The man opening the world’s eyes to the plight of refugees through gaming

Having spent 22 of his 24 years in a refugee camp, the inspiring Luyal Mayen is now educating the world on the plight of his people through his game Salaam.

Luyal Mayen endured a brutal start to life. One of 680,000 displaced by a relentless civil war spanning decades in South Sedan, Mayen was born en route to a refugee camp in Northern Uganda and grew up within its borders.

With no educational opportunities to speak of, a meagre food supply, and crowded living conditions, he spent a solitary 22 years dreaming up ways to inspire and educate the Western world about the plight of refugees – of which there are 2.6 million in communal sites right now. At the age of 24, Mayen is finally on the cusp of fully realising that lifelong ambition.

Now, as the studio head of his own game development team in Washington, DC Junub Games, Mayen is putting the finishing touches on a flagship game to spread his message of ‘peace and conflict resolution’.

Entitled Salaam, which translates to ‘peace’ is Arabic, Mayen has created a high-tension running mobile game to encapsulate the feeling of having to flee from conflict, to survive by collecting the barest necessities of medicine and food, and to stop communities from being destroyed.

He hopes to profoundly impact the next generation of world leaders and encourage greater priority for victims of circumstance through the popular medium of video games. Speaking to News 18, he said ‘When they’re making policy, they’ll already understand what refugees face, just through playing my game. That’s actually how we change the world and how we can be able to use the industry for good.’

Whilst this will obviously do wonders for spreading awareness in the mobile centric Western marketplace, a partnership with the UN will also provide the opportunity to donate funds and aid to real life refugee camps through making microtransactions within Salaam.

You’re probably wondering where a child in a war-ravaged country gets the urge to become a game developer from. Having seen a computer for the first time in the camp registry office, Mayen became fixated with the idea of eventually having his own. That day came at 15, when his mother surprised him with a $300 laptop she’d bought using three years of her own money she’d saved especially.

Trekking three hours to an internet hotspot at a UN basecamp every day, Mayen downloaded tutorials on coding and digital design, and created his first initial version of Salaam within six months.

After being tracked down by a Nairobi based gaming festival called A MAZE, Mayen’s name started to propagate in mainstream gaming circles, and he was invited to speak at the 2019 GDC in San Francisco. Today, he is working with VR firm Oculus to create an immersive experience that can give people even more insight into the struggles of life as a refugee.

Mayen’s plight is not an isolated case, and millions more just like him are still living through similar circumstances. Tough as it must have been, his childhood is unfortunately not extraordinary or unusual, but his success story is as rare as it gets. Just imagine what a bit of educational support and relief could to do help and inspire the 65 million refugees that are still actively displaced around the world.

We need to hear of more success stories like Luyal Mayen’s, and hopefully the release of Salaam will help us get there.

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