The Origin Story:For nearly a dozen years, I worked in science - as technical staff, graduate student, and then professional scientist. My goal was always the same: to be an effective agent of positive change. Curiously, I discovered that one of the biggest obstacles to positive change was a large and growing gap in between science and society. There were just too many good ideas that were getting stuck on one side or the other of that gap, and not being put into practice.
As a lifelong gamer and unapologetic child-at-heart, I knew that games were a great tool for both fun and learning. So, in January 2013, with grand visions of a better and more playful world, I left my nine-to-five job as a scientist, and founded Mindful Mammoth. Here, with the help of friends and colleagues, we’ve begun to build a better world through play.
What's so special about games?The world that we live in is complex, unpredictable, and ever-changing. To effectively teach about a changing world, you need a changeable medium - games.
Games are virtual spaces that allow for free and playful exploration. The element of exploration allows players to act as scientists - to make choices, observe the consequences of their choices, and learn from the experience. At the same time, the element of play makes games engaging - drawing players in and offering opportunities to follow their curiosity.
What kind of games have you made?In the last two years, we’ve developed two high-quality games:
Fire and Flora: A card game about fire ecology for ages 12+, Fire and Flora weaves together ideas from Pokémon, Monopoly, Settlers of Catan, and real life.
The Puzzle of Life: An exploratory puzzle about humans, ecosystems, and connectedness. It is a beautiful, playful, and flexible tool for learning about the structure and function of ecosystems. Being flexible, you can use the Puzzle to be as silly or as serious as you want - you can enjoy the Puzzle as just a puzzle, create new pieces based on fact or fantasy, or delve deep to explore important ecological ideas.
We’ve also got lots of ideas for other great games - games about weather, chemistry, botany, society, humanity, and more.
What sort of outreach do you do?We bring our games and activities to schools, camps, museums, and festivals throughout California. The details of the programs depend on time, location, and audience - but we generally do some sort of sandwich: short lecture, hands-on gameplay, closing discussion.
Doing outreach allows us to advance our primary mission: to promote the understanding and appreciation of science, nature, and life through play. It also gives us feedback that we can use to continually improve our games and programs.
Some noteworthy accomplishments:
- Over the last two years, we’ve shared Fire and Flora and The Puzzle of Life with over a dozen classrooms around Southern California (photos here).
- We’ve hosted activities at the Santa Monica Mountains Science Fest (2015 photos here).
- This summer, we’ve partnered with the Columbia Memorial Space Center to be a part of their “Life in the Cosmos” Summer Space Camp, and their Young Explorers Academy (photos here).
- We’re also constantly talking with folks about future events.
Why Patreon? How does it work?While our outreach programs are free to participants, they're not free for us to produce - to develop a new game costs anywhere from $10K to $40K, and bringing a game to a school costs from $50 to $200 per event. To help us continue making games, and continue sharing our work, we need your help!
We’ve looked at a number of crowdfunding options, and Patreon seemed like the best fit. While we aim for a big product release every year or two, most of our work is an ongoing process with a very unpredictable schedule. Some months we focus on teaching and outreach, while in other months, we focus on development.
Patreon is a good fit to this style of work as it allows us to be flexible - to adapt to the needs of teachers, schools, and development timetables. By becoming a patron and supporting us with a monthly contribution, you can join our quest and help to create a better world through play.
Specifically, as a Patron, you’ll be helping us with three things:
- Equal-opportunity outreach: By helping to cover the everyday costs of outreach - things like gas, lunch, materials, and time - you’ll help us to continue offering outreach programs on a pay-what-you-want basis.
- Helping others to do outreach: We’re working to develop lesson plans based on our games so that teachers in other parts of the world (i.e. not-California) can use our work to help students in classrooms, camps, and museums around the world.
- Expanding our portfolio: We’ve got lots of great ideas for games about just about everything: weather, chemistry, society, and more. With your help, we can design new games, and grow the power of play.