Last month, we voiced our support for raising money to aid Palestinians during this humanitarian crisis. If you've been keeping an eye on these things in the last few weeks, however, you may have seen mention of a gigantic Itch.io bundle organized by Alanna Linayre from Toadhouse Studios. The profits from the bundle, which is live until June 11, go to the United Nations Reliefs and Works Agency. I sat down with Linayre to discuss how this all happened, what this bundle is doing to help, and what's next.
"Well for me, the thing that stuck out to me most coming out of Palestine were the children forming obvious PTSD," Linayre began. "I'm not a doctor, so I can't diagnose them... but I have PTSD, and they have a lot of the same symptoms as me. And seeing the videos and knowing the symptoms and knowing what a difficult path they have ahead of them. I don't have much money to contribute, but what I do have are indie games and some contacts in the industry. So I threw together a bundle and was hoping to make maybe $500." She paused. "I did not realize, maybe naively, how big it would get so quickly. I was not prepared."
Many charities out there provide support to those in need in Palestine, but Linayre had specific reasons for choosing the UNRWA over others.
"IGN originally had listed a couple charities they had vetted, and then I looked into it, and I liked it because of the mental-health services," she said. "They give, 97, maybe 92% of the money directly to people who need it. A lot of these other ones it's like 70 or 72%."
The Itch.io bundle features 1,020 items by 865 creators, and supporters can buy it at a pay-what-you-want price, with a $5 minimum.
"I like how we set it up, because you're actually paying the $5 minimum for Liyla and the Shadows of War. And then you get the other 1,000+ games, assets, soundtracks for free. This is a game created by a developer in Gaza about a little girl in Gaza, and it's actually about the war," Linayre said. "Once the bundle blew up the way it did, I didn't want it to be this white savior coming in thing. So Rami Ismail put me in contact with Rasheed Abueideh, a Palestinian game dev to highlight for this... all of it just made sense. Thankfully Rasheed was kind enough and brave enough to take on the risk. We see what's happening to journalists over there, and he's a dad. It's a risk."
Every part of this bundle from conception to fruition was built off the work of volunteers. From the creators offering their content to the moderators checking each game, everyone involved put this bundle together with their own time and effort.
"The indie devs banding together, volunteering their time, volunteering their games, and all collectively agreeing to highlight a Palestinian game dev," she said. "No one's ego got in the way... Everything's been volunteers. I would like to emphasize that Itch, they're allowing us to use their platform and the forum, but this is grassroots. Volunteers, the moderators on the forums, are using their time to check every single game. Every single game has been opened and checked, and playtested to make sure there's no broken links, and there's nothing NSFW. It's all been volunteers."
When Linayre first put out the call, creators came to her in numbers she wasn't expecting. The bundle eventually grew to be larger than she had expected.
"I had 22 games at the beginning... and after one of them pulled out, I was contacted by like four more. So I just threw together a Google form... and when I woke up there were 500 people who had submitted," she laughed disbelief. "Originally it was just the people I know who do bundles, but then once it got bigger, I started reaching out to other devs. And then Itch.io graciously allowed us to use their platform and helped me with the financial side, so it goes directly to UNWRA, which would have been a headache... not to mention the tax situation."
I asked if Linayre had plans for anything else in the future.
"I feel like I learned a lot from this and I've always appreciated initiatives like this. So I definitely in the future will do more stuff like this, so I definitely will be more organized and not just throw up a Google form," she said. "Like in the form there was a question that said, 'I consent to have my game in this bundle,' and I put an option to disagree. Why did I put an option to disagree?"
However, this isn't her first time volunteering her time and effort for those in need. Linayre has a history of working with charities that goes beyond her experience in the games industry.
"A portion of all my games' profits go to charities that benefit the characters we aim to represent, so depending on the game whoever the main character is. But I feel like I've always done this. In 2004, as a teenager, after the Thailand tsunami, I was really into the punk scene. So my friends and I set up a punk concert and raised like $1,600 for charity," she laughed. "UNRWA U.S.A. is also doing a 5k for mental health thing. We're not involved with it but that is not only Palestinian aid but mental health Palestinian aid."
I steered the conversation to her studio, Toadhouse, and asked about what they were doing next. Toadhouse is a rather small studio still making their way in the industry. Five people make up what she called the "core group," but the headcount almost reaches a dozen if you count sensitivity readers, cultural consultants, and contractors.
"Toadhouse is a visual-novel studio that aims to destigmatize mental illness. Our main game is Call me Cera, it's coming out mid-way next year. It's about making friends as an adult. We have four vignettes coming out this year. The one that came out in April, Good Lookin' Home Cookin', was the first of four, and they take place a year before Call Me Cera," Linayre said. "My games are meant for people with mental illness to play them without triggering. If you consider a Call of Duty game as a power fantasy, my games are a love and acceptance fantasy."
The Indie Bundle for Palestinian Aid is available on Itch.io until Friday, June 11, and you can find it here.