Social justice and gaming don't seem to have too much in common. In fact, we're willing to venture that if placed in a Venn diagram, the overlap would be a small sliver between those circles.
But the first ever ESA LOFT Video Game Innovation fellowship was poised to change all that. Pseudo youngsters ages 14-25 were asked to create video games that could solve problems within their communities. The winners each got $1,000 to develop their concept and a trip to Washington D.C. to hobnob with political movers and shakers.
We caught up with San Francisco residents who are part of this fellowship, Nicu Listana and John Funtanilla, in the first wake of their White House foray this afternoon.
Their game Founder's Quest, which Listana likens to the popular game, The SIMs, was one of twenty winning projects that the developers got to pitch to congressmen, senators and CEOs.
"It's really exciting -- a lot of the fellows have really good ideas," says Funtanilla. "And it's not just about a fun experience, but actualizing social change in the community. We're the first of this program to come out and these people we've met are really looking to change things."
The idea of Founder's Quest -- which still exists in the fledgling phase of wire frames and storyboards -- is enabling its users to simulate the creation of their own start-up.
"How long it takes you to 'beat' the game really depends on the choices you start with," explains Listana. "You can be a grad student or a professional creating something within your field for example. We really wanted to show people the process of what it takes to start your own business and have them learn from their own failures and adventures."
Both Listana and Funtanilla are entrepreneurs in their own right, serving as the co-founders of Founder Cave, a start-up aimed at incubating new games and user acquisition. Leveraging their momentum from the grant, the duo explained they'll soon be launching a Kickstarter campaign this spring to spearhead their operations as soon as possible.
"The $2000 is going right to an alpha prototype for our game," says Funtanilla. "We're creating a start-up around this game -- we definitely want to seriously pursue this. We're going to come up with an MVP (a minimum viable product), take it to V.C.'s, angel investors, and pitch it to them."
Foregoing the perhaps all-too-typical TechCrunch-fueled stardom that courses through the Valley and the San Francisco start-up scene, Funtanilla and Listana explained their desire to create Founders Quest stems from their mutually humble background and firsthand observations the effects of poverty and under education can have on a community.
"I was a Filipino immigrant who came to the U.S. and immediately lived in the Tenderloin," says Listana. "And it allowed me to look at how a neighborhood actually works. When I was in the Philippines, all I thought about America was 'fruits and honey' or something like that ya know? 'Everyone's really happy,' I thought. It's a rich country. But the low-income spectrum I witnessed in the Tenderloin really inspired me to explore what I could do to help."
Funtanilla is Filipino as well, but was born in Fairfield. "I really came up fro the hustling grind," he says. "My parents were not the richest, but they provided me with all they could. I was always inspired by video games -- I wondered how they worked and I was passionate about creating things. Fairfield has a high crime, and the city next to us just went bankrupt. For myself, I just wanted to achieve more. And that's what were hoping for Founder Cave too. Startups create jobs and drive American innovation."
Listana also explains he's not interested in targeting the savviest of gamers or veteran entrepreneurs; they want Founder's Quest to help the struggling everyman, the person facing the profundity of economic and educational adversity.
"John and I were able to find real data from the census bureau that said that low-income people tend to create less successful businesses than high income people due to lack of education and training," says Listana. "We want to be able to make this game highly interactive, but very simple to play."