While some games focus on violence and destruction, John O’Neill develops games to connect people and build a sense of community through emotions and consideration of others.
“I think the role of art is to create a catalyst to keep people in touch with their souls,” said O’Neill, a longtime artist and founder of Game Whys: Art and Philosophy Games for an Emerging Humanity,
O’Neill’s interest in games came from the desire to provide a more accessible and meaningful form of art using symbolic inspiration from tarot cards and playing cards from around the world, he said.
“I’m an idealist and I wanted my art to be of service to more people than those who could afford large paintings,” O’Neill said.
His company makes art and philosophy games, such as Humanity, which involves two players who work together to make “dreams” by connecting star cards, which represent inspiration, to bloom cards, which represent fulfillment, to hands, hearts and minds.
Humanity will be presented at an International Democratic Education Conference in Colorado in August, and the deck will be expanded to be usable for all seven of his games, O’Neill said.
“The Humanity deck will be called the Humanity Matrix, and you’ll be able to play each of the seven games by laying the cards out differently,” he said. “I think that’s going to be magic.”
O’Neill said he has always been an artist, citing cards he made in 1977, which were shown in galleries worldwide, including the Institute of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles.
O’Neill was invited to present “Interactive Art for the 21st Century” around the U.S. and was asked by Island Records to make cover art for the B-52s during an art show in New York, an offer he turned down because it went against the type of work which he was interested.
As O’Neill’s work gained exposure, he was offered a position working on Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of “E.T.” for Atari and moved from England to the U.S. in 1982 to design games.
That same year, he developed his own game company called Flyghts of Fancie with Stuart Rosen, project manager for Dig Dug and Pac-Man. He then launched Lifespan, which put him on the map as “the Salvador Dali of video games” and the creator of the “first video games as a work of art, which were two major milestones,” O’Neill said. He also created animation for Dr. Seuss around that time.
When the stock market crashed in the late 1980s, O’Neill’s contracts dissolved, and he was left to work on his games independently.
He developed Paradice, a game about environmental conservation, which was noticed by Oprah’s team after it was featured in a magazine on U.S. Airways, but the game could not meet production demands to be featured on the show.
O’Neill has since marketed toward interactive crowds and connection games, a major market for which has been homeschoolers, he said.
“Many homeschool parents would say they use games a lot to teach about life but had to use shooting or killing games,” O’Neill said, adding that with his games, children and adults can address life lessons and solutions.
O’Neill is also set to present a demonstration at Bitney College Prep High School about art through game design.
The demonstration at a local school is part of his vision to market his games locally, as he moved to Nevada City two years ago with his wife, Lisa Kindley.
Kindley is also an artist and paints moving tapestries and murals with her company, Butterfly Studio art, which can be accessed at butterflystudioart.net.
O’Neill sells his games online at GameWhys.com and at Neva Co. at 400 Broad St. in Nevada City and will host a weekly game night this Friday from 6 to 8 p.m. at Clavey Vineyards at 232 Commercial St. in Nevada City.
“This is a launch of a series of game nights,” O’Neill said. “The games provide refreshment of the souls of adults, inspiration and encouragement for children and arenas for families to explore values in life. That’s really what it’s all about.”
To contact Staff Writer Jennifer Terman, email email@example.com or call 530-477-4230.