game planned for launch next year”.
Navigating the Gaming Industry as a Non-Profit
Breaking into the gaming industry as a non-profit enterprise can be daunting, but Eva firmly believes in the inherent value of Tales’ mission – “to be a problem solver, an accessible educational resource, and create safe and enjoyable spaces for all”. While acknowledging the flaws and challenges, she sees the gaming industry as an inclusive space with tremendous potential for growth and improvement. “Progress takes time, but we are seeing a shift in better understanding the power of collective intelligence and collaboration” Eva observes, emphasising the importance of remaining committed to fostering an environment where diverse voices and perspectives can contribute to creating a more equitable world.
The main challenge lies in competing for children's attention and engagement against addictive games developed by industry giants, whilst connecting with guardians, with the promise their child will be safe whilst playing in the virtual worlds Tales are creating. However, Tales embraces this challenge by prioritising its role as a valuable educational resource and creating impactful avenues for connection, growth, and learning – “Due to our educational aspirations, we must work hard to put the metaphorical medicine in the candy instead of serving kids chocolate covered broccoli. It is challenging to keep up. But challenge accepted! We aren’t here to compete. We are here to become a valuable resource and offer impactful avenues to facilitate connection, growth, and learning.”
Gaming as a Catalyst for Education
Gaming, once associated with negative stereotypes, is now viewed as a dynamic tool that brings people from different backgrounds together. Eva envisions gaming as an intersection of the future of education. Spending time in a digital environment that evolves with the times can be both enlightening and entertaining. It allows us to connect with others, build friendships, and break down barriers of fear and unfamiliarity”, she explains, adding that gaming can be “a tool to enhance problem-solving skills and provide valuable learning opportunities, creating an immersive and collaborative educational experience.” Ultimately, the goal is “to provide a space where children can safely and joyfully explore, learn, and grow”.
Embracing Diversity and Representation
Representation in the gaming industry has been a longstanding issue. According to a study conducted by the International Game Developers Association (IGDA) in 2020, only 21% of game developers identified as women, while 81% identified as white. Consequently, Eva and her team acknowledge the need to go beyond mere quotas and embrace diversity of thought – “We understand that we must strive for legitimacy in our efforts, which is why we collaborate with experts in various fields such as representation, gender diversity, and early childhood development. Their invaluable guidance helps us navigate the complexities of representation and informs our decision-making process”.
But how does this look in practice?
Community engagement plays a vital role in Tales’ approach, as they actively seek to increase access to digital literacy skills and involve more diverse developers in different areas of their process. Eva draws attention to the series of “Game Jams” organised by Tales in various localities – “these providing opportunities for individuals to participate and contribute their unique perspectives”. Additionally, the "Build our World" (BoW) sessions “focus on knowledge exchange, allowing children from different communities to engage with our prototype and learn how to build digital objects that become part of the final game”. Eva assures me that Tales “make it a priority to host these sessions in demographics where access to such learning opportunities may be limited, ensuring that participants can continue to benefit from ongoing connections and support”.
AI: Tailoring Learning and Protecting Privacy
Based on each child's unique abilities and preferences, Tales harnesses the power of artificial intelligence (AI) to tailor its content. But how does the incorporation of AI enhance the learning outcomes and user experience?
For starters, “this level of customization makes the platform more accessible for different demographics, reducing dependence on English as a primary language”, replies Eva, “we can also analyse gameplay data to provide valuable insights into a child's learning journey”. The crucial thing, says Eva, “is that our commitment remains unwavering: we will only use data to improve the learning experience and benefit children. The responsible and ethical use of technology is at the forefront of our practices. We use data to do good, better.”
Tales of Us is igniting a revolution in the gaming industry as a non-profit powerhouse. Breaking into the market with a steadfast commitment to collaboration, diversity, and inclusivity, they are challenging the industry norms and redefining the future of education through gaming. By providing safe and impactful experiences, embracing diverse voices, and leveraging the power of AI, Tales creates a space where children can explore, learn, and grow in a world that is both just and inclusive. As the gaming industry evolves, Tales stands at the forefront, shaping a vibrant new paradigm for social enterprises and B Corps in the gaming landscape.
TALES is an initiative funded by the Hasso Plattner Foundation. The Foundation directly and exclusively pursues philanthropic initiatives. It supports projects, organizations, and institutions in the fields of science and education, art and culture, as well as social and conservation exclusively on its own initiative within the scope of its statutes.