YouMatter striving to diversify characters in the gaming industry

Lauren Schatz, Engineering Communications Inten

This is one in a series of features on competitors in the 2017 Cozad New Venture competition, a program sponsored by the University of Illinois' Technology Entrepreneur Center that is designed to encourage students to create new businesses. The competition process offers teams assistance in the form of: mentors to help guide them through the phases of venture creation, workshops to help with idea validation, pitching skills, and customer development, and courses to enhance their skills and knowledge. Teams who make it to the final round of competition will have the opportunity to meet with venture capitalists, early stage investors and successful entrepreneurs who serve as judges. The judges will determine teams that will present their ventures at the finals event. Last year, these teams competed for nearly $220,000 in funding and in-kind prizes.

The YouMatter team is striving to further diversify the gaming industry.
The YouMatter team is striving to further diversify the gaming industry.
Jewel Ifeguni was frustrated with what she saw as she watched her younger sister play video games. Ifeguni, a sophomore in computer science, couldn’t help but notice that her sister was not being represented by the games’ characters.

But, it wasn’t just her sister’s identity that was missing from the video games, the representation of many races and ethnicities were also no where to be found.

It was clear that there was a disconnect in representation between video games’ characters and video games’ players. While the video gaming community is diverse in terms of race and ethnicity, the heroes of the beloved video games are not.

Ifeguni was going to change that.

She was going to mirror today’s diversity for tomorrow’s future via video games.

So she founded YouMatter, a gaming studio that celebrates inclusivity and diversity. The company is in the process of producing a game called Project Ewo.

Gabriel Kwayisi-Armaning, YouMatter’s creative director, shares the game’s storyline, “There are three characters—a black girl, a girl from the LatinX community, and a South Asian boy. They are zapped into a comic book and become heroes.”

Each character is used to navigate three levels, but the last level requires the three characters to collaborate in order to succeed.

Each of the levels has a life lesson tied in. For example, the first level features the character from the LantinX community. She (and the gamer) must help others in order to win the level, teaching players the benefits of helping others.

The YouMatter team is currently working to eliminate the final bugs and glitches on Project Ewo’s tutorial level.

The YouMatter team has 24 members, divided up among four groups: business, development, artistic, and executive. Ifeguni believes that YouMatter attracted such a large team so quickly because so many people believed in their mission.

“YouMatter is not a game that tolerates diversity and inclusion,” said Kwayisi-Armaning. “It celebrates it.”

But the mission behind YouMatter is not just appealing to undergraduate students.

The team participated in SocialFuse earlier this semester, and their idea intrigued Resilient, a publishing game studio in Chicago. Resilient approached the YouMatter team and shared their excitement for what the team is doing.

The YouMatter team expects to launch the app for both Android and Apple devices by 2018. This goal requires a large amount of time and effort, so Ifeguni hopes to retain its original members but also do some recruiting over the summer. 

The YouMatter executive team includes Jewel Ifeguni, Founder and CEO of YouMatter Studios; Gabriel Kwayisi-Amaning, Creative Director; Foyezur Rahman, Chief Technical Officer; Veronica Fischer, Business Lead; Safwaan Menk, Project Manager.