War was all Lual Mayen knew as a boy. Growing up, he and the other child refugees were accustomed to being hungry and bombs falling from the sky.
Lual was born on the way out of war-torn South Sudan. His parents fled more than 200 miles to a refugee camp in Northern Uganda with baby Lual and his sisters, who tragically died of illness before they arrived. There, Lual spent the first 22 years of his life dreaming of peace.
Lual was 12 years old when he saw a laptop for the first time at a registration station for the refugee camp. He was so amazed he thought it had come straight from heaven.
His mother, Nyantet Daruka, thought he was joking when he started asking for one. She could barely feed her family as it was. But then, she thought, it might empower her son to do greater things. At the very least, it would be a nice distraction from the camp. So she saved for three years and bought Lual a laptop for $300 in 2013. He was so grateful he broke down in tears.
As there was no electricity in the camp, Lual made regular three-hour trips to an internet cafe. All that walking was well worth the effort, though, as Lual discovered the captivating world of video games. But, more importantly, he realized their potential. He could harness that power to do good for his home country and the rest of the world.
With his mother’s gift, Lual went on to teach himself English. He also learn programming, graphic design, and started his company, Junub Games. There, in the camp, he developed his first game, Salaam, meaning “peace” in Arabic. The initial version was a mobile game about protecting communities from the destruction of war. Players dissolve bombs falling from the sky with a tap of the finger, saving their villages.
Lual’s fellow refugees were among the first to test his game — and it was a hit. After all, it was modeled after their lives at the camp.
And when Lual shared a link to it on Facebook, Salaam went viral in gaming communities across the world. Lual was invited to speak at a game conference in South Africa. That opened the door to serving as a consultant for the World Bank, and eventually being granted a G Visa. He moved to in Washington, D.C., where he’s been working on the latest version of Salaam.
The new game puts the player into a refugee’s shoes. On their journey to a better life, they must dodge bombs and gather enough food and water to survive. When a player’s energy points run out, they have to option to buy more resources with actual money, which the company then uses to benefit living refugees.
Lual hopes to not only build empathy by showing players what life is like for a refugee, but to teach and encourage conflict resolution.
“That’s the thing in life,” the 24-year-old told The Washington Post. “If you’re going through something hard and you survive, the next thing is, how do you come out of that? How do you utilize that opportunity to make your life better?”
From refugee to founder and CEO of Junub Games, Lual has come a long way. But he’s nowhere near finished — not until he helps the world find peace.
Learn more about the game and check out sneak peeks in the video below. Lual plans to have it released by December, so share to spread the word!
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