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Behind The Scenes: The Birth Of The One Million Heroes Campaign And its counterpart a CYOA ARG

Introduction

I was young when I decided I wanted to be a writer, 15 when I first came online and discovered MUDS and Interactive Fiction, and 16 when I decided I wanted to build games and brought my first books on programming, when I decided that I wanted to use games to make my stories come alive and in essence to save the world. I was around that same age when I began volunteering with people and animals to gain experience that I could bring back to my work. I was 19 when I first discovered digital currencies like Bitcoin, it was fairly new and not as easy to get as it is today. You had to get it online and it took days to arrive. Today with companies like Circle and Coinbase those days are over. But at the time all the steps it took to get it turned me away. I kept my eyes on it as an outsider looking in. I was 21 when I went to school to learn game development, I was only there for 2 years and it was all to grow my skill so that I could work on the project I had set for myself at 16. That project was codenamed “The Medusa Project” after the Greek “Villain” Medusa who had been the centerpiece for my research, growth as a person and the second universe to a 13 part series that was growing and expanding as I was. Medusa was a project that focused on identity, belief and demonization, more importantly it was a commentary on sexual violence, war and social conformity and what it takes to break out of that including the consequences for doing so.  I would later redubbed it to “The Compassion Project”, and not long after that I founded my game and book publishing company Zenratstudios as a nonprofit.

This past year has been a journey. It’s taken me one year since starting Zenratstudios to formulate my thoughts, define a clear message, to figure out who I am and what I want to say to the world, and what I would like us to do together. Technology is evolving fast and there is more I can do today than I could have done yesterday or even just 3 years ago. When I first entered the internet  scene, AOL was a thing, Yahoo chats were still popular and we were still using tables, and CSS3 was hard to use with a lot of hacks that I was first introduced to via Myspace. Things I wanted to do in Javascript could only be done with Jquery and were more complicated to do than they are now with a lot less libraries available for use. Flash was the way to animate and game engines like phaser non-existant. I have a love-hate relationship with programming, but I have an even worse relationship with Javascript and so for years I refused to touch the stuff. I wanted to work with C# or something similar and if it were up to me I would rather not work with any programming languages at all. This year was the year I had to face those fears and embrace my projects head on.

 

“What are you willing to do to achieve your dreams?”

During my time in school I discovered Tabletop RPGS for the first time and I was absolutely fascinated. How amazing was it that you could create an entire game with game mechanics that people people could enjoy without programming. Board games, card games, tabletop RPGs all of them were things I could do and none of them involved programming, and of the two only one of them could be created solely digitally, no need to print anything. There was only one tiny problem. I had never played tabletop RPGs with other people. So I would spend the next 3 years neck deep in a world of online RPGs, melodrama and mental illness only to come full circle in 2015.

It’s a long story of how I got from A to B but it’s that entire story put together that gave rise to Zenratstudios. The accumulation of all my years searching for answers and knowledge and integrating it together, an accumulation of my journey. Every detour always seemed to lead me back to the same road, and so here I am today.

 

In 2015 A Hero Is Born

In November 2015 I decided I was done waiting for the right moment to live my dreams. I decided to take on the task of going Indie. A common theme with me is constantly figuring out how to make money to bootstrap my dreams. For as long as I remembered I was always thinking of other ways to make money so that I could make money doing what I love, so that I could continue to give back to others that trend followed me with this company.

 

At first I decided I would take the concept of House Flipping and flip and reskin apps instead. It was something easy that I thought could give me quick money which I could then use to fund my philanthropic endeavors. So I spent November – December researching Android, and places to go to find these apps, and then I found one place that mentioned Unity which was cross-platform and easy. Platformer pro and other solutions made it easy to put together games with minimum programming skills. So for the Month up until December and a bit into January I worked on a game called Winter Solstice about mental illness and part of a series on a blogspot page. The game ended up being a source of stress for me both because I was just one person trying to do all of it and because of losses taking place in my life. In January I put the game away, officially brought my Zenratstudios domain as a .com and began focusing on “Afterlife” a board game based on my original tabletop rpg game from 3 years ago, that turned into an RPG card game. The purpose of Afterlife was to help me heal from my pain and to discover who I was underneath it all, and so the game Afterlife takes place in a world where you’ve died and you have to pass through a series of Gates and Guardians located in the cardinal directions to reach the center. It was inspired by ancient Egyptian Senet and Inanna’s descent into the underworld from sumerian mythology. It merged the Medicine Wheel and other mythologies weaving them together. The goal was to discover all that I was by undoing all that I wasn’t and reconnect with my center, and rebuild and create my life to be what I wanted it to be.

I stopped short of publishing it because I wanted to add art to it, to test it, and because most importantly I really wanted another Game Designer and Artist to give feedback as well as play testers. I can be a bit wordy and antisocial, and to be honest wasn’t quite ready to reach out to the world as I still didn’t know me. Taking a pause from Afterlife I went through another bout of pain and in March I decided to try to make money by trading cryptocurrency. It was the first time I had decided to participate not as an observer but as someone taking part in it all. I didn’t know who I was and wanted the freedom to make blunders in the community without associating that with Zenratstudios. What I found was that most people in the cryptocommunity were actually quite friendly, enthusiastic and pioneers full of ideas and inventions. They offered many insights and I learned much.  I discovered Ethereum and fell in love with the concept despite its flaws, I took part in the DAO and I learned many lessons that I would later take back to my Zenratstudios including but not limited to viewing Blockchain as a simple technology, a tool, no different than using C# or Javascript or some other thing, and not necessarily the best tool for every situation. It is this years experience in the blockchain community that gave me insights on what I wanted to do with Zenratstudios and how to bring my dreams of “Saving the world” together.

In August I decided that my time spent focusing on trading digital currency was while fun, a full-time job for me. The markets spend more time in the accumulation phase and swing-trading was taking up all my mental energy. I wanted to make games, I also went through another emotional crisis, and it would be the last major crisis for me. In September I would begin working on my Workshop and took a detour into Astrology, web development and workshops. My focus was on learning SASS, react.js and building my websites from scratch using frameworks, getting up a site and doing a workshop separate from my company in order to make money to hire people to help me make games. It was in working on that that I came full circle again, and I recalled my Project Graveyard game that I wanted to make a long time ago in March but didn’t have the skills. I also came to realize something important. Here I was trying to make money to make money to make money so that I could give back to people…why didn’t I just cut out all the middlemen out, break the loop and cut straight to the chase?

 

And so: One Million Heroes Is Born

One Million Heroes was the simplest thing I could do with the current skills that I have and was based on the One Million Dollar Homepage designed by the man who sold 1×1 pixels for ad space for $1 each. It also integrated well as one of the main ways to monetize your blog by creating ad space and affiliating linking on your blog.

I had wanted to do something similar for a long time under the name Project Graveyard and Project Heart but I wasn’t confident enough in my web programming skills and didn’t know how to implement it until my detour into building my Astrology websites and workshops.

There was just one problem. I hate ads. I block every ad I come across. I find them obtrusive, they tend not to be quality and they are always in my face when I’m looking for something else. It’s not that I didn’t want to see ads, there were plenty of times I could think of when they were done right. Amazon for instance when it recommends books to me based on what others had read, or Youtubes recommended video features that introduce me to other contents. There are times when I’m actively looking for services but when I’m reading an article for knowledge and the blog is littered with ads or pop ups or are bluntly salesman-like, and most of the ads are for-profit to companies not making a real difference. I get turned off. Moreover it turned me off just thinking about building something similar.

One Million Heroes was born as a way to earn revenue by showcasing “Ads” but not just any Ads, Ads from non-profits, non-violent activists and start-ups catered to people when they wanted to see it, not when we ‘wanted’ them to see it. It took what I hated and was designed to make it fun. In this way quality advertisements from “Heroes” all over the world could apply during the Entry Phase. Originally there were 1 million slots and so it was called “One Million Heroes” the problem however was twofold. I was just one person and didn’t have the skills to keep up with that and I didn’t have the funds to automate the process. This was a project that would be done manually. What was the minimum number of slots I could allow, and how would I have to adjust the price to reflect this? I decided that because we were targeting companies and that these were advertisements which often cost a lot that I would charge a pay what you can model starting at  ~48.86/slot, costing more for people to purchase the header and front page and ranked less. I also decided that the currency we would use would be a universal currency such as BTC and something we were designing called “Hero Points” (originally called Karma Points).  The number of slots available would be 20,000 because 50 * 20k would come up to one million at minimum, with the option for people to give more. We would keep the campaign up until One Million USD equivalent had been reached at which point we would either give 1% (10k+) of the money raised to the top paying Hero ads right away, or we would use a portion of the funds to hire a coder to help us build Phase 2, the voting phase.

This is  where I had built in the idea that the very act of viewing games could be fun, engaging and motivate people to share Heroes and nominate them. It was a great way to drive traffic to the showcase, but also to motivate people to vote up their Heroes. People would purchase game badges or points starting at 0.99 USD equivalent and up and would then proceed to give those points to their Hero company, non-profit or start-up of choice.

To give people an incentive for sharing the people who shared or referred the most people would in turn be able to receive a small reward. And later I would integrate an extra feature, unlocking codes, secrets and new levels as possible rewards in our ARG as well.

I was integrating a lot of different concepts I had seen into one place here and I was having fun doing it too.

 

The Challenge That Gave Birth to A CYOA ARG

Now I had a concept, and I had a showcase but I didn’t have an audience.

Releasing Press releases were not only expensive but No one knew me! I wasn’t and still am not a big company or well known figure. I’m just a person coming out from the ethers of my headquarters with a mission.

This was me launching for the first time after 1 year of being official, developing and learning new skills and experimenting. How was I going to do this? I began reading every social media book I could get my hands on, and began focusing on building my social media presence and finding a team of helpers and that was a journey in and of itself. I’m a very shy and introverted person and social media up until recently wasn’t something I felt confident about, but once I broke through that barrier that was hindering me from moving forward I was able to post and feel confident about doing so. I got buffer, I began focusing on analytical tweets, I focused on twitter first. And it was while posting on twitter and building my presence that I realized, maybe I don’t need all the fancy programming and tools that I think I need to build a game. Maybe, just maybe taking the tools and skills I have right now and utilizing platforms like steem.it, reddit, twitter, youtube, facebook and more…just maybe I could…use social media itself, where retweeting and likes and shares was how we kept track of points, and utilizing tools available like qr-codes online, maybe the showcase didn’t have to have all those bells and whistles just yet. Maybe I had all I needed right now. Armed with just social media and a showcase for ads I could do this.

So that’s when I decided that One Million Heroes would be a social media campaign. There was only one slight problem. Tweets other people wrote were getting a lot of hits, people were interested. But things I was writing including notification on the campaign wasn’t getting a lot of likes or shares. It was a solid idea but how was I supposed to get it out there and by November 2nd no less!

I had made a list of influential people who I could possibly contact, but what was I supposed to do, walk up to them and say, “You don’t know me but I’m working on this project–” that’s like never calling your Mom and Dad except on Christmas to say, “Hey…so where’s my gift?” or cold calling a random person, “You don’t know me but can you do me a favor?”. The same idea followed with using forums and blogs. I thought about logging onto these social platforms and saying “Here is what I created, here’s my pitch, make a difference and buy now.”

But I didn’t want to be one of those people. I decided that the best way to tell what we’re about is to SHOW people what we’re about. I wanted to make the very act of learning about our company, our game, our products and services a game in and of itself. And not just any game, a choose your own adventure, alternate reality game, with RPG elements,  interactive fiction and storytelling design in ARG form. Leaving behind short little puzzles, riddles, varying degrees of difficulty, could encourage the community to work together, and could help people solve the problem. Oh I was starting to get so excited!

One of my biggest challenges was trying to word these big concepts in my head to share it with everyone, and writing everything all at once as a solo person, but this way I could reveal everything in pieces all around the world. I could leave clues and hints, pieces of the puzzle that people could work together and solve. I could have a game within a game, and One Million Heroes Campaign could be a part of that.

You see One Million Heroes isn’t JUST a showcase for ads, it’s the a test for our pay it forward economy that we’re developing that takes life and kindness and makes a game out of it. Similar to programming languages like Flux (parent of Redux w/React.js) it’s an architecture a pattern. What we do here can be taken and learned from for our own economy. We’re still developing the details and refining it. But every game we do is part of the grander picture, a way to save the world or at least make a little bit better in pockets hoping that the butterfly effect will carry those effects forward.

Making the very act of releasing One Million Heroes a game in and of itself served the purpose of allowing us to build community, test engagement and interest, and test our pay it forward economy as an architecture and pattern. To experiment while also introducing what we do ‘in action’.

We weren’t just going in and saying “Here is our idea let me tell you about it” but showing it itoo.

It is our goal to bridge different communities and bring them together: The Gamers and the Non-gamers, the pioneers and the newcomers. Games and stories, world-building and economies it’s all related, it’s all interconnected. Together we can build a better world and somehow our small tiny site is part of that.

It took me 2 weeks to build One Million Heroes as a showcase without the bells and whistles, but it took 1 year to develop the idea and bring it to fruition.  And it’s finally here!

 

How It Works

So without further ado, this is how the Game works!

Utilizing different platforms we’re going to be posting different hints. Some platforms will have binary codes that contain a link with an article. Inside those articles are encrypted messages each one tells a story or a description of a location that contains another clue or hint. Sometimes it’s subtle, sometimes not so much.  Every encrypted message has a simple key that can be founded by reading the main article or passage from which it came. The binary codes, riddles and the sort are a bit more complicated and increase in difficult. They lead to treasures and adventure around the world. Some even in physical locations.

Different platforms will have different types of messages, so you might have to do a little digging to put all the codes together.

Just like in a game people can earn points, level up, and discover unique items and things and even redeem those discovers for badges. We want to encourage people to retweet and share, and to work together and we want there to be real awards. For instance in our One Million Heroes campaign people who participate will be given an option they can take a cash reward or opt to pay the cash reward forward and instead choose one of several encrypted messages and binary codes that start a new adventure and lead to new treasures, adventure, danger and opportunities.

Hashtags will be used as “commands” similar to interactive fiction, for example, “unlockLevel” or “unlockHint” @Zenratstudios to receive hints are just a few of the hashtags used for the game. #NominateHero and #NominatedHero are other tags.

People who don’t care about the encrypted messages and just want  to use One Million Heroes as a showcase to #NominateHero are free to do that too. They can l just glaze over it and go straight to One Million Heroes but people who do care will delve deeper and further searching for codes. We intend to use the money we raise to maintaining this adventure longterm.

We’ll keep a forum or place that keeps track of the different levels, stories, and areas that have been unlocked for people to piece together the story, discover mysteries, redeem points, earn money and more.

P.S. Hidden with this article is a keyword, you’ll need it to unlock a key later!

To learn more:

Read The Press Release for One Million Heres Here: http://bit.ly/2e66M4A

Read Zenratstudios Press Release: http://bit.ly/2dsAjTsh

Like & Follow us on Facebook To receive daily hints: http://facebook.com/zenratstudios

Follow us On Twitter: twitter.com/zenratstudios

Visit: http://onemillionheroes.zenratstudios.org

And if you have any questions email us at: savingtheworld@zenratstudios.org or send us a tweet or FB message.

 

Hashtags:

#unlockHint

#unlockLevel

#HeroPuzzle

and more!

 

We’ll release documentations on the best practices on how to use those hashtags in time!

Can a pay-it-forward system really work in a world where people live with a ‘what’s in it for me’ Mentality?

 

October is the month where we begin marketing, campaigning, hiring teams on limited funds and putting ourselves out there. Our campaign, One Million Heroes, a showcase ad that will add gamification elements to help fundraise money to build what will be a book and game publishing company as well as home to a pay-it-forward ecosystem built on blockchain.

To give some background. I grew up volunteering, I’ve won awards for my volunteer work in the community and I’ve learned many important life skills and lessons. I once said that I wanted to be a professional volunteer and to take my volunteering to the next level I began to travel and WWOOF with the goal of working my way up to the Corps (or at the very least as an alternative). I read Jacque Frescoes vision and explored bartering systems and money-free lifestyles, traded my time to learn how to build yurts with wonderful people who were conscious of money and how many hours were worth how much. That was my first taste of how obsessed people were with money, and not for no reason, people needed money to live and to eat and their family was struggling work-exchange helped them get something back for their time.

I admired Daniel Suelo and tried to give up money myself, I went to WWOOF and met a family who were the perfect example of what it meant to live on a farm and to take in interns, and introduced me to the mindset that all farm animals and people had to pull their weight, if they weren’t producing they were eating money and had to be killed or sold if they were animals, or let go if they were people. I learned that they didn’t accept WWOOFer’s with children because children didn’t work, they ate food but weren’t able to pull their weight and this mindset was common across the board. To my horror I would later discovered the foster care system had its origins in this philosophy and mindset too, there is a reason why abuse occurs so frequently in these types of homes but that’s a story for another day. Prior to this experience I had volunteered with companies that were run predominately by volunteers who were passionate about helping people and giving back and I saw first-hand how non-profits struggled to raise money in a world that was becoming increasingly jaded, self-centered and slow to give.

I recall a year ago when I was homeless due to mental illness having no place to go. No one would take me in, nor would I have accepted it from anyone were they able. I was agoraphobic and terrified of homeless shelters and I remembered a story where a woman donated candy and junk food to the homeless shelters because they were too unhealthy for her kids. People believe homeless people should be grateful for what they are given and so they must accept anything, ‘beggars can’t be choosers’, and at the same time I recalled a woman who had started a community garden and began giving free food within her own community, and not just her but the people at Unsung. People with a mission to help make the world a better place.

For me the concept of working for free or for little pay solely to make the world a better place and to help someone was not new to me. I was well aware of people taking advantage of others, and had been a victim of this myself, but I thought about it differently than others did. I think about life differently. Only in running my business and seeking help has it become more clear to me that people won’t help you for free, there is always a catch. Codementors a great place where you can meet experts, whether you just need help with something very small and tiny for 15 minutes, or something big there’s a person available, but no one will help you the way they might on a forum out of the kindness of their heart, everyone had a fee attached even to write just 3 lines of code. Afterall everyone has a family to feed, no one would be there if the reward wasn’t worth it.

In my exhaustion from coding I went on fiverr, I’ll have to write about my review of that site later, but what I found was that almost nobody offered anything of value for $5 and people laughed at me when I asked them to assist me for $15 for 2 areas of code. Find someone else one person said, and on craigslist the reply: You will find no one experienced in Foundation Zurb to help you for just $15. I just wanted to know why my columns were collapsing in foundation zurb which was supposed to be responsive by default and to receive help. What had I done and what needed to be adjusted. It wouldn’t take me more than an hour to do maybe less myself but I was beginning to feel burnt out and funds were limited. I had hired three people already on the short-term and my budget was starting to run out. But the issue I faced brought attention to a larger one, a question in the back of my mind. Something that had been haunting me from the beginning. It’s then that I began to realize the biggest problem we face as a people in building a pay-it-forward platform is building a community and environment where people who want to help others genuinely help others out of the kindness of their heart. They pay-it-forward because they know that it may not come back to them directly from the person they are helping, but that it will eventually come back around to them in some way, shape or form. This was Karma in action and it was the very foundation of my entire life and how I had lived.

You see suffering and sorrow and pain has been the very foundation of my life. I have an intimate relationship with sorrow of observing it, understanding it, studying it, I feel sorrow and pain deeply in the eyes and hearts of others, and deeply within myself. I’ve struggled with abandonment and feelings of being unloveable, of unworthy. And like many I went on a mission to find myself, to accept myself, in freedom, to discover me, to fix what was broken in my heart. At times I felt I needed permission from those I loved to be free, to find me, to love, and there were times when I had to let go of their acceptance and walk alone so that I could drop all that I am not and be accepted for all that I am. That journey has led to what has now become been part of my mission, my motto in life, my work. No not saving the world one story at a time, though it’s certainly one of my mottos, a different mindset based on the law of you receive what you give.

If you want love, give love and be love itself, if you want understanding give and be understanding itself, and so on. You get what you give back. If your heart is full of selfishness and hatred that is what you will receive. Fundamentally I began to realize what the problem was. The problems we faced in this world were symptoms of our flaws at our very core. Our Human Nature. Ourselves. We as humans with all our ego, self-centeredness, me-first, survival-based mentality are part of the biggest issue we face in achieving happiness and peace, everything else is a byproduct of that mindset.

My company Zenratstudios was founded as a way to tackle these issues, through games and stories we uncover all that we are by discarding all that we are not, we focus on building compassion, empathy, and love and more. We try to make giving fun, and we work on developing a built in reward system. The biggest problem is philosophical can true altruism arise from this system? Can we make and build heroes or can we only call out the Heroes in our world, the rare leaders, the rare people who want to make a difference?

There are many challenges we face as a company, many human challenges we face as a people in building a system that is meant to help people, to be a solution to the problems in the world around us. But I truly believe that it is possible to build something that can benefit the world and reward people at the same time for being good people. Can we train people to give just for the joy of giving, teach them how the laws of abundance work. I believe we can, or at the very least I believe it’s worth it to test, experiment, and try.

This Month I am bringing together a team to help refine, test, market and launch One Million Heroes, which at its heart is both a fundraiser and a showcase that shows in action the roots for how our system and philosophies work. Raising awareness to the Heroes in our world, taking revenue we earn from the services and products we create and redistributing back into the people, back into the community we serve.

I’ve spent the past year building the roots and the foundations for this company, but now I’ve hit a wall. Working on my own I have quickly become burnt out and exhausted, signs that I am doing too much and need to call together my team. Alone we can only go so far, together we can go far.

For all those out there who need a hero. Please join us on our journey, and our mission to save the world, one story, one adventure, one person, one you at a time.

Re-Envisioning Zenratstudios With Blockchains

Background

April 28th The DAO (decentralized autonomous organization) launched a Crowdfunding company that would be run without Staff or CEOS. For those who don’t know the company is a piece of software that runs on Ethereum (a type of world computer like Android, or Windows existing within the internet) using blockchain, the same technology that powers the digital currency bitcoin, but with more added and complex features.

TheDao is a company running on Ethereum, to whose shares are known as “Dao Tokens”, they are valued and backed by Ether the cryptocurrency or fuel that runs the Ethereum (world computer). Members who buy these Dao Tokens are ‘shareholders’, and shareholders as a whole can vote on what proposals for new businesses they will fund. Proposals are “contracts” written in code that communicate to TheDao which is written in code, an agreement that members vote on. Curators are the arbitrators of this code (in Zenratstudios basic and limited understanding of it). The proposals are requests to use a portion of the “Funds” within theDao for their own projects.

Note: This is our basic understanding of TheDao as of today 6/1/2016, there may or may not be inaccuracies in part of our thinking. Blockchain technology is a new concept for us in general as up until recently beyond the ‘currency’ Bitcoin and altcoins, we did not know much about Blockchain, what we know is that Blockchain is fascinating. It offers a programmable solution to real world problems, it can handle complex thoughts and ideas, and create entire ecosystems.

What is programming games, and writing stories, worldbuilding rich lore and rpgs but the same thing. The digital world and real world are starting to blur making what we can do and how far we can push the limits even more fascinating to experiment with.

Story & Challenges

We never intended to take part in the Dao’s community. Interest in theDao was simply as a speculator who thought this would be a great way to make quick money in order to fund our company and hire workers to manage the social media of our site. It was just another new coin to us. But bad news released on the same day of the release caused the stocks to go down and forced us to realize that we hadn’t really known what we had signed up for. This in turn forced us to realize we had a real stake in this and were ‘involved’ in what happened next. The fate of theDao as a company surviving and of the value of our “Dao Tokens” (and consequently our investment for Zenratstudios) depended on our (the members of TheDao’s)ability to work together with others as a community. This forced us to come out of the shadows of our workshop and explore social media which we had been avoiding, but most importantly to really engage with the community. It also forced us to explore more about what The Dao and Blockchains were (what we had gotten ourselves into rather than ‘just’ a coin).

What we found was a discovery of something that could be applied to our own company especially as we struggled to deal with the complex interconnected branches that Zenratstudios planned to be long-term and how to expand from our short-term position into that, scalability (the very thing blockchain is learning how to tackle now).

We had the games and books we wanted to publish, entire IPs, and services for publishing the works of others and more that we wanted to offer. We also had an idea that involved crowdfunding people in the communities game ideas and having them voted on by the community to be designed by our team once we had grown into it, to design games people wanted made but didn’t have the skills or teams to do so (once we had grown large enough to have a dedicated team ourselves). Zenratstudios also had the vision of creating an “ARG” and other types of similar games whose category we don’t know that required taking action, inspired by ChoreWars, Superbetter, Halo’s ARG.

However our limited experience with web development and time combined with our limited funds and increasing need to bootstrap made it difficult. We could not learn how to do everything, our survival was dependent on assembling a good team and delegating tasks in-house or finding the funds to delegate tasks out of house through independent contractors.

For this reason we decided to focus on bootstrapping, at present we have gone out and begun to invest a little bit of money into cryptocurrencies that we had set aside for the business.

Vision

Zenratstudios aspires to be several things:

  1. A Game and book publishing company
  2. A non-profit/for-profit hybrid organization
  3. A spiritual resource (based on eastern philosophies) for personal development and growth
  4. A Digital/Virtual Island/Culture “Existing nowhere and everywhere” with its own economy and a way to reward and pay members within the community for self-improvement and paying it forward.
  5. A live action ARG [alternate reality game that plants puzzles in the world and gives real rewards]
  6. A resource and asset to the community

We wish to provide solutions for some of the world’s problems using games, storytelling and gamification to do so.

In a video game every player jumps in and starts with nothing, and yet through hard work and fun they end up making money, finding loot, and purchasing the things they need in order to grow themselves and “Level Up!“. Imagine if life worked like that? If you could pick what you wanted to be, and be rewarded, for growing yourself as a person. Zenratstudios has always believed Games could save the world, since a very young age wanted to do just that but didn’t know how, thought maybe it was a crazy idea but kept working towards it.

Then Jane Mcgongial wrote the book “Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better.” and gave her speech on TED TALKS and Zenratstudios knew this was it. We could do this. But her ideas and what we wanted to do kept expanding, until we encountered TheDao and delved into “The blockchain”.

Game Company’s Where CEOS are paid just like everyone else?

For the past 24 hours I’ve been pacing back and forth thinking about how to apply Ethereum and Dao’s structures to our own business and company, reviewing the problems and challenges that come with it, the pros, and the changes that may occur. Before finally settling on what we want to do and why blockchain is the perfect platform for experimenting and pushing the boundaries of what games and cryptoeconomies can do.

The Pros of converting Zenratstudios into (at the very least if not autonomous) a semi/hybrid-decentralized organization is that it can offer income opportunity to underrepresented people in the community, can handle an economy, transactions and an ecosystem that rewards people for their contributions within the world. It truly helps us apply the game mechanics of a digital world to the real world, bridging a digital gap.

The Technical Cons and challenges are that:

  • Running on Ethereum costs money to operate (ETH/Gas) in combination of our other website management fees.
  • The price of ETH varies and increases, and costs more based on how efficient our code is.
  • The blockchain technology it uses relies on miners and fees (which comes with its own set of problems i.e. they require incentive rather than keeping the blockchain running out of the kindness of their heart)
  • Ethereum is a world computer that updates on its own, any update can break the code and require recoding on our behalf ex. Ethereum’s update from Frontier to Homestead. (we can’t choose whether we agree to the update or not, and would have to update our system manually coding to work with Homestead)
  • There aren’t a lot of documentations or resources available to help new developers
  • Zenratstudios does not currently have the skills and would have to hire or find a willing blockchain developer proficient in Ethereum willing to help, as Ethereum is complicated (it would take time to learn so ‘efficiently’)
  • Zenratstudios would have to hire or have someone on our team able to manage the code and keep it bug free (hacks etc.)
  • Experienced web developers would be required (out-house gets expensive) , so even if we attempted to take the time to learn how to develop on blockchain ourselves we would have a long road ahead.
  • We would much rather build on a more mature platform that allows us to use C# than a javascript based language for back-end code. (Update: Stratis and Counterparty sound promising).

A Social Experiment

In many ways Zenratstudios is attempting to perform a social experiment. We ask questions like:

  • Can Blockchain technology really reward people for paying it forward? How would it work?
  • Can a company and its culture really be its own digital country with values?
  • Can a virtual digital world online offer real income opportunities for anyone?
  • And more

One cool thing is that if we did think of Zenratstudios and other countries like Apple and Google with their own corporate culture and values, then as our own country what we our “citizens” would create of value (our services and products) to the outside world would be considered ‘exports’.

We know for instance that using blockchain technology we can create entire ecosystems and currencies, THE DAO shows us that we can create a global treasury or fund, and disperse it in agreed upon contracts to all members or shareholders who are apart of that fund. There are also services like Bitwalk that rewards people for walking, so what if we merged the two concepts: Rewarding people for real world actions and aspects of the Dao in a way that serves humanity in some way, shape, or form.

Imagine if instead of paying CEOs $119,222,614 – $ 18,755,952, that money was dispersed among members of the community. Traditionally when we work for a company our money goes into the company and we are given back some money for our time, with a portion of it taken by the company.

Here at Zenratstudios we are still working on how this would all work, right down to how we would be governed, and what the co-founders rules would be when more founding members got involved. There’s a lot to study, and many questions to ask. But the idea that all the money our games and products produced not only was equally distributed among all members within the community, but that it rewarded those members for paying it forward and giving back to the world around us, speaks volumes.

It’s interesting to us to see the many new ways that companies are applying these technologies. Can activists and people who wish to help Syrian refugees, victims of war, poverty, mental illness and homeless do the same? Can we solve things like world hunger, bring mental treatment to those in need?

I don’t know all of the answers to these yet, but we’re hoping that through this project we can certainly try.

Currently we will spend our time:

  1. Fundraising (bootstrapping)
  2. Restructuring our company and governance to fit the new proposed organizational structure (decisions)
  3. Preparing a structure compatible with Blockchain technology and Ethereum
  4. Exploring Cryptocommunities to adapt these new technologies into solutions that solve real problems

Here are some awesome links:

To Wait or Forge Forward as Pioneers:

Interestingly enough Ethereum is always evolving and it is still in its infancy. There will be other platforms that may expand or even make easier what we want to do if we wait long enough. Colony for instance may offer just the solution we need, or Ethereum may offer another update that breaks our code as soon as we finish, requiring us to have it rewritten – there’s no telling.

What we do know is that this is the way forward for our company’s vision to save the world one person at a time, the potentials are huge, we cannot let it pass us by.

Stay Tuned and follow us and our journey on twitter!

 

<em>Update: The DAO fell apart but the experiment was great, and we have since added more great blockchain technologies offering possible solutions to problems we’ve encountered. More to come soon on how our opinions have evolved since this post.</em>

Moratorium on Front-End, Shift in Focus

There’s been a lot of radio silence this month for Zenratstudios. More silence than we’ve been comfortable with. That’s because Zenratstudios on the front-end is run predominately by a single person and has been working behind the scenes quietly with a small team of dual personas who contribute thoughts, advisement and expertise but not -content- itself.

Others once on the team included: My ex-girlfriend, dubbed Isolt who dropped out in the middle of our first game “Winter Solstice” which was meant to tackle mental illness. My alter ego is the only personal strength I have which could advise and mentor me on business and finances but did not have some of the skillset required to expand the business on the technological scope it needed. Neither of us were strong programmers or artists and we also didn’t know what to do with social media. There was so much to do and to learn, on the front-end that needed to be done and get neglected as we focused on the back-end. Especially as our scope expanded and what we wanted even on the most basic level required, well, help. These things included:

Social Media, Marketing, Design/Art, Writing and Editing Content for the website, Site Maintenance, Programming, Building a Team, Communicating with the team — there were so many things that we together didn’t have the skills to do on our own. So we put our heads together and came to the decision that we needed to focus on bootstrapping and raising funds for our business on the back-end side so that we could hire people to help us build the type of system that can help others, moreover for the scope we want to do it on, we want to apply blockchain technology and more.

What we want to do as Zenratstudios is much more than just selling games for self-improvement, it’s so much larger than that.We genuinely want to help make the world a better world, one story at a time, one game at a time, one PERSON at a time, through you.

It’s dawned on me that I cannot do this whole thing only. As a  leader I am only as good as my team and that I don’t yet have a team with the right skills, my team consisting of me, myself and I (which is an understatement) was weak in all the areas our project needed, though strong in others. Therefore focusing our energy on raising the funds became our primary goal over content. That means we need to focus on putting ourselves out there and facing the world that we hide from.

On the back-end Zenratstudios wants to create an ecosystem that rewards people for going out into their community, for playing games, for enjoying life. We want to build worlds and publish rpg games and novels based on self research and development and more, we want to use alternate reality based games based on self-development to encourage people to play, we want to tackle mental illness, and poverty, and hunger, and we want to do it through each individual. One way of building an ecosystem a community is through technology. Altcoins/Digital Currency/Cryptocurrency and Blockchains. There are amazing technologies we want to integrate into our system, technologies like Ethereum, Lisk, and coins like Gamecredits, Bitcrystals. There are apps out there that use this technology to pay people to WALK, imagine what we can do when we reward people for paying it forward, and working on themselves, when we use games and gamification to save the world. That’s what we want to do. This is truly vast in scope, and I’m just not capable of doing this on my own anymore, this is much bigger than us.

With the suggestion from my close friend and sidekick (my inner guide), I’ve decided to put a moratorium on the front-end aspects of our business and have shifted focus to fundraising on the back-end so that we can hire workers and delegate important front-end tasks to people who are truly good at it instead of trying to stitch it together.

The reason why we’re bootstrapping instead of going to kickstarter is because we’re not that savvy and managing a fundraiser, updating people, twitter, facebook, all that requires a team of people that we don’t have. It’s just the two of us right now. Start-ups usually take 1-3 years before they really get going, we’re in our first official year. And so we are going to spend our first year attempting to raise the funds through trade. Those funds that we bootstrap and raise through trading will be used to build the foundation of our ecosystem, where workers are rewarded and paid for their investments.

One way we hope to reward workers is through something similar to decentralized organizations and blockchain using some platform such as Stratis, Ethereum, Lisk or something other  to pay workers and members within our system. This may require programming and coders to build, and is so much bigger in scope than we initially thought it was, but for what we want to do, it’s worth it. With this stated. We want to build our company and hire workers using a blockchain system and are going to be taking the time to raise the funds we need to bring in experienced leaders and programmers to help us develop that and work on those plans. We’ll attempt to bootstrap first AND THEN we will work on a fundraiser.

Radio Silence will continue as we work on reaching our goals. If I were a good programmer or had a resource I’d add a bar here that tracks our fundraising projects, join Zenratstudios on twitter for more news as it relates to this!

Fundraising, Projects & More!

Everyday behind the scenes Zenratstudios quietly works to build and expand. Both in terms of our own spiritual and personal development and in terms of our growth as a business. As of this date the main goal has been getting a website up, getting information out. Creating products behind the scenes, editing those products, testing, and landing pages. One single person cannot do this alone. I cannot do this alone. Especially not something of this scale, and not with the million different products ideas that I have, only a handful of those ideas ever make it to fruitation, and less than that get filtered out to what will actively be worked on.

 

Afterlife – The Game of Self Discovery

Zenratstudios is proud to say that “Afterlife” the first game that will be produced by us, is in the last stages of its creation and ready for demo testing, and possibly a major revision. After doing lots of research the decision was made to hire independent contractors: artist, writer, and a game developer to help steer the rest of that project while I work on fine-tuning the details of Zenratstudios.

 

Zenratstudios Business Models

“Zenratstudios” is the studio that produces: Games, Ebooks, and is behind “Guardians Of Life” and an upcoming Project that we will unveil soon titled: “Project Graveyard”. As a studio managing and delegating these products, and these concepts is a massive undertaking. Developing marketing strategies and doing social, uncovering communities which might be interested requires either that the Founder take on a different brain, find a volunteer, or raise funds to hire a helper.

The main strategy has been to create products, put them on a shelf, generate traffic. But also to create games we can all partake in together, that tell our stories, where we are the Hero who develops and changes. In this way, much of my time in April has been spent brainstorming, and figuring out how a Hermit who hasn’t left the house in years can best bootstrap this business. How can someone like, “That Kid” rise to the occasion and make a difference?

Zenratstudios is more than just a game company. We hope to position ourselves as key players for real social change.

  • We value honesty, but we also value identity, and the ability to create yourself and represent yourself as the authentic representation of who you are and what role you decide to play.
  • We reject crime wholeheartedly but value anonymity and the ability to decide what face we choose to present to the people, this is choice and the freedom to be as we so fit.
  • We value kindness, and creating a system that fosters trusts in a world where faces are always changing, but also believe that people need a way to be held accountable for abusing people and others.

For Zenratstudios, hiring content writers, marketers, people to handle social media, and collecting a team is crucial to help coming up with the best methods to do this. We also need communciators and artists, to create trailers and posters that can help get this message out. To that effect Zenratstudios may take a few years to get up and running initially. But the need to create a better world is constantly increasing.

We are currently shifting our focus to, is developing a complete system or eco-system, that will foster acts of kindness and reward it. It is a large-scale game that can be adopted without sign-up, or registration. Free to play, and interact with, and we’re working on reward systems.

What Zenratstudios seeks are solutions to the days world problems, the solution of creating widespread adoption. The creation of systems and rewards such that developing ourselves and putting back into the world is rewarded. Fundraising is part of that mission, but so is designing that system and getting the word out.

Multitasking as an individual is difficult to do, so raising funds for both Zenratstudios mission, and our games is a must.

Guardians Of Life

The most exciting project we have is the “Guardians of Life“, which is an alternate reality game based on the fictional group known as “The Stone Warriors”, their story and where they come from will be revealed as time goes on. Hiding little tombs and histories throughout the world for people to uncover their story just like games. This is lesser to the overall purpose in which they serve, that is bringing people like “You” together, as individuals, and asking you to answer the call of Hero by working on yourself.

Zenratstudios wants to take this far, to raise capital, to create a system of trade and use currency that is not only backed by USD but wherein any person can participate and earn a living simply by being their best selves.

Digital Currency a.k.a. “Cryptocurrency”

We see a lot of potential for digital currency, also known as cryptocurrency. Everyday digital currency is being born every day. They are all the same, having only the value that we give it. The applications for how this can be used and how this can be integrated into our day to day system, to create a virtual eco-system is huge, and goes beyond the USD based shops that we have.

It also creates possibilities that the real world and day to day world doesn’t have. The ability to get paid for improving yourself, interacting and engaging with kindness in the world, and more importantly, the ability to make some living via play. These are big and broad implications, and requires some testing, and this is an aspect we are exploring right now.

Fundraising: “Project Graveyard”

Introducing Project Graveyard, our first fundraising method!

Here our focus is fundraising and raising this capital, marketing, social media, and content-writing (communication). This is the hard part, because it takes so much time as a solo-preneur with limited funds (less than $50 to play with per month now). Here, I start small and scale up. We try to figure out how I can grow $50 into $100, look for opportunities to delegate some of these tasks.

The current method is focusing on fundraising quietly via bootstrapping and after we’ve taken it as far as we can go reaching out to the community via marketing. Ideally we should make some income and as soon as we can afford to begin hiring content-writers, social media posters, and marketers. Even just a team of 3 people would be enough.

Project Graveyard is a fundraising project that involves using the latest digital currency in an attempt to raise funds. In many ways Project Graveyard is its own exchange, but there are issues with that which require thought.

There’s not much we are ready to reveal about this other than that it is in the works. Because Zenratstudios is much bigger than a game, and because fundraising the company allows us to fund our smaller projects, Project Graveyard has been implemented.

What we CAN say is that Project Graveyard will involve digital currency and will function as a game, where you can earn rewards that can be used beyond our game. It’s a Fundraising project that PAYS you!

The target aim for this game are everyday users and the implementations of that excites us!

Behind The Scenes: Developing Afterlife

 

The Start of A Game

I’ve spent the past few months researching and developing the game Afterlife. It’s been an awesome and amazing journey. I first received and started the game about 3-4 years ago. The idea was to create a table-top RPG game called “Sanctuary”, it was a game that would use games to help people heal their wounds and go on a journey of self-discovery. The best part was it could be played with your closest friends and family around a campfire.

 

The Journey

There was one problem. I had never played a table-top RPG game and I didn’t have any friends I was social with. So I went online in search of forum based RPGs to solve this problem. It took a bit of searching but I eventually settled on a site that I wasn’t really interested in, but really enjoyed the depth of the information it had and the level of organization. I joined. And would quickly learn that in the real world the average member in society is not capable of understanding mental illness or handling it when it is encountered. I quickly found myself mocked, called strange, talked about, and shunned. People I had never even met were warning others about me and gossiping. I had shared my personal struggles with mental illness privately with only two select people I had trusted; and together they ignited me on fire.

I dealt with a lot of hurt. It was strange for someone to be so connected to their writing, to use roleplay as an extension of themselves and dealing with their own problems. I was in one place told that I needed to develop social tact or leave. I was attached and perhaps wrongly to, to a friend who never stood up for me and would say one thing to me while telling someone else something different. And while at the time this entire experience was devastating, it was perhaps the best thing to ever happen to me. Because it helped me realize what exactly I was dealing with within society. The amount of cruelty and closed hearts and minds, the need for destructive gossip and exclusion, the lying and mistrust. At first I thought maybe I just don’t play well with others, maybe I am not flexible enough. Brainstorming with my therapist while also enjoying the spiritual and emotional resilience I had developed within the social world, I went back to the drawing table.

How could I create a game to help people mentally, emotionally and spiritually? And could I create a tool designed to do just that? Other challenges I encountered related to game mechanics, and fun, how to make it fun, and how to tackle the reality that the average person isn’t emotionally aware or even open enough to play such a game or to want to, let alone encounter someone different and strange.

From Pain to Creation

I didn’t know. That is until my attempts to heal in a fun and non-threatening way led me to developing the game “Afterlife”. The making of this game was a healing process. Designing and developing a game meant to help and aid others, and meeting the challenges, and emotional blocks that would stop me at one of the levels or Gates in the underworld was an amazing experience. I remember at one point I was at a level I was designing in the game unable to proceed. There I realized that an emotional block stopping me at the “Gate” was my ex-girlfriend. It was working through that grief, while also following the steps in the game to let her go, that I realized not only was I developing a game to help others heal and discover themselves, the process of developing it was helping me too.

Afterlife Is Born

Today I am excited to say that this past few months has given rise to Afterlife which is in the final stages of completion and heading towards testing. I have a few more games in the works after this. One Game to tackle the Syrian Refugee Crisis, another game to tackle Mental Illness some more. But AfterLife is a little bit different. It’s a game that focuses on self-discovery. It asks who we are by peeling away all the layers of who we are not, it’s a symbolic death and rebirth, inspired by my personal journey.

I read many books during this journey that helped build upon the idea and expanded me. Pema Chodron (Start Where you are, Going to the Places that Scare you, The Wisdom of No Escape, & Practicing Peace in Times of War), Jack Kornfield (A Path with Heart and his guided meditations), Don Miguel Ruiz (The Four Agreements), Happiness by Matthieu Ricard, Alan Watts, Wayne Dyers (Spiritual solution to every problem) and more. I read most of these to heal and empower me to heal, and there were other books and videos I listened to and watched.

Meditation and Sri Yantra were godsends for me, as well as practicing Shaolin Kung Fu to help heal my heart with movement. One meditation in particular was a Guided meditation by a Shaman who merges both native American medicine and celtic medicine into her medicine wheel. It was this introduction to the medicine wheel and how completely it helped me heal my heart and how amazingly it together with all the concepts and techniques I was developing allowed me to really undo all of my wounds, to let them go and move foreward.

Taking everything I had learned and practiced separately I decided to merge them into a single concept. It helped me overcome roadblocks and Afterlife became enhanced. To date Afterlife takes eastern concepts, and derives itself from mechanics like the medicine wheel. It comes together to create a game that I play and meditate on and not just for self-discovery but for everything.

I plan and hope to develop many variants of this tool that tackles the flexibility of Afterlife’s system.

Games as a Supporting Tool for Health

Most importantly Afterlife is a tool for mental health and wellness. It is also a tool for developing oneself spiritually (if you think of spirituality as a flavor of emotional and mental health and training). I really hope to continue exploring games as a tool for self-development and healing and am excited about the progress I am making with the game so far.

What I have so Far

To date I am still working on the cards which are almost ready to be printed. It was going to be just a card game, but as a bonus I am adding experimental board game features and a design. Once I get the card game printed hopefully between the end of this week and beginning of next week I will be beta-testing the game and receiving feedback on how it plays, and honing it as a tool. I’ll be testing it among various people I know in the spiritual community as well as a therapist to get a feel on what could be improved, what features removed or not.

My target Audience is largely the spiritual community and people in the mental health community specifically those who practice mindfulness. People who enjoy playing physical games with their family but also enjoy games that encourage them to grow will get a lot of this game. People who are turned off by mental illness, and who aren’t interested in learning more about themselves or each other, or who are not comfortable will not find this game to be to their liking.

I am also working on making this game something that can easily be played with just a single player.

I am really excited about this project, and while it’s taken a few months for if not more to put it together. I’m really excited about the idea of producing a tool that can benefit others, and that has been able to help me along with my other everyday meditation practices in managing the depression and bipolar aspects of my mental illness. I am working hard to take this game and concept further beyond just a tool.

Blogging Takes a Back Seat

Because I am one person my site has largely taken a back seat. My focus is on developing this game as a sole developer and producing a tangible tool. I have so many ideas I am working on, but one project at a time. Hopefully soon I can work on getting my book out that discusses Walking a Path as a Disciple of Love, in the way of Love, Serving and working with Love. For now my focus is on designing and testing this game as a tool worthy to be in people’s homes and offices.

The Creation of Afterlife

I have spent the past few months designing a game called “Afterlife” to tackle a subject I’ve been exploring for many years now. That question has been: Who am I? Who are we?

I started the game more recently as a way to combat my mental illness and to deal with my disillusionment and separation from society that led to my ostracization and self-imposed exile. It was largely a coping mechanism and a challenge to design a game that encouraged me to work away from my desk. So instead of programming a game I began focus on building a game that you could hold in your hands and carry with you, one that I hope could even be used a tool for psychologists.

Who am I?

To date, I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of self. Who am I?

  • Am I who or what you tell me I am?
  • Am I who I tell you I am, even if this is true or I don’t know?
  • If you don’t believe I am who I say I am do I have to go out of my way to convince you that I am what I am?
  • What if I convince you of a lie?
  • What do I have to do to prove to you that I am this?
  • What if you don’t believe the truth?
  • If I show you I am this, will you reward me, with love or some other way?
  • How does me being who I am help or hinder me from achieving the things I want?
  • What do my actions reveal about ‘who I am?’
  • Can I create the ‘me’ I want to be?
  • Does this creation make me, me?
  • Am I my ancestors, my mother, my father, God?
  • Am I my role, my marriage, a daughter, a father, a lover, a friend?
  • How do I behave to show you I am these roles?
  • What happens if I don’t behave in accordance to my roles, what do I lose if I am not what society says I should be?
  • Am I, my Ego, my I?
  • Am I my abilities, ex. Logical Brain vs. Creative Brain, Left vs. Right brain?
  • Am I what I do?
  • Am I my values?
  • Am I how well my relationships are doing, how my family is?
  • Am I my clan, tribe, culture, country?
  • Does this I change or remain constant?
  • Can I become someone else or make you believe I am someone else?
  • And if I am not my virtues, values, roles, these ever-changing concepts: Then what am I?

These are questions I’ve played with time and time again social constructs and concepts, the ever-changing ‘I’. I’ve read article after article, child developmental and attachment patterns, psychology after psychology book. I’ve done tests for self-discovery, personality tests, I’ve gone on in search of my purpose. Who am I, and what is my purpose in life? Is my function my purpose? My pen’s function is to write, but I can decide what its purpose will be, the bridge to an umbrella. My function is to reproduce but my purpose is anything I choose to do with it.

In some cultures Who am I is known as God, and in other cultures who am I is Nothingness from which all life springs. In some worlds who am I is “Ego”, it’s personality there’s even a shadow self, and others it’s just what our DNA says we are.

We spend a lot of time ‘covering up’ our “I”, who we are. Distracting ourselves with television, roles, relationships, sex, make-up. Burying ourselves into conditions. “I am my family, I am the success of my children, I am a Scientist, I am a Wife, I am Good, I am bad.”

Sometimes we ask superficially who am I? We do a personality test here or there and decide, “I” am an introvert, an extrovert, an INFP on the myer-briggs scale, a #4 on the enneagram. I’m a Pisces or a Cancer, a Gemini. I’m a Father, Lover, Bitch. I’m a writer, an artist. I am what I do.

And if you lost all your memories, if you lost all these things, what would you be? If you stopped running, if you abandoned everything even your own thoughts, who would you be—are you your thoughts? Your memories? What if you forget them? Then who are you?

This question is exactly what this game attempts to explore.

What is Afterlife?

“Maybe the journey isn’t so much about becoming anything but about unbecoming everything that isn’t you so you can be who you were meant to be in the first place.”

Afterlife is a card game about self-discovery. It’s a game of ungrowing. It’s a game that explores who you are by stripping away all the things that you are not. In most games you play with the goal of creating yourself into something. There are even a few games where you play in accordance to your beliefs and values and have them tested such that you build yourself into the person you are working to be.

Afterlife works in reverse.

In Afterlife you and whoever is playing with you have each died. Players create what is called a “Legacy Deck” this is similar to character creation in which you select the things that have made up what you left behind. Your personality traits that gave you trouble or aided you in life, roles that you lived, things or people you’re grateful for, even things you were ungrateful for, regrets. The legacies are divided into 6 categories that correspond with 6 different gates that have a series of challenges you will be passing through.

There are 6 levels or rounds also gates that the player has to play. Players will use their legacy deck to get through each of these challenges that test their values in the areas of: Wisdom, Courage, Humanity, Justice, Temperance, and Spirituality (Your Outlook On Life).

These scenarios that are encounter are there to test the player’s legacy, beliefs and values. Consequently players can have their experiences translated into Karma Points (which are divided into Baggage and Legacy points), when they pass through the gate these points are transmuted into Wisdom Points once they let go of one of their 6 items that they are traveling with.

The goal of the game is self-discovery. The underlying concept is two-fold: that you can create whoever you want to be, but that what you create is not you.

You discover who you are by invoking or devoking your gifts, hindrances, roles, guardians, etc. and by reflecting on what those mean to you, how you’ll use it in a scenario and the affects it’s had on the world around you including yourself. So you can invoke bravery a gift or virtue, or you can take a vice/hindrance that you want to overcome and you can place it upside down to show that you are invoking it, or you can devoke it placing it upside down.

 You have to use the card 6x’s to remove it.  Alternatively I have thought about taking the gifts and hindrances deck and making them a single card that you can flip upside down or vice versa.

 Right now there are 6 Gates and challenges.

  • Gate 1, introduces the main environmental condition and setting that you’ll face.
  • Gate 2, introduces the main social condition and or reoccurring NPCs that you’ll face (2-5)
  • Gate 3, introduces a personal challenge or situation that you are in that will affect you (3-5).
  • Gate 4, introduces how you work together with people to solve problems (example bringing person from Gate 2 and/or 3 to justice), to solve the mystery. Here players come together to solve a problem that was introduced in Gate 2 & 3.
  • Gate 5, This is what you do to others in response to what has been done to you, when faced with the demons you encountered in Gate 3 and Gate 2.
  • Gate 6, introduces your ability to heal and your outlook on life after events that occurred to you.

 Gates are essentially the challenges, the levels, you have to pass,  and they are colour coordinated as well. By the end of the game players should have explored and peeled away all of the things that are ‘not’ them to face what’s left at the end.

Where did Afterlife come from?

I designed the original concept of “Afterlife” while I was in Game Development school sometime during 2013 or 2014. During that time I was struggling with depression and had the idea of a game that could help you discover who you were.

For one of my assignments we had to take a traditional board game and recreate it. I chose the ancient Egyptian game Senet. In my research of Senet I was fascinated by what the game represented, a spiritual journey through death. I love Mythology and the idea of passing trials in a game to get your heart weighed seemed awesome. I also loved death and studying the different mythologies people have when it comes to the afterlife.

In one culture Mesopotamia there is Irkalla, and the story of Inanna-Ishtar and her descent into Irkalla the realm of the Goddess of Death, Ereshkigal. In it Inanna must pass through each gate of the underworld one at a time to reach Ereshkigal the goddess of Death. At each gate she is asked or told to remove an article of clothing, until she reaches the final gate, removes her final article of clothing and is finally standing naked before the Goddess Ereshkigal herself.

I read a wonderful interpretation of this, that this journey was about the Goddess stripping away all the things that she was not, to reveal who she truly is underneath at the core.

In Ancient Egypt or Kemet, the Goddess Ma’at weighs your heart in the underworld, and you travel through a river, there is even a risk of being devoured by the crocodile Ammut. At least if memory serves me correct, it’s been a while and I am a bit rusty in my mythology.

Taking the ancient Egyptian game Senet, I created a board game divided by colour into regions, with a deck of cards. Each area had a gate at the end of the trial. Throughout the game there was a risk of being devoured by Ammut in true death if you failed to pass, and at the end your heart would be weighed and what would be done with you based on your previous actions were decided.

I had only one week to put the game together, so it was incomplete. Later I would try to build on the concepts of that game in a Table-Top RPG I was designing called “Sanctuary”. Because I had never played a table-top RPG I went off to find a game, and ended up sucked into an RPG world for 3 years where I ended up in a tornado of a relationship. When that relationship finally ended I remembered what I had gone off to do in the first place and picked up the game where I had left off after a slight detour.

More recently I read the book “The Four Agreements” and listen to Philosophers like Alan Watts talk about “Death” and the idea of ‘symbolic death’. In this way “Afterlife” represents symbolic death and resurrection from which we discover who we are, we empty our cup of those ideas, and we decide what we want to be. And what to do with this knowledge.

 

What are my hopes for the game?

Currently the game is still being designed and tested. My hopes however are that the game can help people on their journey of exploration and self-discovery; and that it can be used not just as a self-help tool and a get-to-know you tool for people on a more intimate level.

I also hope that it can be a useful tool in psychology, among close friends, or even individually as the game is designed to play with 1 person at minimum.

I’d like to see more games created as a tool to help and encourage people to think and look within themselves, to ask questions about the things they do and the affects they have on the world around them, and this is the first game that I’ve created that has entered in the gameplay testing phase and is not just stuck in the development loop.

 

What Are the Challenges in creating this game?

 

Depression & Lifestyle Changes

Depression was a constant challenge for me. Unlike my previous game Winter solstice which was a game I was programming in Unity this game actually helped ease me through my depression and was a comforting journey. Working on it and researching for it helped distract me and ask me questions in my own life and deal with that constant theme. I had also gone through a pretty intense but necessary break-up with someone who had been my focus for the past 3 years. The finally straw came when I lost even my “Hope” that we could ever get back together and work on the things that had gone wrong. This was impossible to fix she said because the fact was she didn’t love me and was tired of hurting me because of that. This led me to realize that I had lived most of my life looking for Hope in people and things, Hope that life could get better. And when even that symbolic representation of Hope was gone, I was left with the question. Who am I without hope?

Even in the game I entered a part where I couldn’t go on with it because the loss of my love wearing her face was standing in the way. And so getting over my love became part of the game, facing it and letting it go. Consequently designing the game helped me get through my depression and working through my depression helped me with the game, as the game is designed to ask questions about who we are when we lose something that is important to us or leave it behind, and who we are underneath the surface of us that keeps changing.

Managing Bipolar Lows

Bipolar lows triggered in response to loneliness and break-ups were an added bonus challenge, worse than the depression were suicidal bipolar lows that got really bad. There was just no way that I could work during my intense lows. I could try but some days I could only just open up the word document or walk around with a piece of paper and stare. I had to cut myself a lot of slack here. I tend to cope with depression and bipolar lows by finding meaning and purpose in spirituality and Love. So I read a lot of books, during these moments there was not much of anything I could do and at times I feared that the game would never get finished.

Creative Blocks & Design Mechanic Challenges

Another challenge were roadblocks like, how do I create a game that asks people to be introspective and look within themselves, that challenges players to ask the very basic question: Who am I without this part of me? In the game everything that you think you are is represented as an article of clothing or some other object and you leave it behind at the end of each gate. Before and After actions and after passing each gate you ask a series of some of the most basic questions. You ask why you are doing what you are doing? What do you hope to achieve? Did it have the effect you wanted? Who did it hurt and who did it help, and did you care? and so forth.

Because the game is meant to be a tool creating tools within the game mechanics that encourage self-reflection in a fun and creative way has been a challenge as well as creating an introspective game that successfully helps the player realize what they were doing and how to arrange and present that is and continues to be a challenge that I continue to chip away at each day.

To tackle some of these mechanics I began researching to see what popular games were out there, were there any games close to mine, how had they done it, and what features could I try to incorporate into my game, what were already like my game, and how could I keep it simple with minimum to no artwork.

Mechanics

I began researching popular card games like Uno, Cards Against Humanity, Apples to Apples, Incan Gold, Monopoly (card game), and Life (card game).

I researched RPG Card Games and began looking into things like Deck of Fate, Despair Decks, and explored mechanics like that of Tarot Decks and the Witcher game.

I studied various table-top RPGs too to look into some of the systems that they had: DnD system, Fate, Call of Cthulhu, Freeform diceless systems, Burning Wheel (recently discovered), Pace RPG, and mutants & masterminds.

The goal was to take the things that worked, leave out what didn’t. I also had to figure out if players would interact with each other and the environment and how, and am still working on those details. A rule of thumb for myself is if I can think it, it’s been created so I go on a search for finding similar games and discovered Burning Wheel.

Self-Reflection and Self-Discovery Tools

I read self-help after self-help book, self-discovery tools, reviewed psychology tools, techniques, methods, Buddhism and so forth trying to narrow down some methods. I also explored challenges and disasters and situations that would best reveal or cause us to reveal ourselves under stress, and began compiling a list and the mechanics in which that list could be used and how.

Simplicity

One of my goals is to keep the game as simple as possible while also being fun. My target-audience isn’t your everyday typical RPG gamer who want to level up and kill things. It’s primary targeted towards people who would be interested in games on a therapeutic level. Because of this my goal is to add elements I like from some of the complex games but keep it as simple as possible. It’s because of this I’ve tried to figure out is this an RPG card game, a card game, or a table-top RPG with card elements? I’m still working on narrowing down how to categorize it.

Budgets, Time, Scale & Medium?

Another challenge for the game was figuring out what my budget for the game was and then trying to decide what type of game this would be. At first, the game was going to be a board game, but the time of developing the board and the art that went into creating it, and then the fact that I didn’t know how to divide the cardboard into 4 squares to fold up and so forth just added to the challenge, cost and development time.

I began researching popular card games like Cards Against Humanity and their method of using print-to-play for free and offering another version that could be brought. This seemed like the most cost reasonable. So I removed the board game altogether and focused on cards.

After that it was trying to figure out how to keep the card game cost and scale down and manageable.

    

Balancing Marketing & Creation

Balancing Marketing while also creating the game was another challenge as a sole developer. My goal became creating the basic game and mechanics of it, to test it, and then get a playable product. Currently my strategy for marketing involves getting a playable product, asking a few people to test the game including psychologists, listening to feedback, tweaking and doing a kickstarter to gauge interest. I still have much to research here, but I can’t Market and Create at the same time. This post is a sign that I’m almost ready to begin presenting a product that players can test and marketing will begin once I finish narrowing things down.

Another challenge has been balancing this site and my overall goals and blog and separating it from my game content.

Closer To The Finish Line

It’s been a long and painful few months in game development, but I am so close to getting a playable product out there. It’s truly been a journey. The fact that I am able to write this post is a good sign that things are coming along and almost ready to be presented to the public for testing.

 

Introducing Afterlife

I’m pretty excited to be beta testing the first complete version of one my games. It’s going to be a card game, and there are only a few kinks to smooth out, before really play testing.

Title: Afterlife.
Themes/Goals: Self-discovery. Symbolic Death.
Inspired by: Senet.

What is it about:

It takes John Ortebergs quote, “When you die it all goes back into the box”. To play each player answer a set of questions at the start of the game to create a unique deck specific to them and their own personal life challenges. This deck is their interaction deck and it’s how they will interact with the world, these interactions involve an associated item belonging to the player that the player uses to resolve the challenge.

Trials also known as Challenges are organized by colour and Theme which match to the players deck which is assigned a matching colour, and ID. To play the game they must progress through each challenge at the end of which is a gate. Players can gain karma points and baggage from other players.

The goal and objective of the game is to progress through the 6  Gates of the Afterlife, a shadow representation of the Earth. The Goal is to pass a series of challenges to get through the gate, to reach the final gate where your heart is weighed by the baggage and interactions remain. You want to shed as many of these interactions as possible. Throughout the game players are asked to examine their relationship with the items used to represent them, their fears and what they mean to them and how they impact others around them including themselves.

By the end of the game players should be left with nothing and are asked to examine who they are without these things and what they have left. The beauty of this game is, people can take their newfound self-awareness and step back into their shoes upon learning what the Shadows of the world had to teach them, or they can pursue life in a different direction, it’s all up to them.

Not an everyday game:

The game is meant to be a fun way to discover who we are and to share that with others. However because the game is so personal and about self-discovery it’s meant to be done between people who are close to each other or are trying to develop intimacy and are at a level of trust. It requires a certain honesty with oneself and the security to be honest around others since it creates a dialogue between people.

As a developer my goal with this game is to offer people a tool that enables them to learn who they are beyond the roles in their day to day life. I’d love to be able to create a solo version of the game, for people who prefer to play alone though I can see a modified version coming out of it.

I also realized that this game could also be used as a writers tool, as you can learn more about who your character is, it’s fears and battles through this game. And I think that it could also help us figure out the many personalities we have, the death is really symbolic and it’s pretty broad.

Why a card game:

Originally Afterlife was designed to be a interactive fiction and it was based on the Medusa Lore (a novel I’ve been writing since 2006). The original game Afterlife had different factions and a series of interactive choices and dialogue, it spent years in development because I went back and forth on the programming. I never got past a basic menu, creating a series of rooms and an intro scene.

During my time in school we were required to create a short game each week taking what we’d learned in programming or game development that week. I would take the same game and rebuild it again and again, expanding on the story, focusing on game elements.

In one of my classes we had to make a card and board game and I was introduced table-top RPGs. I was entirely fascinated by the mechanics behind table-top RPGs and that there were so many out there beyond DnD. It was absolutely amazing that computer mechanics could be applied in a pen and paper setting. I’d spend the next several years focusing on that.

Flash forward today. Originally the project I wanted to get out by February was called Winter Solstice. A few setbacks occurred in my personal life that led me to putting Winter Solstice on hold. Due to depression that reoccurs while working on it, it will remain on hold for some time, as I feel the game has begun contributing to more depression than stopping it.

I decided that I need to create a game that allowed me to get away from my computer desk and engage with the outside world. And figured a board game would be it.

So I began looking through some of my old short games and found AfterLife. My intent was a board game with dice and some cards, but the expense of a board game and me not feeling confident with the art looking the way I wanted to, decided to stick with a simple card game with no fancy images, simple colour coded using text and a character sheet to keep track of scores and the unique deck associated with each player.

More recently Afterlife takes a concept from the game Sanctuary I made a while back and due to their overlapping similarities have been merged together. The two games have a different history and journey but their paths have all led to the same place.

Design & Play testing:

I am currently in design mode getting ready to shift into play test mode. I still have to put the finishing touches on the design which I now have a work concept for.  I have some basic mechanics which I’ve been testing and refining. I may have to change things with the game to make sure it works as it should, just a lot to work out to make sure it runs smooth, is fun and people get from it what I intended. There are also two different styles of playing the game that I have to explore and working out if I need more or less proposed cards.

So I am excited about that and where it’s headed.

Evolving:

This was written February 1st and slightly modified and posted in March. The game is evolving, and the influences on the game and the gameplay itself has evolved since February. It went through a major revamp around the end of February and we are just now leaving Design and nearing play testing. I am truly excited and will be creating some screenshots and pictures soon. Once I get a playable and tested (demonstratable) product the real fun: Marketing begins.