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Illustration by Sean Parsons (background, iStock; module, courtesy of Synaptix; virtual reality gamer, Victor Torres/Stocksy).

These Coloradans Are Pushing Video Game Boundaries

Three local groups are using the medium to spark empathy, expand understanding, and explore the galaxy.

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Character Building

Kai Monahan and Hannah Young love being queer and playing video games, and on their podcast, If It’s Gay, We Play, they humorously discuss the intersection between the two. Episodes explore the gaming industry’s failings—“queer characters tend to be offensively portrayed,” Young says—and its successes, like helping Monahan, who is trans, explore gender identity via customizable characters. The weekly show doesn’t have a huge audience yet, but listenership has grown steadily since they began a year ago. “Folks all over the country,” Monahan says, “have said they’re glad to hear these conversations.”

One Small Step

In partnership with the nonprofit Mars Society, Grand Junction–based SynaptixGames is going where many have gone before: Utah. Specifically, an area of the Beehive State called the Mars Desert Research Station (MDRS). The simulated Martian habitat helps scientists prep for our potential colonization of the crimson celestial body. SynaptixGames is creating a virtual reality replica of the MDRS so that, when it’s released later this year, the module will teach researchers basic procedures, like how to don spacesuits before stepping outside the lab. SynaptixGames is also mapping part of the actual red planet for a different interstellar-focused product—a virtual reality video game called MarsCorp, due out in summer 2019.

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Coding Empathy

Graphic designer Rafael Fajardo doesn’t make games that are merely “fun.” For example, his Frogger-like collaborations, called Crosser and La Migra, encourage players to identify with undocumented people crossing the U.S.-Mexico border (download at sudor.net). The University of Denver professor’s latest work, on view at the Buntport Theater on March 8, features Monarch butterflies fluttering across the screen. When a viewer approaches, they scatter. “It doesn’t have the obvious trappings of a video game,” Fajardo says. “But it knows you’re there. You influence its outcomes. In those ways, it’s a game.”


19 percent: Share of workers in the video game industry who identified as homosexual, bisexual, or other in 2017, according to the International Game Developers Association.

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