Dark Slope dispatches from #GDC22

“What keeps you up at night?” was the first question moderator Karla Reyes put to a panel of game developers, entrepreneurs, and social justice advocates at GDC on Monday. The panelists, which included Lual Mayen of Junub Games, Susanna Pollack of Games for Change, Jennifer Estaris of Ustwo Games, and Deborah Mensah-Bonsu of Games for Good, each had different answers: climate change, mental health, the plight of refugees and migrant workers across the globe. But each was excited about the opportunities gamemakers have to bring visibility to these issues, and to empower players to change their world.

Games with a Mission
For some panelists, making games has been a way to heal personal trauma and give back to their community. Junub Games’ first title Salaam draws on Lual Mayen’s experience growing up in a Ugandan refugee camp after fleeing his native South Sudan, not only putting players in the shoes of a refugee themselves, but encouraging them to donate and support humanitarian causes once they’ve finished playing. Mayen is also working to teach children living in refugee camps coding and computer animation, knowing firsthand how difficult it is for displaced persons to access resources necessary to pursue their passions. “Talent is equally distributed,” said Mayen. “Opportunity is not.”

From Audience to Action
Creating a game is a collaborative process, one that involves finding the right combination of expertise, representation, and goals to build a successful team. Building a game that has a social mission or addresses real world issues requires even more working together, tapping experts who can provide the foundation for your game experience. “You have to backfill the knowledge,” said Deborah Mensah-Bonsu, who works with Games for Good to leverage gaming audiences for social causes. “You need experts from both sides and to bring them together.” Jennifer Estaris of Ustwo Games echoed this, saying that it’s important to always develop for “entertainment first, education second.”

There are nearly 3 billion gamers in the world, a number that’s grown higher and higher since the beginning of the pandemic, and is surely to continue to rise. Whether developers are working with Triple-A studios or smaller indies, there has never been a better opportunity to use the medium to tell important stories and amplify unheard voices. Reflecting on how she approaches partnering with NGOs and charities to build games with a lasting impact, Mensah-Bonsu summed it up best: “These players already have their communities within gaming, so all you have to do is empower them.”

  • Dark Slope is an emerging game studio with ambitious projects in development. Our team is attending GDC this week and are available to discuss partnership opportunities. To set up a meeting please email questions@darkslope.com