The superhero of good habits

Updated: Sep 15, 2019, 07:41 IST | Anju Maskeri | Mumbai

City startup taps into teen gaming craze to make ingenious game that has you execute good habits to save the world.

Ishaan Dekate plays the keyboard when he's not building airplane models. Pic/Ashish raje
Ishaan Dekate plays the keyboard when he's not building airplane models. Pic/Ashish raje

Sitting in the tastefully done-up living room of the Dekate household in Chandivali, it's hard to imagine any part of the it being in a mess. Yet, 13-year-old Ishaan won't allow us entry into his room. "Because there's no part that's less messy," the Std 9 student of Nahar International School sheepishly admits. The clutter that he's referring to are remnants of wood, cardboard boxes and blocks that he uses to create engineering models along with other paraphernalia that you'd expect from a teen who idolises filmmaker Christopher Nolan. If there's order in disorder, this is it. But there's no denying that cleanliness is a virtue and it's something Ishaan admittedly is struggling to cultivate. "I don't see a point in cleaning the room because it's going get dirty again in no time. So, why should I do it?" After a fair amount of coaxing, he allows us a sneak peak.

It may not be easy dealing with a generation that's fiercely questioning and often leaving you fumbling for answers. When it comes to instilling good habits, being authoritative alone may not work, says Shashwat Dhuliya, co-creator of Have It Habits, a superhero game for kids that teaches important habits at an early age. Dhuliya, marketing lead of Memcorp Immersive Learning, a Mumbai-based startup that's launching the game, came up with the idea last year and has been working to build it. To bring it to reality, he is fundraising the initiative through Kickstarter. Their target is $25,000. So far, they have managed to raise $1,388. According to him, the game is a blend of strategy and game theory for which the kid will have to learn habits in order to progress in the game. "The Parent Panel in the app allows the parent to see the child's progress as and when they play. They can proceed in the game only by performing the habits in real life. Parents can even add new habit modules to the game that they want the kids to learn," he says. There are over 100 habits listed in the app and have been categorised under environment, health, manners, budgeting, household and personal development.

Ishaan Dekate

When we meet Dhuliya at the Dekates' residence—the family is one of the contributers to the game—he has created a prototype of the app for Ishaan to try. Like most games, the storyline revolves around a fictitious city that is in danger of being taken over by an evil force. In this case, the villain is a bad habit. You, as a hero, have to save the region from destruction.

As Dhuliya, 23, handholds Ishaan through the game, it's evident that he's engrossed. Our conversations don't distract him. Meanwhile, his mother, Bharti, an educator who runs WorldReady, a venture that delivers age-appropriate life skills in areas such as cyber safety and self care, understands why a smartphone game could come to their rescue. Interestingly, Ishaan doesn't own a smartphone, and happens to be the only one in his school to navigate life without it. "Thankfully, he's a sport about it," says Bharti. To use the game though, Ishaan will have to jump on the bandwagon. His mother is still coming to terms to with that. "There were two reasons for me to support the game," she says. "One being, that at a time when parenting has become so helicopter, most online activities are escape routes for children. Here, the integration of the household into the game play stops it from becoming that. Also, most kids like games because it releases dopamine. They play PubG because they're getting a dose of this happy chemical through killing and bloodshed. However, in this case, you're getting the same release but by doing the right things." As a neuroscience practitioner, Bharti is aware of the chaos that "firing" neurons can create in a teenager. It's like walking on eggshells. "It's due to firing neurons that teens are perpetually trying to push boundaries. The more you tell them that cleanliness is important, the more they will try to rebel. So it's about figuring what works for us and what doesn't." The game particularly focuses on soft skills. Being assertive is one of them. It's habit that Ishaan hopes to cultivate, and one that Shashwat wishes he had cultivated sooner. "It's really hard for me to say no, even if I don't have the time. I have always been the yes person. Had I learned this habit of being assertive early on, I wouldn't have faced problems now," says Dhuliya, who was born in Dehdradun.

Bhakti Dekate
Bharti Dekate with son Ishaan at their Chandivli home 

Having worked in the gaming business, Dhuliya is aware of the addictive nature of electronic devices. "There's no evading technology," he shrugs. "We know kids also need to go out and play real games, which is why the game allows the parent to set the game time. They can limit the screen time because they will keep receiving notifications as their kid plays."

Shashwat Dhulliya
Shashwat Dhulliya, co-creator of the game

As Ishaan nears the end of the game, he appears sold. "I think it's ingenious what they have done. It's an interesting premise [saving the world] to incorporate good habits," he says. For Bharti, the game is a win-win. "For him to keep his room clean, I'll have to ensure our room is clean. You need to walk the talk while dealing with children."

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