Lual Mayen is a South Sudan developer based in Washington DC, who rose to international acclaim after he was featured in The Game Awards special segment – Global Gaming Citizen, which featured rising luminaries from the world of gaming.
Let’s start with a little story. Lual Mayen first saw a computer in 2007 at a refugee registration site and he was like wow! What is that? His mother replied that it was a computer. Lual would later ask his mother for one but there was no money and he soon forgot about his request. 3 years later his mother surprised him with $300 that she had secretly been saving so that her son could buy a computer.
At first, Lual did not know what exactly to do with the computer because he had nobody around him who could train him. However, after contemplating about the circumstances with which the laptop came to his life, he asked himself. “If my mother can save $300 for three years so that I can be able to buy this computer, How about me?” Lual felt inspired to start looking for ways to use his new contraption.
Lual’s first Game Experience
Lual’s first video game experience was playing Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. There were a lot of violent situations that required the player to run for their lives. This must have had a trigger effect for him and most of his refugee friends as most of them had actually survived worse violence.
That is why Lual decided that he wanted to highlight the peaceful side of things and so this quest led him to ask himself how he could create a video game for peace and conflict resolution.
This is how Salaam his first game was born.
The making of Salaam
After making that important decision Lual began to teach himself how to code, design and create his own video game from scratch. In 6 months he had a basic version of the game that he could share with people in the refugee camp. He then posted the game on Facebook and it went viral. People downloaded and shared it a lot and it opened his world to the video game community and to receiving support.
Lual later set up a charity called Lual Mayen Foundation to help refugees. Unity has a charitable fund to make education more accessible and provide economic opportunities for underrepresented creators.
Lual filled out an application for a grant and it was quickly approved because his vision aligned with Unity’s vision. In 2021 Unity partnered with the foundation to fund a technology centre for refugees at the refugee camp in Uganda where Lual grew up.
Unity contributed $50,000 for the first year, and it will help the centre train refugees how to make games and get careers in STEM. The goal is to make it a permanent program in the long run. Through, the Uganda Ministry of Education, the foundation will create structured certificate programs that enable refugees to explore career opportunities in STEM fields.
Unity will also assist with different lab mentorships. The foundation will buy computers, set up internet access, and locate people to train the students at refugee locations in both Uganda and Kenya.
The aim is to train about 500 refugees over a couple of years. Mayen’s foundation is partnering with Western Digital’s WD Black Gaming Storage brand to provide some hard drives to refugees and Photomyne to develop a library of digital memories for refugees.
That way the refugees can remember where they came from as they prepare for successful careers in game development. Once they are successful in their various pursuits then they will be able to connect the dots and see their trajectory to success. And like Lual’s inspiring journey, we will have numerous uplifting stories to share.