Lual Mayen’s Video Game Could Be the Key to World Peace
Video games have a reputation for being violent because they kinda are. Even the most innocuous franchises involve some degree of destructiveness, whether it’s stomping on anthropomorphic mushrooms or watching cute little critters duke it out like gladiators. While the implications of this form of entertainment remain a source of heated debate—mostly among misguided politicians or concerned parents that are very active in social media groups—one man has made it his life’s mission to produce a video game that promotes peace and positivity. A wild concept, right? His name is Lual Mayen, and he has quite a story to tell.
Mayen is a 24-year-old Sudanese refugee who came to the United States in 2017. He spent 22 of those years in a Ugandan refugee camp after his family fled their country’s devastating civil war, a conflict that displaced more than 2.5 million people. He grew up without electricity and saw his first computer in 2007. That sparked an instant passion.
Mayen’s mother saved up enough money over the course of a few years to buy him his first laptop, an act of unconditional love and support that changed the trajectory of his life. “One of the things that my mother tells me every day is, ‘My only hope for you is to follow the right path of life.’ That’s the only hope,” he says. “She doesn’t have any expectations to go further, because my mother is amazing.”
Even with new hardware in hand, Mayen would have to walk three hours just to charge his new computer and play games at the nearest Internet cafe. In the face of such adversity, Mayen has been able to carve out a name for himself as a celebrated game developer in an industry dominated by big-name studios and global conglomerates. “Growing up in a refugee camp, I never thought that video games were created by people,” he says. “I thought they just fall from heaven because I was in an environment where people have no opportunity to dream or people have no access to resources.”
If there’s one thing you can learn from Mayen, it’s resilience. Driven by a passion for electronics and gaming, he set out to learn the tricks of the trade through online tutorials and research. It didn’t take long for him to realize that his purpose in life was the create a game focused on fostering positive change in his community and the world. “I did not care much about the business part of it,” he says. “I really wanted to do something that could help my community, especially in the refugee camp.”
Mayen understood the importance of improving the mindset of his fellow refugees and the impact of video games, especially on kids. “ I needed to create a product that can engage them as children instead of focusing on the world. They can be able to find something new, and they can interact with it a tool of empathy.” Through his work, Mayen would be able to offer hope to the hopeless and a totally new perspective on life. He’s given them the chance to dream.
The task at hand certainly wasn’t easy. Beyond the lack of electricity, Mayen didn’t have the team or resources to produce the game he had in mind. So he learned how to do it all himself. “I take learning as something that is part of what life is. It’s more than just going to the university. I make sure I learn something new every day because that will help me to catch up with the people that are competing in this space,” he says with a slightly mischievous laugh.
The result was a mobile game called Salaam (Arabic for peace) that pitted love against hate. Users tap the screen to grow a “heart of peace” that would eventually grow large enough to destroy symbols of war and hate. The gameplay mechanics were relatively simple, but the underlying message was, and remains, the singular modus operandi for Mayen. “Games are so powerful,” he says. “People don’t think that they can be used for something good. We can utilize the industry to bring about positive change and also bring communities together.”
The future looks bright for Mayen. Salaam went viral shortly after he posted it online in 2017, and he has since partnered with Facebook to develop and distribute an updated version.
The new iteration will have real-world effects. When a player purchases food within the game, they’re actually buying food for someone in a refugee camp. Mayen is truly using his passion to make a positive impact on the lives of real people. “I came into this industry to bring something new. I did not come here to just be a game designer [or] work for another company. I’m here to create something new and to create something that changes the world. Because video games are amazing. We can utilize them to help communities and the people that are suffering around the world.”
So are you ready, Player One?