Political feuds and ethnic violence in South Sudan have displaced more than 1.5 million people. Among them is a software engineer determined to push past hate to promote peace through games.
Living in a refugee camp in Uganda, Mayen saw first-hand the consequences of hate-mongering and ethnic conflict, undeterred by numerous cease-fires and peace talks. All efforts to reconcile the Dinka and Nuer tribes, at odds since former Dinka Vice President Salva Kiir was dismissed in 2013, had failed. Change was necessary. As a game developer, Mayen was determined to help educate the country’s youth.
Two thirds of South Sudan’s population is under the age of 30. “They are not educated,” he lamented, “and their [lack of knowledge] is killing the country.”
So he founded Junub Games, a nonprofit organization that turns out video and board games with a singular focus on peace building. Within months, he released ‘Salaam,’ a mobile game whose name means ‘peace.’
The game lets users play as one of South Sudan’s warring parties. But it also gives them the opportunity to push for peace – and rewards them for it.
“It’s a game that made the player to become a peacemaker,” he said. “So I designed it in a way that it is a war game. And the wars will come – they can destroy the buildings and also destroy the people. But as a player … you have to stop all the war tools for world peace.”
Players earn points for destroying all the tools of war. If you win, “the game congratulates you as a peacemaker and also congratulates you with different types of peace messages,” he said.
Mayen’s latest crowdfunded mobile game, ‘Hate Cop,’ teaches young people about the dangers of hate speech. Players can take on the roles of opposing tribes or play as members of the same tribe. They rack up points when they get peace words and lose points for every hate word they draw.
The words were compiled from a lexicon on hate speech with help from PeaceTech Lab, a nonprofit that works to inspire “a new industry of peacetech entrepreneurs,” much like Mayen.
When he was in Uganda, one of Mayen’s friends told him about a partnership between PeaceTech Lab, C5 Accelerate, and Amazon Web Services called PeaceTech Accelerator, an international, eight-week mentoring program dedicated to scaling startups around the world.
Startups are selected based on their ability to produce innovative technologies that manage, mitigate, predict, or prevent conflict and promote sustainable peace.
Mayen applied and was recently in Washington D.C. to learn from TechAccelerator’s mentors about managing and expanding his business, and publishing games to the cloud.
During his stay, he had access to “potential investors, free office space, and entry into the Accelerator’s alumni network,” said Nancy Payne, PeaceTech Lab’s Vice President, in an email.
Mayen hopes this puts Junub Games on a path to change the “hearts and minds” of people and teach them to forgo hate and violence, not just in South Sudan, but eventually in other regions as well.