Johan de Bruin – Why I Create Educational Games

I’m Johan de Bruin, founder of Erudis Games, and I would like to share my background and how it inspired me to create educational games.

The story starts around 1995; when I was barely seven years old, I already established a loving relationship with videogames. I can vividly remember those situations when I entered in my local arcade, and my body would fill up with pure joy.

Me playing Pokemon Blue

My time in school was tough; I was the son of a single mom who has a brother, both from different fathers. This made me subject to discrimination and bullying, not only from other kids but also from the parents.

Later, I discovered that the parents fueled hate to their kids against my brother and me. Being the son of a single mother in a town that just got out from Franco’s fascism was still taboo.

If this wasn’t enough, I had a speech impediment that forced me to skip core Math and Spanish classes to go to speech therapy; this set me up to get bad marks at school.

Luckily, my mom’s boss gifted us with some educational games from the Learning Company. I remember that thanks to Operation Neptune, I was able to get a perfect mark in Math for the first time. It gave me very needed self-esteem.

Operation Neptune helped me to get good Math grades

Later on, I would pick online gaming; I was obsessed with games like Age of Empires and Counter Strike. But the game that implanted a unique characteristic in me was EVE Online.

In EVE you have the option to level up skills; one of the major ones was learning, which allows you to level up other skills faster. I was struck by this and decided to apply it to real life.

So I was there at the age of 14 reading books to develop learning skills. Books like the ones from Ramon Campayo, study techniques, mind maps, and even go deep into industrial psychology.

In 2006 I got obsessed with games like Brain Age and Word Coach. I would play them religiously for at least 2 hours a day. I even got pretty close to a perfect score in Big Brain Academy, who label me as an engineer.

Almost perfect score in Big Brain Academy, they even predicted I would become an engineer

I would also receive professional Backgammon lessons from my Grandfather, a European Level champion. I learned concepts like LogicProbabilityCombinatoryMachine Learning, and Game Theory during these hard lessons.

Johan & Martin de Bruin

But then my development hitched again. When celebrating my 18th birthday, someone thought it would be fun to add MDMA in my drink, ensuring a four-month ticket to the mental hospital.

I lost complete sense of reality, I thought that God was the dungeon master of my life, and everyone else was just a non-player character (NPC).

One of the few memories I retain from then is a game idea, about a trading card game where you collect cards after demonstrating knowledge in some space, like the “Pitagora’s Triangle.” Years later, This would become the idea trigger of Erudite Battles and motivator of the creation of Erudis Games.

Me after the hospital

Once released from the hospital, I entered a deep depression; I thought my life was over, as I would never be valuable to society as a person with a mental illness. This time was a pretty dry moment in my life, but I learned to cope with mindfulness and enjoy the moment.

My passion for building tech saved me; I would build websites and games just for fun. They would get popular, and suddenly, I started doing this for a living—everything powered by self-teaching and passion.

During 2012 the online marketing company started to fail due to the economic crisis. My brother and I decided to move to the USA. I wanted to become a better software engineer, so we just booked a flight to Silicon Valley, with two nights in a motel and $500 in our pocket.

Wearing a Friiweb shirt, my first company

We slept on the flat floor of a cold garage during the first month and ate only ham and cheese sandwiches. Luckily, I managed to secure a contracting work with TiVo as a javascript engineer.

A year later, I was offered a job at Riot Games. I was ecstatic. I knew that working for this company would show me the industry insights I needed to release my dream educational games.

Riot Games Campus

These six years were full of learning; I would take classes at Santa Monica College during the afternoon to learn concepts like networking and game design. Every single winter break, I would prototype an educational game idea. I learned software architecture from world-class engineers, some of them from Google or Netflix.

During my time there, I was recommended that I improve my English Grammar. I tried to find a good grammar game that would help me practice, but I was surprised at how there was nothing that would appeal to me as a gamer. The idea of GramMars Wars came to fruition. 

GramMars Wars early sketch

After having a good enough prototype of GramMars Wars, I decided it was time to go. I moved to Michigan and “drafted” my brother to help me with the art.

I’m not naive; I know that creating engaging educational games is a problem that smarter people with more resources have tried to solve and fail.

If I can help just one person, someone who thought about giving up, but thanks to our game, inspire him or her to strive for self-improvement, it will all be worth it.