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Three Questions to: Explorlings - makers of the child-friendly game "Sheeplings"

The Hamburg-based studio Explorlings has a special mission: developing apps for a responsible and gentle introduction of children to the world of digital devices. Lately, they released their first game "Sheeplings" - we took the opportunity to ask Bernhard Mies, CEO and founder of Explorlings a few questions.

(Bernhard Mies from Explorlings | Photo: © Andrea Lang / fotografiehamburg.de)

In "Sheeplings", kids can take their first steps into the world of games - in a responsible manner, because the app is based on based on media-pedagogical principles to create an age-appropriate setting. Using the app, children can be safely introduced to smartphones and tablets and try out the interaction. At the same time, they learn to put the device down again independently. 

The game lets children experience a day of a lamb and its mother in a blooming meadow. There are no rules, goals or tasks. Kids can observe the lovingly designed and animated animals and discover the interactivity of the medium games with simple touch gestures: The sheep follow the finger or can be stroked. A technically sophisticated simulation makes it a lot of fun to stroke the grass with the fingers. And children who have already tried out the app loved making the colorful flowers literally make a sound.

Bernhard Mies founded the studio Explorlings in 2021, focussing on implementing media education and literacy aspects. With media education advice from Dr. Kerstin Raudonat, Explorlings has developed rules for its products to ensure games without excessive demands and addictive potential: The apps are limited in their interaction possibilities and content. Elements that create (time) pressure to act are avoided, and parents can specify a usage time after which the games come to a comprehensible end. This allows children to gain their first experience with mobile devices in a self-determined way, at their own pace and according to their interests.

Screenshot from sheeplings

What inspired you to found your studio Explorlings and develop your game “Sheeplings”?
Several things came together: The core idea for Sheeplings had already been in my head for a long time. Because of my two kids, I started to take an interest in media education. And at the same time, I experienced young parents who were unsure how to give their children a responsible start in the digital world. In the end, the question for me was: What kind of company would develop apps that address this need?

“Sheeplings” explicitly avoids some mechanics that otherwise would be considered to be crucial parts of a game – like having defined goals a player must reach, creating (positive) stress through time-critical tasks, or making players want to play more and more. How difficult was it for you to rethink game design without such elements?
It was luckily not too difficult. To be honest, after about 20 years of developing games, it was quite a refreshing and deconstructing process. I admire minimalist game design and I had this media pedagogical roadmap to guide all design decisions. Trying the app with children confirmed me in the assumption that in the very beginning it can really be enough for them to experience the interactivity of the medium.

What’s ahead for Explorlings after the release of “Sheeplings”? Can you already give us a teaser whether you have new projects coming up?
Together with media pedagogical experts, I would like to further explore the possibilities for cautious games that are suitable for an introduction to digital devices. The beauty is that this pedagogical framework acts as a catalyst for game ideas. I am currently planning to kick-off two wonderful concepts that take things up a notch. Unfortunately, I can’t share details yet, but I will let you know! 

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Want to know more about "Sheeplings"? Check out the games' website: https://www.explorlings.com/en/sheeplings
It is also already available on the app stores for Android and Apple devices.

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