Gamification and the virtual experience are everywhere. Video games have become a catalyst for non-profit fundraising, a refuge for disabled communities, platforms for protest and forums for global conflict resolution. They connect the worlds of politics, technology, entertainment and sports in profound and unique ways. And competitive gaming has become a billion-dollar industry. Leagues and professional esports teams across the world draw millions of fans and big sponsor dollars.
On Feb. 6, The Washington Post sat down with video game experts, creators and players to explore this rapidly evolving world.
Video Games for Good
Video games are being used to bring communities together, engender compassion and even quell inter-ethnic animosity. Hear from a roundtable of experts about the different ways video games can influence individuals and society at large.
Highlights
Lual Mayen, the founder and CEO of Junub Games, discovered the power of video games while growing up in a refugee camp in Northern Uganda. Inspired by his experience, Mayen created Salaam, a game in which players adopt the role of a refugee who must flee falling bombs, find water and gain energy points to ensure the character’s survival. Throughout the game, players help refugees in the real world through in-game purchases. He says games like Salaam are important because they encourage empathy. “Empathy is the most important thing because it engages people.”
  • Feb 7
Rep. Suzan DelBene (D-WA) says videos games can encourage students, particularly young girls, to become interested in STEAM or Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics by engaging them in a way they don’t expect. ‘We sometimes learn the best when we’re having fun...the creativity that’s been unlocked as more people become engaged is really interesting.’
  • Feb 7
Anita Sarkeesian talked about her work as a feminist media critic trying to show the negative ways women are represented and then offer tools for how to make games better. She said while seeing progress over the years, “Everyone wants to hear that things are getting better, and they don’t want to hear that it’s not. The reality is a lot of things are getting worse globally, politically and that video games are a part of that space where we're having these massive culture wars about retaining and holding onto the status quo or really working towards a progressive future that is liberatory for everyone. And video games were one of the first, mainstream arenas in which that war kind of erupted out of."
  • Feb 7
Ryan Green created the video game “That Dragon, Cancer” to honor his son and his battle with terminal childhood cancer. He says people touched by the video game and his family’s story have been moved to share their own story of dealing with grief. “This game has given us permission to talk about hard things long after people stop asking.”
  • Feb 7
Full Segment
Video games are being used to bring communities together, engender compassion and even quell inter-ethnic animosity. Hear from a roundtable of experts about the different ways video games can influence individuals and society at large.
  • Feb 7
Rep. Suzan DelBene
(D-WA)
Congresswoman Suzan DelBene represents Washington’s First Congressional District, which spans from northeast King County to the Canadian border, and includes parts of King, Snohomish, Skagit and Whatcom counties. Before being elected to Congress in 2012, Suzan had a successful career as a technology leader and innovator. In more than two decades as an executive and entrepreneur, she helped to start drugstore.com as its vice president of marketing and store development, and served as CEO and president of Nimble Technology, a business software company based on technology developed at the University of Washington. Suzan also spent 12 years at Microsoft, most recently as corporate vice president of the company’s mobile communications business. In the 116th Congress, Rep. DelBene was appointed to the Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress. The committee was created to find ways to improve and modernize the way Congress operates. Suzan is also on the House Ways and Means Committee, which is at the forefront of debate on taxes, healthcare and retirement security.
Lual Mayen
Founder and CEO, Junub Games
Lual Mayen is a former refugee from South Sudan. His parents fled Bor during the Second Sudanese Civil War. Lual was born along a 200-mile journey to a place of refuge. He built his first video game in a refugee camp. Since then, he’s traveled the world speaking about the power of video games for peace. In 2018, Lual was recognized as a Global Gaming Citizen, an individual bringing people together through video games.
Ryan Green
Founder, Narrative for Numinous Games
Ryan Green is a digital interactive artist, programmer, and video game designer currently focused on narrative VR experiences and serious games. His early career was spent as a UI/UX designer, programmer, and software architect for Davita Healthcare, a Fortune 500 company. Ryan led the design of medical record and scheduling systems for over 10 years, then made the transition to interactive media and video games in 2010 serving as a lead programmer, game designer and producer at Soma Games until 2012. Ryan currently serves as Head of Narrative for Numinous Games, a studio he co-founded in 2012. Numinous Games first title, That Dragon, Cancer, was created as a poetic memorial to Ryan and his wife Amy's third son Joel, and Joel's fight against terminal brain cancer. That Dragon, Cancer has received broad critical praise, winning a BAFTA award in 2017 for innovation as well as a 2016 Peabody / Facebook Futures of Media award. Ryan was featured in many publications including WIRED, New York Times, The New Yorker, LA Times, and The Guardian.
Anita Sarkeesian
Media Critic and Creator of "Tropes vs Women in Video Games" series
Anita Sarkeesian is an award-winning media critic, host, and the creator and executive director of Feminist Frequency, an educational nonprofit that explores the representations of women in pop culture narratives. Her work focuses on deconstructing the stereotypes and tropes associated with women in popular culture as well as highlighting issues surrounding the targeted harassment of women in online and gaming spaces. She has been a panelist at the United Nations and been a guest speaker at various fan, media and technology conferences. Anita has been interviewed and featured in publications such as Wired, The Guardian, Rolling Stone, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Good Morning America and The Colbert Report. Anita was named one of TIME's 100 most influential people in the world in 2015 and was the recipient of the 2014 Game Developers Choice Ambassador Award. In 2016 Anita was awarded an honorary PhD from The New School in New York City.
Moderated by Gene Park
Video Games Reporter, The Washington Post
Accessibility and Video Gaming
For people with disabilities, moving through the built environment around them can be difficult or impossible. Video games can offer an alternate reality with life-altering effects. AbleGamers COO Steve Spohn talks about how to promote accessibility in the video game industry and shares how his own experience has informed his life’s work.
Highlight
AbleGamers Charity COO Steve Spohn says accessibility in video games is important because video games can help people with disabilities connect with others despite distance or abilities. “If you have a mind that’s willing but a body that’s unable, video games can really open a window to an otherwise inaccessible world.”
  • Feb 7
Full Segment
For people with disabilities, moving through the built environment around them can be difficult or impossible. Video games can offer an alternate reality with life-altering effects. AbleGamers COO Steve Spohn talks about how to promote accessibility in the video game industry and shares how his own experience has informed his life’s work.
  • Feb 7
Steven Spohn
COO, AbleGamers Charity
Steven Spohn is the COO of AbleGamers Charity, award-winning author, and motivational speaker. He currently resides outside of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania with his adorable floofy cat and sheltie puppy. Steve is an avid gamer who champions for people with disabilities in the video game space as a means of defeating social isolation. When not writing or doing charity work, spreading inspirational messages or cracking jokes on social media, which you can follow on Twitter @StevenSpohn or Facebook/Insta StevenSpohnOfficial.
Interviewed by Gene Park
Video Games Reporter, The Washington Post
Esports 101
With millions of fans across the globe, esports leagues are no longer fringe organizations -- they’re comprised of professional teams owned by families like the Krafts, supported by sponsors like Coca-Cola and Xfinity, and have enough fans to fill arenas. Over the past decade, competitive gaming has grown exponentially. Will the upward trajectory continue? We look at the challenges that leagues, teams and players will face in the coming years.
Highlights
Monumental Sports SVP and General Manager Zachary Leonsis and Washington Justice Vice President of Esports Business Grant Paranjape say esports is attractive to both companies and fans because its international appeal and its ability to be a source of employee recruitment for companies.
  • Feb 7
Esports has grown exponentially over the past decade, but is it just a fad? Monumental Sports SVP and General Manager Zachary Leonsis, Washington Justice Vice President of Esports Business Grant Paranjape and League of Legends Commissioner Chris Greeley share their thoughts on the future of esports.
  • Feb 7
Full Segment
With millions of fans across the globe, esports leagues are no longer fringe organizations -- they’re comprised of professional teams owned by families like the Krafts, supported by sponsors like Coca-Cola and Xfinity, and have enough fans to fill arenas. Over the past decade, competitive gaming has grown exponentially. Will the upward trajectory continue? We look at the challenges that leagues, teams and players will face in the coming years.
  • Feb 11
Chris Greeley
Commissioner, League of Legends Championship Series
Chris Greeley is the Commissioner for the professional League of Legends esports league in North America, League Championship Series (LCS). Now in its eighth year and under his leadership, LCS is the third-most popular major professional sports league among 18 to 34-year-olds in the United States. Chris is responsible for the day-to-day operation of the LCS, was one of the primary architects of the LCS franchise model and led the 2017 application process for participation in the LCS. Prior to joining Riot, Chris was a partner at the New York City law firm Herrick, Feinstein LLP. Chris joined Herrick’s litigation group as an associate in 2004 after graduating Fordham Law School, and spent his entire legal career practicing there. During his 12 plus years at Herrick, Chris concentrated in securities and commodities litigation, defending clients in civil lawsuits, investigations and actions conducted by regulatory agencies and exchanges. Chris also worked with Herrick’s art law group and sports law group, providing strategic advice on certain matters and litigating others. He helped start Herrick’s esports practice before leaving the firm to join Riot.
Zach Leonsis
Senior Vice President & General Manager of Monumental Sports Network
Zach Leonsis is Senior Vice President of Strategic Initiatives for Monumental Sports & Entertainment and General Manager of Monumental Sports Network, a first-of-its-kind regional sports network for digital, mobile and over-the-top platforms. In 2016, Leonsis led the transformation of Monumental Sports Network – co-owned by Monumental Sports & Entertainment and NBC Sports Group – from an ad-based blogging platform into a direct-to-fan service content provider.
Grant Paranjape
VP of Esports Business, Washington Justice
Grant Paranjape is the Vice President of Esports Business for the Washington Justice, the D.C. Overwatch League franchise. With a background in both endemic esports and traditional sports, Paranjape brings a wealth of experience as the franchise continues to solidify its place as a premier esports organization. In his new role with the Justice, Paranjape will lead business and team operations for the franchise and will look to expand the organization’s passionate local fanbase. The Justice are currently playing in their inaugural season in the Overwatch League and will soon be hosting matches locally in D.C. for the 2020 season. Paranjape, an avid gamer, leveraged his love for video games into a career while earning his MBA from Tulane University’s A.B. Freeman School of Business in 2016. By leaning into his history as a professional player, he was able to use his firsthand experience and expertise to consult and advise across multiple startup organizations within the industry.
Moderated by Mike Hume
Editor of Launcher, The Washington Post
Content from Entertainment Software Association
Video games are played by 2.6 billion people around the world and have become the fastest growing form of entertainment for audiences of all ages. The medium transcends cultures, creates community, and drives innovations that are transforming the way we teach, heal, and play. The panelists will explore how video games teach lasting and meaningful skills, foster inclusion, and drive innovations across sectors that help us look at video games in important new ways.
  • Feb 7
Stanley Pierre-Louis
President and Chief Executive Officer, Entertainment Software Association (ESA)
Renee Gittins
Executive Director, International Game Developers Association (IGDA)
Susanna Pollack
President, Games for Change
Moderated by Jeffrey Turner
Head of Advertising Product, The Washington Post
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