Genius Games' New Mission: Books That Make Science Fun

Apr 11, 2016 at 7:30 am
click to enlarge The core of Genius Games: Mary Wissinger, John Coveyou and Shelley Spence
The core of Genius Games: Mary Wissinger, John Coveyou and Shelley Spence

John Coveyou's startup, Genius Games, has found big success on Kickstarter. The St. Louis company, which aims to make science fun for students, launched all four of its games using the crowd-funding platform — and in all four cases, exceeded its goal.

So when Genius Games decided to expand its repertoire to include a line of books, Kickstarter seemed a good way to go about that too.

Suffice it to say, it exceeded the goal for that project, too. Last Friday, Genius Games closed its first-ever book-based Kickstarter with $103,461 in funding — a staggering 2,299 percent of the goal.

"It validates our idea that people want a product like this," Coveyou says. "We were already planning a three-book series — now maybe we'll look at six to ten books."

But while the campaign's success is good news for Genius Games, it also shows just how desperately reader-friendly science books are needed. "It's a culmination of the movement towards STEM — there's a lot of interest in STEM subjects," he says. "But it's also an indication of the difficulty of learning about STEM subjects. These books are sort of a way to bridge that gap. They remove the intimidation from these topics."

Coveyou's goal is to take the complicated and make it both simple and fun. The three planned books in the "my first science textbook" series (Protons & NeutronsElectrons and The Atom) have colorful illustrations, a cheerfully goofy look, and a recommended age of "2 to 92."

"My daughter is two, and I'd read these stories to her," Coveyou says. "She's not learning chemistry yet, but she'll never be intimidated by the word 'proton' if she knows it at age two."

The roots of Genius Games' genius are in Coveyou's family misfortune. Before Coveyou was born, his mom was in car accident that left her disabled. Thanks to her cognitive impairments, he learned a surprisingly rare skill at an early age: "I had to learn how to communicate complicated topics simply, in a way mom could understand them." A St. Louis native and a proud graduate of Marquette High School, he followed military service (including a stint in Iraq) with a master's in chemical engineering and work as both an engineer and a teacher.

While Coveyou had dabbled in games even before he designed Genius Games' quartet, he brought on writer Mary Wissinger to handle the books. A former music teacher, she does not have a science background whatsoever. When she was the age being targeted by the books, "I didn't even know what a proton was," she admits. But through revisions, she was able to help Coveyou translate those scientific facts into an engaging story.

"It was definitely a collaborative editing process," she says.

Genius Games is based in the TechArtista coworking space in the Central West End. Its small staff (just two full-timers, plus four contract employees) has fed off the energy of the bigger hive, Coveyou says.

"Just being able to bounce ideas around has been invaluable," he says.

The books will be available to Kickstarter backers by October, with the goal of having them in retail locations in time for Christmas shoppers.

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Editor's note: We revised this story after publication to give a little more context to one quotation.