Amid the newest indie project or AAA release announcement, lies an even smaller group of game developers, who continue to experiment with the engaging aspects, that games exhibit to deliver a message. For game development studio Causca Creations, that message is raising awareness regarding e-waste, and the negative effects it has on human laborers. To deliver this information, the small team decided to create their game Burn The Boards, and release it to the very mobile devices that represented part of the problem.
Players in Burn The Boards take on the role of Arun, a young villager who brought his wife and child to the city in an attempt to find work. Arun quickly gets his opportunity working in an e-waste scrapyard, where dozens of others recycle thrown away electronics. This puzzle based game challenges players to break apart electronic boards as efficiently as possible, in order to maximize potential profits. The problems start when Arun must then contend with the inevitable health issues, caused by the toxic fumes that poison him while he works. Players must then make difficult choices between Arun’s health, or making sure food gets put on the table. Gamers must then make enough money to “escape” the scrapyards, before Arun’s health begins to fatally deteriorate.
Plenty of effort seems to have gone into the game itself, to make the puzzles challenging and engaging. However, Causca Creations seems more interested in getting players to pause and consider the reality of the issues presented in the game, rather than numbly play through just another puzzle game. Writer and Game Designer Georg Hobmeier sat down with us to explain the origins, and purpose of this project in greater detail.
Jesse Tannous: This project was designed around a game concept but covers a serious topic and has a serious message. Can you explain a bit more about that aspect of Burn The Boards?
Georg Hobmeier: You could consider us to be what documentary film makers are to the medium of film. For us, games aren’t just about escaping reality and play time, they are also a powerful way to see the world in new ways and to interact with it. There’s an ocean of entertainment products out there, but we are creating a niche where games can be used for a different purpose: raising awareness.
JT: Why make a game to deliver this message?
GH: Consumer electronics have a very short life span. One might even be suspicious and think, that some are even designed to fail after only a few years. So the medium really is the message. The devices the game will be played on are a part of the problem the game portrays. Consumers of games and entertainment electronics are rarely aware of the mountains of electronic wastes that are created every year. And most important, they are not aware of the human suffering that is connected with this issue. Playing the game should open up their curiosity to learn more about the people and their problems portrayed in the game.
JT: What is you and your studios history with this subject matter? Do you have a personal connection to the situations you explain through the game? If not, what prompted you to start this project?
GH: Most of us have been outside of the gated community known as “The West,” some of us even grew up there, and so we got some exposure to the subject. I personally was part of a research project about conflict minerals and migration in Africa, this basically sparked my interest in the field of what I would call the hidden horrors of the value chain.
Several visits to India made me aware of their incredible recycling and repairing culture, but also quite a firsthand experience regarding the insane amount of pollution in their cities. So I got curious, what people in this line of work are dealing with. It’s a normal thing in countries such as India, China, or Ghana (to pick an example from Western Africa) to handle waste, and be very creative to reuse as much as possible. The way we handle electronic waste right now is both a curse and a chance. I think we should be aware what kind of world we create with our culture of consumerism.
This can also be applied to the origins of electronics, foremost the mining of minerals. By the way, Burn The Boards is just one of two projects by Causa Creations, that focuses on the social and political realities of the value chain. The other one, The Resource Paradox, for which we collaborate closely with Amnesty International, looks at a scenario, where indigenous groups are endangered by the operations of mining corporations. Unfortunately this is something increasingly common, when mines are being operated in the “Global South”.
JT: Does Burn The Boards have a call to action? What can players who may have been unaware of the e-waste issue do to help?
GH: For now the game very much focuses on the human labor aspect of the e-waste problem. We share our revenue with a German organization called Action for World Solidarity that supports local initiatives who help people from India’s vast informal labor sector. It has been an interesting process for us to develop the mechanics and communication for the revenue sharing, in fact, it’s also part of a research project with the Technical University of Vienna, so we also see it as an ongoing experiment. Concerning a call to action for the e-waste topic, we do also provide information on our website, but we are still trying to devise new ways for engagement and are currently seeking partners that might be interested in supporting us in this respect.
One shouldn’t forget though, that the e-waste problem is rather gigantic and it penetrates so deep into our habits of consumption and production, that we basically need to change the entire way we consume and produce. But one step at a time and with the right ideas, we might be able to overcome our current models and find more intelligent and sustainable ways. I think there’s an increasing numbers of very inspiring ideas popping up. I hope they get supported the way they deserve, we as a species certainly need to change rather quickly.
Currently, 50% of the game’s revenue goes towards supporting the Action for World Solidarity organization, to help support India’s labor force. To learn more about the game, studio, and how e-waste effects the world, visit the official Burn The Boards website, Facebook, or Twitter pages.