The Power Up explores how video games can used for social good: ‘I’m changing these kids’

Our host Narz is bringing you a breakdown of everything happening in the world of gaming, introducing you to rising stars in the industry and special guests every episode in this collab with Complex Networks.

Video games are treasured pastimes, forms of competition, educational tools, training programs and art. But what about as platforms for social change?

For this episode of The Power Up, Narz spoke with two gamers who are interested in making that social change through video games.

But what does it look for a video game — a fully interactive medium that incorporates aspects from other art forms — to change the world?

Reine Abbas, founder and CEO Spica Tech Academy and owner of Wixel Studios, is a resident of Lebanon. As a young girl, she had a difficult time pursuing her interest in games.

“So when I was young, I wanted to play games,” Reine Abbas told In The Know, “but it wasn’t accessible to me. So my brothers used to go to a place where they have these big Atari stations. So as a girl, I can’t go there. It’s all for men only.”

In order to enter, Abbas posed as a boy by cutting her hair and changing her clothes. Nowadays, gaming is far more accessible to women in Lebanon thanks to the internet, Abbas said.

Abbas’ own personal history is both remarkable and tragic among game designers. She has lived through four wars, and prior to starting her own company, she worked for DigiPen Nintendo for 16 years.

One game she developed is Douma. The 2D fighting game features Lebanese politicians as characters.

“I did this game because I saw our young people beating each other on the streets because our leaders told them to do that,” Abbas said. “So I wanted to do a game and maybe I could change my reality to a game. This game shifted young people from the streets to play a street fight game between the politicians.”

Through Spica Tech, Abbas has also been training a whole new generation of Lebanese game designers. Not only is Spica Tech equipping them with the tools they need to succeed in the industry, but it’s also a haven away from war.

“I’m changing these kids,” Abbas said. “I’m giving them hope through this power to create and produce their own games.”

Timothy “oLARRY” Anselimo is a professional sports gamer and a survivor of mass shooting. In 2018, a gunman entered a Madden NFL 19 tournament in Jacksonville, Florida and killed two people.

Anselimo was one of the 10 who were injured during the shooting.

“The last you expect is to be at a gaming event with your friends, having a good time,” Anselimo told The Power Up. “You know, just doing your thing, in your element, and that happens. So it’s pretty scary, honestly. In the moment you don’t really know what to think, how to feel. And everything kinda happens pretty fast.”

After the shooting, Anselimo struggled to return to gaming. The shooting cost him all the bone in his right thumb. After the support of friends and family, he eventually made his way back to the competitive scene.

In closing, Narz was ultimately optimistic about the future of gaming.

“I have nothing but joy when I think of our gamified future,” Narz said. “Games that can change our society for the best. One click or button smash for global harmony? Hey, a girl is allowed to dream, right?”

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If you liked this piece, check out when The Power Up went to 368, a New York City hub for streamers and video game influencers.

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