If you haven’t already seen the viral video of 9-year-old Caine Monroy’s DIY cardboard arcade, you may have been living under a rock. Directed by LA filmmaker and Founder of Imagination Foundation, Nirvan Mullick, global phenomenon “Caine’s Arcade” has reached more than 3.5 million views and sparked a movement of inspiring creativity and entrepreneurship in more kids like Caine.
Caine, a shy boy with an active imagination who loves to make things, spent his summer vacation building an elaborate DIY cardboard arcade inside his dad’s used auto-parts store and invited people to play. The summer passed by, and Caine had yet to have a single customer. Until Nirvan, that is.
37-year-old filmmaker ventured into East LA that September afternoon because he needed spare parts to sell his ’96 Toyota Corolla and stopped by to buy a door handle. Nirvan brainstormed ways to get Caine more customers and eventually turned to Facebook for help. On October 2, 2011, an excited crowd of people surprised Caine waiting in line to play is arcade.
“Caine’s dad had taken him to a pizza place, while a crowd gathered to play at the arcade and surprise Caine. My favorite part of the filming experience was seeing the look on Caine’s face, the excitement of it all,” Nirvan said to Design with Benefits.
The film sparked an unexpected wave of young D.I.Y. activity around the world. Kids posted videos and photos of their own cardboard creations—pinball machines, bubble-gum machines, and Nirvan’s personal favorite, a photocopier also briefly featured in the video. For this engineering feat, a young boy re-purposes a toilet seat for the Xerox lid and sits inside a cardboard box with a flashlight to hand “copy” whatever is placed under the lid. The pièce de résistance is the final document presentation: the boy spits out the copy through a slot and into a kitty litter box, while making the accompanying sound effects.
In an interview with Design with Benefits, Nirvan reflected that one of the most memorable experiences was when a mom posted about her 4-year-old daughter who created her own t-shirt (like Caine did) and arcade game in the kitchen after watching the video. The proud mother posted “…now just trying to figure out how to get customers into our kitchen!”
The film, in conjunction with the Caine’s Arcade sequels, has so far raised over $230,000 for Caine’s scholarship, Nirvan told Design with Benefits.
More than anything, what impressed Design With Benefits most about “Caine’s Arcade” is its demonstration that design can play a positive role in the lives of children and can foster kids with natural powers of creativity for unexpected benefits.
“When I talk with Caine now, he mentions that he might want to be an engineer when he grows up, even though ‘engineer’ was not part of his vocabulary before,” Nirvan said. “I saw Caine working with another kid struggling with building a tricky part, and Caine said, “Here, let me help, I’m a good engineer.””
Caine’s father attests to the positive changes he has seen in Caine, including being more outgoing and no longer stuttering.
“I have no idea what Caine will be when he grows up, and it makes no difference if he actually becomes an engineer or not,” Nirvan tells Design with Benefits. “The remarkable part is that these words, these professions, these possibilities are now part of Caine’s world view, where they were not before.”