This is the unlikely story of a video game creator who readily admits to being technologically challenged and whose only video game acquaintance is with Pac-Man, that hungry yellow orb who did nothing more than chomp his way through a maze with multihued ghosts in hot pursuit.
Could Pac-Man now really be 30 years old?
Even when Nintendo’s mustachioed Mario burst onto the scene several years later, Debbie Petry Artt says, “We wanted our kids outside doing stuff” rather than sitting inside, playing video games. “We kind of saw, even back then, that it wasn’t a good idea to have them get addicted to that.”
Fast forward a few decades. As the value of the global gaming market approached $200 billion, Artt, a 63-year-old grandmother, came to realize that video games could be used for good.
Horrified by increasing gun violence, and especially shaken by school shootings, she wanted to share a story that taught children about love and kindness and how to be the very best version of themselves.
So she created The Guardians of Peace, a science fiction adventure game that she describes as a response to violence and an alternative to games that “provide a blueprint for teaching children how to take a gun and blow heads off.”
The story underpinning the game, which gradually took shape on the pages of a composition notebook, describes the positive energies of strength, passion, life, love, mind, sight and spirit battling the opposing forces of laziness, fear, hate, poison, ignorance, lies and cruelty.
Not sure how to proceed but believing that what she had could be impactful, Artt tucked the story away for safekeeping. Until one evening about two years ago, over Mexican food and a sangria at a local restaurant, when she described the concept to her friend Holly Camorata, a real estate salesperson and a former public-school teacher.
As it turned out, Camorata had contact information for someone in the gaming industry: Bret Wright, a Full Sail University graduate who in 2013 had earned a master’s degree in game design. In 2019, Wright started Toolshed LLC, a small (15 employees) company based in Cut Bank, Montana, that produces apps and video games.
The tech whiz — who had worked as a designer and content director for several game developers prior to starting his own company — spoke on the phone with Artt. He was intrigued with what he heard.
Three days later, they met in person at Artt’s home. “I showed him my little composition notebook,” Artt recalls. “He read the story and said, ‘I love this. Let me take it back to my video game world and show everybody.’”
Wright, from his studio in Cut Bank, says his involvement with The Guardians of Peace has offered a welcome change of pace. “Most of my career has been working on, maybe not ultra-violent, but violent stuff,” he says.
Adds Wright: “We definitely feel the need every day to get this out. I truly believe it will help kids cope with things like division, hate, racism and bullying — among other issues we all face daily.”
TAKE CARE OF YOUR QI
Artt subsequently contracted with Tool Shed to develop the game, which she hopes will change the world in part by exposing young players to qigong (pronounced chee-gong), a system of coordinated body-posture and movement, breathing and meditation.
With roots in ancient Chinese medicine, qigong is practiced by adherents — Artt among them — for exercise, relaxation and overall health. Integrative medicine specialist Dr. Yufang Lin of the Cleveland Clinic says that qigong does appear to lessen chronic fatigue and improve mood disorders such as depression.
“According to traditional Chinese medicine principles, a person’s qi (energy) must flow throughout the body in order for people to feel their best,” Lin adds. “If qi becomes stagnant in a certain area, health problems can occur.”
The Guardians of Peace, designed for kids ages 6 through 12, launched its first episode as a free app available through the Apple App Store for iOS, Google Play for Android and Steam for PC. More than 100,000 games were downloaded and positive player reviews piled up.
Two other episodes followed, including a Spanish version. Soon The Guardians of Peace will be available for purchase through Playstation and Xbox. Artt says a game with Chinese subtitles is also in the works, as well as revised iterations aimed at older players.
CONQUER WITH KINDNESS
The story revolves around nine key words — purpose, gratitude, love, meditate, soul, energy, qigong, blessing, kind — and a young squire’s quest to become a Guardian of Peace. The game’s mentors — including one modeled on Artt — are inspired by her family members.
The squire — players may choose “Diego” or “Sienna” — must pass the Seven Sacred Trials, waging epic battles to save the kingdom of Hastina-Poora and vanquish Commander Selfish and his menacing darklings once and for all.
Special enhancements to the squire’s abilities can be added along the way by pausing to join the monks in meditation. That’s how qigong is introduced. “I think it will help with our drug epidemic,” says Artt. “If you find your purpose, you don’t have to numb your feelings.”
Though the accent is likely to provide a clue, Artt grew up on Long Island, New York, one of three children of Bill and Faith Petry, whom she remembers as “the golden ticket when it comes to parents.”
After serving in the U.S. Navy during World War II, Bill Petry returned home and took a job working alongside United Parcel Service founder Jim Casey. Petry, capitalizing on a ground-floor opportunity, was instrumental in helping open new UPS hubs around the country before he retired at age 55.
Artt’s parents celebrated 69 years of marriage before her father died in 2014. Her mother followed in 2019. The opening screen on The Guardians of Peace is dedicated to the couple, “who taught me that love can conquer all obstacles.”
Clearly, being a video game entrepreneur is not for the weak of knee or the shallow of pocket. Wright, while not revealing Artt’s investment in Guardians of Peace, says that comparable games — with polished graphics, a large cast of characters and a multilayered story — could easily cost seven figures to develop.
Artt, though, will only say that it’s the message, not the money, that really matters. Her successful career in real estate — and “the empire built on love and kindness” by her parents — has allowed her to pursue projects that capture her passion. And her three daughters, who live in three different states, have all pitched in.
Daughter Sydney Artt helps make business decisions, while daughter Jenna Zell, a qigong instructor, wrote the game’s meditations. Daughter Amanda Pate, whose Almost Naked Swimwear was featured on the cover of last August’s Sports Illustrated, is designing a “Faith Collection” of clothing and jewelry inspired by the game.
Jenna, Artt says, started the family on a spiritual journey about a decade ago when she battled anxiety and depression. Seeking answers, she discovered books and videos by inspirational author Panache Desai and qigong master Robert Peng.
“Jenna started coming back to us with information about energy healing and meditation,” says Artt, who believes that her video game venture is divinely inspired. “It took us years to really jump on board with her.”
Judging by the celebrity endorsements on Artt’s Facebook page — sandwiched as they are between proud mama and doting grandma moments — the message is resonating.
If there’s any doubt, just listen to the video testimonials from, among others, Jon Bon Jovi, Priscilla Presley, Deepak Chopra, Drew Pinsky (“Dr. Drew”) and Artt’s good friend and gym buddy singer Dion DiMucci.
“Give me something of substance and you’ll entertain me all day long,” says DiMucci, who is perhaps best remembered for “Abraham, Martin and John,” a plaintive megahit in 1968. “This app instills real good stuff in your soul, if you know what I mean.”
For someone who thought she was entering retirement, Artt finds that her world has become very busy over the past couple of years. But if anyone can keep all the plates spinning it’s Artt, who splits her time between homes in Winter Park, Boca Raton and Costa Rica.
“When you find your purpose, you know,” she says. “It just feels so good what I’m doing.” She does, however, believe that it’s important to take care of herself first.
She begins each morning by checking in with her kids. Then she settles in for her spirituality and meditation practices, followed by celery juice and a cup of herbal tea. On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, it’s off to the gym.
Other mornings, she indulges a previously unrealized fondness for tennis, a game she began playing during the COVID-19 pandemic. Very much in character for Artt, her love of the game led her to open a tennis camp for underprivileged children in Costa Rica.
What lies ahead for The Guardians of Peace? “I won’t stop until it’s a ride at Disney,” says Artt, who also has long-range visions of creating meditation centers for children and seeing the concepts that underpin the game taught in schools.
After all, anything’s possible. One can almost hear Artt’s voice in the game as mentor Faith tells young squire Diego: “Meditate on it. Dream it. Will it. And it will manifest.”
One thing is certain: Artt’s grandchildren will grow up knowing that their grandmother did everything within her power to make the world a better place for them to live.
“We all have to do our part,” Artt says. “If you just have a positive thought once a day, that negates a thousand negative thoughts, creating a shift in the world.”
Spoken like a true Guardian of Peace.