Null-Tea, a compound word meaning 'to brew (tea) what seems valueless (null)', is a social venture game startup that aims to make gradual changes to the world with games. Sinae Kim, the CEO of this beautifully named startup, also stayed in Jeju for one month through this April's stay support program in Jeju. She said, I'm really not a sociable person., but also unhesitatingly acknowledged that she had experienced lots of changes in the new environment in Jeju. There were so many things I wanted to ask that sensitive and honest woman.
J-Space: I love games, too. What kind of games do you like?
Sinae Kim: I was a Starcraft fanatic. Now, I play STEAM games sometimes. What's important is that I don't play games that much once I became a game developer.
J-Space: I wasn't very good at Starcraft and just played some simple games. There is this game called DarkEden with vampires. Nowadays I'm playing mobile games. There is a room escape game called The Room. It's not free, but I'm enjoying it a lot.
Sinae Kim: You are our potential customer!
<VERY PRIVATE GAME X MAKER, a game-making workshop of Null-Tea (left),
VERY PRIVATE X PLAYER, a reality game that the player accomplishes small goals in a form of a mission (right)>
J-Space: I wanted to talk about games the most! With selfish motives. Now you are planning another game related to teenagers in crisis, what made you interested in the two, teenagers in crisis and games?
Sinae Kim: Frankly, I wasn't interested in teenagers in crisis at first. I just liked developing games. Then, Smilegate held YES! SMILE project in 2015, which required us to make a game that we can put our emotion in rather than just a technical game. I was looking for a suitable subject and I paid attention to the teenagers in crisis. After I actually spent time with those teenagers, I felt sorry for them. I met one boy who especially caught my attention. I asked myself if there was anything I could do for him, if I could help make the life's direction through games, and so on. After the thoughts, I was convinced 'Ah. I can do that'. And I made a company combining the two.
<The Queen Cuckoo and Nest of Vanity, a board game being developed by Null-Tea (left),
GOBACK, an emotional adventure game based on the real story of a teenager in crisis (right)>
J-Space: You also participated in our center's startup training program J-Academy and made another thing. You combined reading and game again.
Sinae Kim: Games are growing on commercial basis, so addictiveness is emphasized to make a game interesting. I think this is the dilemma game developers have. Our company aims to develop games that are not only interesting to play but also meaningful to the players. One of the games in line with that aim is the ALIVERARY project, combining reading with a game. It aims to help teenagers build up strength to protect themselves through reading. The start of this project was sort of for my own pleasure.. I had a goal. It started from the thought that it would be fun to have a program about being a detective for a murder case in a library. But, everyone was against it. Because that is too violent for children to play in school libraries.
J-Space: A library and a murder, how the two can be connected like that(...)
Sinae Kim: At first, I thought of a detective big game in a library. If you think of a detective plot, then it is a murder that's fun. Bet my granddad's name on it, you are the murderer! Something like this. But in the end, I agreed that a murder case is too much and people who worked on the project selected good books they had read and started to make it to a game. We did the first test of the game at Gimpo High School. That version was very clumsy in hindsight. But, the children were having so much fun. We lost track of time playing and then got totally exhausted. So, I was very happy. Because they were having fun. Later, we posted about it on an online cafe and some school libraries got in touch with us to request the game. That is continuing to this date.
I'll explain about the game. We hide 5 books in the library in advance. And we allocate one random each team should find. Hints are in the library. You can get your own team's hints or other team's, so to achieve the goal, you need to keep negotiating with other teams and exchange the hints. In the end, you win if you get the title of the book. The hints have good excerpts from the book, names of the characters and other information on the book. Children take a close look at the hints playing these games. And it stimulates their curiosity.
I don't think you need to read the whole book. I think it is important to read books that suit you. Rather than pressuring children to read, this program introduces many books that seem interesting to them.
<ALIVERARY, a reading education service in the form of a big game (offline game)
where 30 teenagers gather in a library (a space with books) to explore the space together, communicate and negotiate.>
J-Space: You said you needed healing, but you seemed like you were into 'work' more than anybody else.
Sinae Kim: It was because of J-Academy (J-CCEI Startup Training Program). During the first week, I can confidently say I was 'healing' better than anyone else. I walked around Jeju in the morning and worked in the evening. I only worked for about 4 hours a day and then just had fun for the rest of the day. But, the moment I had J-Academy! It opened my 'hell gate'. I felt a super strong urge to work. And I got myself into a labor hell in Jeju. I had an inspiration and started working on it. I worked hard on giving business shape to the library project ALIVERARY. In fact, this one had the best response among our projects. But, I didn't know when I had to develop this project. So, I was just feeling out possibilities. I think it was when I participated in J-Academy that I decided to develop it aggressively. So, I worked on it really hard.
J-Space: You did the pattern book project, attended the StoryFunding Kakao class. You seem to have a lot of interest in writing or publishing as well.
Sinae Kim: I like books, so I also like writing books. My books were mostly about tools. In the future, I would like to write about my emotion in a form of an essay. I thought I would try when I applied for Jejudaum(J-CCEI Stay Support Program in Jeju). Also, one day, I went to an electronic books meet-up that was recommended by Jeju. At that time, I set a goal, wanting to publish an electronic book. And once, one of the members of the meet-up invited me to his house, which was a great experience. Here in Jeju, I focused a lot on myself and the environment. I'm not good at socializing with strangers. I don't really know what to talk about with the ones I stay here with and I don't know how to approach people I meet for the first time, but there, I could naturally talk with them and I loved that unique atmosphere. I could focus on people when I came to Jeju thanks to the talks I had there. I got to think a lot about feeling about living in Jeju. It was just superb. The very feeling. I didn't feel awkward. It means a lot that I, who is shy of strangers, did not feel awkward.
J-Space: I can't see that you are shy. It's not noticeable. You might have changed a bit in Jeju. When you said you felt a change, it sounded like your confession. How was the one month in Jeju?
Sinae Kim: It left me much to be desired because I can have good conversations with someone only after meeting that person on a regular basis for about a year and this one month was too short for networking. I felt this time that I felt out of place because I wasn't good at distinguishing when to focus on the work and when to have a conversation. It was difficult to go talk to people when they are working, and I thought it would be the same for them when I am working. That's really about timing, but it wasn't easy to catch. In contrast, Soojeong (who was also a participant in this stay) does that kind of thing very well. Thanks to her, I had someone to talk to and wasn't so lonely. What I also liked about her very much is that our conversation went so smooth as she came here as a cultural artist. It was same with Lime (who was also a participant in this stay). Other participants with a specialty in IT talked a lot about technical subjects, so I was confused what to share with them about my project. I realized that too late. I've been blog-posting about my stay in Jeju, but I've never thought my blogging would be helpful for them. Yesterday, I realized it was helpful.
J-Space: Yes. Although it was not a direct cooperation, but you constantly shared your process of creation. So, it gives them inspiration such as, ah, this person feels this way and the technology can be applied this way or it will lead to creation this way.
Sinae Kim: Yes. You just reminded me of something. I've learned the sales people's mindset a bit. I was running a business, but I didn't have that mindset. I didn't know how to bring up my business in a conversation naturally, then I observed how other participants do and roughly learned how to approach. I thought about the same thing looking at Bongjun (who was also a participant in this stay) and Soojeong. Yongsung Shin (who was also a participant in this stay) had his own company for a long time, so I asked a lot about his colleagues. I liked the opportunity to hear about his leadership.
J-Space: I also learn a lot from observing myself and other employees. What I don't have. You were already working remotely, so you may have been able to felt something similar to that. I saw you working in J-Space. You have such strong concentration.
Sinae Kim: I liked working alone late at night after everyone left. Those hours were so precious. I will keep thinking about it. From this chance, I think I developed confidence about working remotely. I can do it wherever I go! I can do it wherever I am if I have a laptop and a tablet. It was a good test for me. My younger sister majors in music. I am going to recommend her to apply for this stay. she is still a university student. I think there will be so much for her to learn here.
Sinae Kim, who came to Jeju on the stay support program and brewed and drank up April's energy released by Jeju just like a tea-bag, participating in all April programs of the center from the startup training program, J-Academy, business idea pitching to Kakao class! Once you have talked with her, you will know she is not as shy as you expected.
*The above script has been slightly modified from the original interview for readability and the order of interview has been reorganized while we try to maintain Interviewee's original words and intention as much as possible.
Contact of <NULL-TEA> Sinae Kim