Breaking The Stigma (and Kickstarter) – Bipolar Explorer

Kickstarter has become a major component in the tabletop gaming world over the past few years. This year, Kickstarter challenged creators to do something different and break the traditional Kickstarter formula. They’ve called the campaign Break Kickstarter. Matt Williams, founder and chief cat herder at Steam Kitty Games is one of the many creators who are participating in the campaign.

Matt’s entry into the Break Kickstarter campaign is a simulation game entitled Bipolar Explorer, Using just a sheet of paper, a pen or pencil and a deck of playing cards, Bipolar Explorer is almost an antithesis to the large scale, component heavy tabletop games seen in many Kickstarter campaigns. But the small production scale is only the beginning of how Bipolar Explorer is “breaking” Kickstarter.

Every Kickstarter campaign features a video highlighting what to expect from the campaign and Bipolar Explorer is no different. However, while many of the videos feature a lot of talking and/or music, the video for Bipolar Explorer is almost completely silent. According to Matt, this is because many of those living with mental illness are silenced by society and the stigma surrounding mental illness.

As one could gather from the name of the game, Bipolar Explorer is a simulation of bipolar disorder, a mental illness affecting 5.6 million adult Americans, including Matt. Living undiagnosed and untreated for many years, Matt eventually sought help, and while it took time to stabilize, he was able to mitigate many of the symptoms of bipolar disorder. In 2017, however, a change in how Matt’s medication was manufactured caused him to be unable to absorb it properly. His ability to manage the symptoms of his bipolar disorder deteriorated and resulted in hospitalization.

Matt is back to stability and while he lost a lot of work that he had put in to get to a stable level, it hasn’t brought him down. He is striving to become an advocate for mental illness and help reduce the stigma surrounding it. Matt gave a talk about mental illness in an event he describes as “coming out of the mental health closet”. Bipolar Explorer is another way that Matt is trying to break the stigma surrounding mental illness.

As the campaign has gone on, Matt has been doing daily updates in a very unique way. Matt has been filling in a copy of Bipolar Explorer and writing entries based on what the simulator has given him on that day. While he says that he has tried to keep the simulation self separate from his physical self, there has been a bit of overlap. Going through the simulation has also brought his attention to the therapeutic value to Bipolar Explorer. By seeing the consequences of the symptoms present in Bipolar Explorer, he hopes that those people with bipolar disorder can become more aware of their own symptoms and ways to manage them.

Bipolar Explorer began with a very low funding goal of $30 USD. This was reached in about 66 minutes after the Kickstarter was launched. Since then, there has been a total of $408 USD raised. Three of the stretch goals have been unlocked. There are pledge options for a Print & Play version or a printed copy. As well, backers can choose an option to recieve the version of their choice and a printed version will be donated to a mental health organization. The campaign has 21 days left as of this writing.

So what’s next for Matt and Steam Kitty Games? After breaking Kickstarter, he plans on launching another campaign. This time, it’s for Oh, R’lyeh, a Lovecraft inspired collection game that Matt describes as “adorkable”. Unlike many Cthulhu inspired games, players are not cultists or investigators, but actually play as one of the Elder Beings. The object is to have leftover cards at the end of a hand in order to add Cultists to your collection in the hopes of having the biggest collection out of all the Elder Beings.

Matt has a few other game projects in the works. The first is Otter Park, which seems to be just as cute as it sounds. Players hire workers (badgers, woodchucks or beavers) to gain resources, which then allow them to build parts to the ultimate water slide for their otters. Players score more points for different components of their slides based on their secret otter type.

Matt’s other project is entitled Machines, Monsters, and Madness, a steampunk game featuring twelve different mad scientists, each with their own quirky personality. Players build monsters to gain fame and glory, and can spend their sanity to further these goals, but must find the right balance between building and spending in order to win.

About Machines, Monsters, and Madness.

Breaking the stigma of mental illness is a big task, but by bringing awareness to the struggles those with mental illness face, just as Matt is doing with Bipolar Explorer, the barrier will feel just a little bit smaller. Matt has a wonderful analogy for this phenomenon. In the campaign for Bipolar Explorer, he discusses that old maps would say things like “Here be dragons” for places that were unexplored or unknown, but the more that people delve in and explore, the “dragons” give way to familiarity and understanding. Matt’s success in his breaking Kickstarter campaign is just another step in vanquishing the dragon that is the stigma of mental illness.

I’d like to thank Matt Williams of Steam Kitty Games for speaking with me about Bipolar Explorer and his other projects and wish him all the best in his current and future Kickstarter campaigns.

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