Game-Based Learning

Caine’s Arcade & The Global Cardboard Challenge: Celebrating Imagination Around the World

September 17, 2012
Photo credit: Nirvan Mullick
Caine Monroy stands in front of his cardboard arcade.

Who could have imagined that a nine-year-old boy's cardboard arcade could spark a global wave of creativity? I sure didn't. All I thought I was doing was buying a door handle for my car.

Just Build It

It was the last day of summer in 2011, and my '96 Corolla needed a door handle. I pulled into a random used auto parts store in an industrial part of East LA, where I met nine-year-old Caine, who had taken over the front of Smart Parts with an elaborate arcade he had built using cardboard boxes from his dad's store.

Caine, who loves arcades, had spent his entire summer vacation accompanying his dad to work, filling his days building his arcade. Caine dreamed of the day he would have tons of customers and spent months preparing everything -- from perfecting his game design to designing elaborate security systems and hand-labeling gift paper lunch bags. At one point, Caine asked his dad to buy him a Claw Machine. Caine's dad replied, "Why don’t you just build it?" And so Caine did, using a metal hook, a piece of yarn and a cardboard box.

A young entrepreneur, Caine asked every person who wandered in if they would like to play his arcade. But to date, no one had stopped to play. Caine never gave up. When I wandered in to buy my door handle, Caine asked if I wanted to play. He told me I could get four turns for one dollar, or for two dollars I could get a funpass (500 turns). I bought the funpass, and became Caine's first and only customer.

I spent the next 30 minutes playing Caine's games and getting transported back to my childhood. I was so inspired, I came back to make a short film about Caine's Arcade. As part of the film, I organized a flashmob to surprise Caine with lots of customers to make his day.

The resulting 11-minute short film, Caine's Arcade, made its online debut in April, 2012, and instantly became a worldwide phenomenon. The film has received over seven million views, raised over $215,000 for a scholarship fund for Caine, and received extensive media coverage. Caine even travelled to France, where he was the youngest speaker ever at Cannes Lions.

But for me, the most inspiring part has been the wave of cardboard creativity sparked in young people around the world. Kids began inventing their own cardboard games, and educators began using the film and cardboard arcade building projects to teach. This is what has inspired the next chapter of the story.

So, what happened next? To find out, watch Caine’s Arcade 2, the new follow-up film below:

Global Day of Play

Growing from the global response to Caine's Arcade, we’ve started the Imagination Foundation. It's our mission to find, foster and fund creativity and entrepreneurship in more kids. We're launching with the first annual Global Cardboard Challenge, culminating in a Global Day of Play on October 6 (the one-year anniversary of the flashmob that made Caine's day in the film). The Cardboard Challenge will bring together participants around the world to build, play and celebrate creativity and community.

How It Works

During September, participants will organize events and start building with two ingredients: cardboard and imagination. Then on October 6, friends, family, co-workers and communities can come out to play and display their cardboard creations at local events, celebrating the imagination and creativity of kids everywhere.

What Can You Do?

Educators, sign up on to host an event in your classroom, at your school or in your community. Check out our Organizer Toolkits for suggestions. Cardboard Challenge events can vary in scale, so you can customize as best fits your kids, community and resources. During the next few weeks, build at home or in your classrooms, then host an open house on or around October 6th. Feel free to use your event to fundraise for your school, local causes or the Imagination Foundation.

As we move forward, the Imagination Foundation is working to build project-based learning and STEM-focused curriculum that incorporates cardboard creativity, using the story of Caine’s Arcade to spark the imagination of kids. Check out some of the Curriculum we've already received from teachers around the world. We're always looking for feedback from our educator community, so please reach out, and join our Facebook Group for Inspired Educators.

Parents, find a local event for your kids or host one yourself (in your backyard, school, or community group). Click here for organizer toolkits and suggestions.

The Power of Imagination

Caine's dad encouraged him to "just build it," and a community came together to foster this child's creativity and support his dream. The result was something magical. We want the Imagination Foundation and the Global Cardboard Challenge to pass that same empowering message to every young person around the globe, promoting creative thinking as a core social value, and giving them the opportunity to create around their own interests. Together, we can inspire kids to build the world they can imagine, and imagine the world they can build.

For more information, visit, or follow @nirvan, @imagination, @cainesarcade or #cardboardchallenge on Twitter.

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