22-28 January 2016 #792

Gaming for a cause

A Korean video game developer has created a new educational adventure game to raise funds for earthquake victims
Seulki Lee

On 12 January, a promotional slogan for a new video game surfaced on Twitter. It read in Korean: 'Does a game have to have a player kill the enemy or spend money in virtual world in order to entertain ourselves? We are making a new game where you can save people, animals and reconstruct villages. This is about life in Nepal.'

The tweet was promoting a crowdfunding campaign for the 2D adventure/action game called ‘Himalaya Backpacker’, developed by a group of young Koreans.

Himalaya Backpacker was created in direct response to the April earthquake. The game is designed to have the player respond to natural disasters like earthquakes, landslides, and avalanches by rescuing people and animals. Later stages of the game go even further, as missions encourage the player to reconstruct damaged villages and heritage buildings in Nepal.

A so-called ‘social impact game’, Himalaya Backpacker provides an interactive platform for players to engage and think about how to solve social issues across the world on a virtual platform. Other social impact games cover thematic issues that vary from climate change, medical research, and urban development to the life of refugees, LGBTQ issues, and the division of the Korean peninsula.

The developer of the game, Minseok Do says: “I noticed that people’s interest in the earthquake had begun to wane and I wanted to bring their attention back to Nepal through a game as the country still needs help."

Do, an MBA candidate in the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, has a background in electronic engineering and graphic design. He worked with three other developers and illustrators to ensure a high quality standard for the game’s graphics.

In making Himalayan Backpacker, Do used two popular games as reference: Ubisoft’s ‘Valiant Hearts’ and 11 Bit Studios’ ‘This War is Mine’. The former is an action/adventure game set during WWI and based upon archaeological research, which covered the educational aspect. The latter was modeled for its social impact component, as the crowd-funded game uses real stories and images of the Bosnian War, and all proceeds went to war orphans through the Warchild Foundation.

The plot of Himalayan Backpacker begins post-earthquake as the protagonist, a Korean man who gets isolated during a trek, has to figure out how to escape a cave in the Himalayas with a Nepali boy. As they reach Kathmandu, he scraps his plan to leave the country and decides to stay on to help with the relief effort.

Throughout the journey, the adventure game is not only strategic but also educational. The player has to figure out how to get food and water, how to help transport people safely from point A to point B, and how to conduct first aid and CPR. The player is also charged with the moral decision of staying to help in a time of need and using his skills to get people to safety. The target users of Himalaya Backpacker are gamers above twelve, considering the difficultly of the puzzles and the cultural backdrop of Buddhism and Hinduism in the narrative.

The focus of Himalaya Backpacker crowdfunding is direct distribution to the neediest villages, rather than collecting large funds through partnerships with NGOs. The tentative price range for the game is expected to be $3-5. “We are planning to sell it for $3 without external advertisement and encourage users to pay extra money as a contribution or donation for reconstruction in Nepal,” explained Do, who heads the game development company Dopage.

Do is finding a creative way to not only construct a platform to have fun, but also to expand the support of the earthquake relief effort to other communities through contributions.

Says Do: “I haven’t been to Nepal but I was always fascinated by the Himalayas. Maybe that’s why I felt hurt when I saw the natural disaster there and thought about ways to help the country."   Himalaya Backpacker will be released on the App Store, Google Play for iPad, Android tablet, PC and SmartTV in June 2016.