Even after two and a half years, the coronavirus continues to wreak havoc on the world. Yes, we’re trying to return to normal, but there’s no denying the lasting effects of such a pandemic. During this time, videogames continue to be a source of escape for many people. Even those that previously felt the hobby isn’t for them are dipping their proverbial toe in the water.
You see, videogames provide a wonderful escape from reality, but not all games are accessible to everyone. Sometimes, those with chronic pain, ADHD, and other conditions such as long covid struggle to engage in long gaming sessions. Then, of course, there are people that struggle with mental health that want a break, but an intensive title isn’t what they need.
Enter Kinder World, a game in early access that’s all about positive change. In this title, you look after virtual houseplants, but in doing so, you look after yourself in real-life. It encourages self-care and wellbeing, something that’s at the heart of what the co-founders of Lumi Interactive believe.
Naturally, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to speak to them and dive into what serves as inspiration when it comes to Kinder World. Why did they want to create such an experience? Luckily for us, Lumi Interactive co-founder and CEO Lauren Clinnick let us in, discussing what drives her and Lumi Interactive to create positive change through the power of games.
As Clinnick explains, “My co-founder Christina and I always believed in the potential of games to create positive change. Mental wellbeing is incredibly important to us (Christina even completed postgrad psychology studies), and we’ve seen women and consumers comparatively neglected by the games market for a long time.” Undeniably, it’s refreshing to hear about people in the games industry that understand the true power of what they create.
Better still, you know a game is in safe hands and is likely to achieve what it sets out to do when those behind the title can relate to the target audience. “In 2020, we were incredibly burned out by the pandemic, but I found more traditional recommended apps like Headspace and Calm weren’t working for me – so we tried to dig into the ‘why’ in case it was part of a larger pattern.”
Like many people, Clinnick felt the effects of the pandemic, many worldwide continue to fight against the negative impact such an event has on them, and while there are games and apps out there to help with mental health, as Clinnick mentions, retention rates for them aren’t high. However, determined not to be part of that group, the team at Lumi Interactive took their research into the matter as seriously as they could.
“We interviewed and surveyed hundreds of Gen Z and millennial women and nonbinary folks on this exact issue,” Clinnick explains. “Why were the dropout rates so high for these experiences? Our research indicates that these experiences feel more like homework, are often quite solitary and linear, or something that they can ‘fail’ at.” To us, that completely makes sense, as when someone feels fragile, they don’t want to put themselves in a situation that they can perceive to result in failure.
Rather, as Clinnick says, “When they’re already exhausted or anxious, they find themselves looking for more fragmented emotional regulation tools like cosy games, ASMR, lo-fi music etc.” It’s with this knowledge that Lumi Interactive created Kinder World. Of course, there’s slightly more to it than that, as the utmost care is important when it comes to a game of this nature, something that Clinnick and the team at Lumi Interactive clearly take seriously.
“Our evidence-based self-care activities are designed with a concept called ‘crowd healing’ in mind, informed by the work of our full-time wellbeing researcher, Dr. Hannah C. Gunderman, Ph.D.” It’s clear to see that professional psychological knowledge is at the heart of Kinder World, though players most certainly play a vital role.
Clinnick continues, “we were careful to involve psychologists from the earliest stage to inform the way we designed player experiences, and we take a lot of time to interview players that love (or dislike!) the game to understand our impact and continually make adjustments.” Experts can only get you so far, which makes the inclusion of players in the development process critical, especially when it’s to do with a game that aims to bring positive change – “the Kinder World team is passionate about creating a leafy safe space for players, but this goal is something that is always ongoing.”
Of course, no matter how much research is behind you, there are still challenges to face and overcome. In fact, “every day is full of challenges and opportunities,” but luckily, Clinnick claims that “is exactly how I like to work.” However, one of the specific challenges faced at Lumi Interactive is “the difference between production when you’re a tiny team or three, compared to now where our team is larger. There’s a lot of learning how to form a compassionate, efficient and effective team momentum!”
In fact, it’s this very team that serves as an inspiration to create a game that’s accessible to those with chronic pain and behavioural challenges such as ADHD. Clinnick explains that “The Lumi Interactive team is a very diverse crew with a lot of neurodiversity, living with chronic conditions, ADHD etc. So it’s very natural for our influence to show up in the Kinder World game design.”
Naturally, this helps not only to ensure that the game is inclusive but accessible too, and the fact that Lumi Interactive is “deeply interested in creating a moment of daily rest for folks with different lived experiences” only helps in this endeavour, as does the fact that, as Clinnick explains, “accessibility is always an ongoing conversation where we plan to do more and to be more accountable.”
“Our accessibility features have just begun, but we’ve deliberately designed for no ‘twitch reflex’ or reaction speed required to play, all input can be done with one hand/touchpoint, and all music and sound is very optional.” Clinnick continues, “As we progress through Early Access, we will work with more accessibility experts to make more improvements and accommodations.”
The best way to ensure that Kinder World is accessible is to include representation from various communities throughout testing, a sentiment that Lumi Interactive and Clinnick clearly share as when it comes to tests, they “interview and stay in conversation with a diverse group of players throughout, and we’ve learned so much about why Kinder World often works for them while mode traditional meditation and mindfulness apps have not.” Of course, the fact that a diverse group of people is behind the game doesn’t hurt either.
It might surprise you to learn that TikTok played a pivotal role in Lumi Interactive building a community. Clinnick explains, “Our TikTok account has been a great opportunity for us – we could share our founder story and our vision from the very earliest days, and discover who it resonated with. We built a wonderful community of over 50k kind folks, and often gain wonderful ideas and feedback in the comments!”
To top it off, the CEO adds that “it has also been a wonderful way to connect with other game creators on the platform – they’re a super friendly bunch of humans.” We always like to hear about people connecting with good people through social media. Not everybody is toxic, after all.
Of course, anybody that knows about the company, be it through TikTok, Lumi Interactive’s website, or other means, are more than aware that the company is all about wholesome games, but what is it the CEO loves most about the genre? Well, the answer is a profound one that we wholeheartedly agree with.
“We love the wholesome game movement because it highlights that for a great many of us, we aren’t activated by the power fantasy anymore. Our dreams aren’t about destruction, they’re about nourishing ourselves and one another, mutual aid and community, softness and gentle moments.”
Not only that, but if you look at the world around us, we’re in a different time now, one where things remain uncertain. “It makes a lot of sense for us as creators when we see the wider global situation we’re living through,” Clinnick explains. “We’re in frightening times. It makes complete sense that many game players are dreaming of something more peaceful.” We couldn’t agree more, and certainly hope that Kinder World helps people to find that peaceful escape.
Okay, we couldn’t catch up with female studio founders and not ask what it’s like. This isn’t a question we want to ask, but given there’s still a stigma surrounding women in games, and it continues to be a male-dominated industry, we can’t help but enquire as to what Clinnick’s experience is like. To start with, she claims it to be both “a blessing and a challenge.”
Fortunately, those at Lumi Interactive are keen to have a diverse leadership team (a much welcome attitude, we must say). Better still, employees, according to Clinnick, “care very deeply about our purpose and impact.” However, on a personal note, she adds that “as a CEO, it’s hard to be what you can’t see. We put a lot of work in to connect with mentors that would understand our underrepresented founder journey, and it has helped enormously.”
Should the story of Lauren, Christina, and their company inspire any young women out there, Clinnick has some words of wisdom if you want to break into games – “Build a support network, definitely. There are a lot of ways to study or start to build skills related to games, and having folks to speak with about the challenges can really help you get through it.”
Clinnick continues, “We are a minority, but there are absolutely incredible and generous women out there in our industry to learn from. Find a way to build knowledge, like rolling a snowball, and ask informed questions wherever possible. You have a lot of value, and I’d love to see us become far less or a minority in the years to come. In just a few years, you can truly learn and build a lot – I’ll see you out there!”
There you have it. We can’t thank Clinnick enough for her time, and we hope that many of you can experience a positive change with Kinder World. For more information about Lumi Interactive and its wholesome game, you can visit the official website.