A couple of years ago, Jim Murphy was standing in a friend’s backyard at a fourth of July cook out, talking to the man who launched the line of G.I. Joe action figures for Hasbro in the 1980s. The man was lamenting that no one was selling patriotic toys anymore. Jim was certainly the right audience for that discussion.
Jim had been a Marine prior to September 11, 2001 and gone back on active duty after the terrorist attacks. When he met the man behind G.I. Joe, Jim had fought in Iraq and left active duty, earned an MBA and gone to work in the toy industry, working on popular toys like Paw Patrol and Bakugan.
That conversation got Jim thinking.
“Kids entertainment used to be about how to act — now it’s mostly about escapism,” he said. “There’s nothing wrong with escapism, but I realized that these values and stories are an undervalued asset.”
The exception, he realized, was the wildly popular American Girl line of toys, which combines inspirational stories from American history with books and collectible dolls. He realized that nothing like American Girl existed for boys or for girls who weren’t interested in dolls.
“I thought these stories — not just military stories, but stories about American heroes — these were the stories we should be telling,” Jim said. “The question was, how do you take these principles and boil the, down in a way that is compelling for kids?”
For the next year and a half Jim and his wife Laura, who is a school teacher, devoted themselves to answering that question and to creating such a product.
(“I took the classic USMC/combat arms approach and just started doing it,” he joked.)
When they settled on a formula, Jim, like a true military man, chose an acronym for the name — I.N.V.I.C.T.A. Challenge.
INVICTA, stands for seven leadership traits: Integrity, Nobility, Valor, Initiative, Curiousity, Tenacity and Accountability and tells true leadership stories about American heroes through video games, interactive graphic novels, toys and collectibles. Invicta, not coincidentally, is also a Latin word that means “unconquered."
After that year and a half of work and a successful Kickstarter campaign, the first INVICTA game launched this month. It can be purchased online on the company’s website, on Amazon and through Barnes and Noble in stores and online.
Though it actually combines a downloadable video game app, a choose-your-own-adventure graphic novel and an action figure, Jim, who has one child, refers to the boxed set as a “game”.
“If you want a kid to read, you don’t call it a ‘book’ -- you call it a ‘game’,” he said.
The first INVICTA game tells the true story of Lt. Turner Turnbull, a Native American soldier who served in the 82nd Airborne Division during WWII and who led a platoon of paratroopers on D-Day.
Jim describes it as a tactical decision game that focuses on promoting leadership. He calls it a Leadership Decision Challenge game.
He told me that he and Laura conceived the game as something that would be multi generational — something a mother, father, grandparent, or other adult would enjoy doing (but wouldn’t have to do) with a child.
So I tried it out with my video game-obsessed 11-year-old son. We were impressed.
In order to play the game, the player has to first read the graphic novel, which tells the story of Lt. Turnbull and explains the challenges he faced. The player also has to read a set of mission cards that explain Operation Overlord. Success in the video game, which is a downloadable app for tablet computers, is heavily reliant on remembering the information in the graphic novel and the mission cards.
(In other words, if kids want to win the game, they have to read the book and cards and remember what they read.)
“The decisions are based on values and reading comprehension,” Jim said. “We’ve found that a lot of kids today haven’t had an opportunity to try something and fail — this is a safe way for them to experience that learning kind of failure.”
I loved that there was a learning component to the game and my son and I both enjoyed reading the graphic novel, which features photo illustrations. Jim had previously told me that one of the rewards for contributors to the Kickstarter was an opportunity to appear as a character in the graphic novel illustrations. Many of his early Kickstarter contributors were current and former Marines, so it was fun to see their pictures knowing that.
The action figure that is included with the game is of high quality and very similar in size and appearance to the G.I. Joe figures my little brother used to collect. My son wasn’t as interested in the action figure, but younger players will probably appreciate it more. INVICTA games are marketed as being for children between the ages of 8 and 14.
“Kids will read something that is tied to something else they will enjoy,” Jim told me. “Collecting figures, building something, those things motivate kids to the read the books.”
The Lt. Turner Turnbull INVICTA Challenge game is the first of what Jim and Laura hope will be an extensive line of products. Though they anticipate that some of the future products will also be based on military heroes, they plan to highlight other heroic and inspiring men and women in American history and hope to offer larger scale figures and model kits in the future, as well.