Evolution of a Gamer: Maggie Lubanko ’09

headshotOne of her earliest memories is of falling asleep at bedtime to her father’s voice reading “The Hobbit”.  As she grew, Maggie Lubanko ‘09 became a voracious reader herself, especially of fantasy and science fiction; stories with strong character development that pulled her into other worlds. When she was ten years old, Maggie’s parents bought her a Sega Genesis and Disney’s Pocahontas game. Maggie was blown away. Her game allowed her not only to observe, but to be Pocahontas – to run, jump and climb things as the historical character she so admired. Her Sega games gave her the opportunity to become part of the story world in a way that books did not. Thus Maggie began her lifelong interest in role playing, gaming and augmented reality.

Though eager to discover what the world of video games had to offer, Maggie was disappointed to realize that many games relied heavily on violence as a primary mechanic, often at the sacrifice of meaningful character development or strong narratives in the process. Her enthusiasm wavered for some time – but then she discovered RPGs (role-playing games), and that initial excitement was reignited in full force. Though violence did still play a role, the characters and stories took center stage in this genre, and Maggie devoured all the RPGs she could get her hands on. She eagerly explored everything from open world games (where the player is free to wander on their own terms) to the more linear style role-playing games, (where players have less overt freedom, but their choices affect the world, its inhabitants, and the way the story unfolds). It was during this time that she discovered The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind. The construction set the developers released alongside the game gave Maggie the tools to create some of her own characters and narratives in these virtual worlds, allowing her to immerse herself even further in these worlds she loved so much. As a middle schooler, Maggie vowed to become a game developer.

Fast forward to high school. Feeling left behind in class, silenced and misunderstood in her large suburban high school, Maggie began searching for options and found The White Mountain School. Maggie states, “At White Mountain I found a place where it was safe for me to be myself, where the uniqueness of each student was celebrated and where people unabashedly pursued their passions. I found a place where I was known by my peers and my teachers, and where I was part of a community.” With recovered confidence in herself and her abilities, Maggie felt compelled to excel in academics at White Mountain. She honed her leadership skills, learned the power of hard work and of being accountable to others in a community. While her creative thinking and love of stories never waned, at White Mountain and in college Maggie’s focus on gaming took a backseat to her passionate pursuit of more traditional academic excellence, outdoor sports and leadership opportunities. Following White Mountain, Maggie majored in English and Outdoor Education at the University of New Hampshire where she also discovered her love of marathons and ran track as a Division I athlete.

nerdFollowing college, Maggie moved to Colorado and she found herself once again drawn to the world of gaming. During her hiatus, there had been some exciting developments in the gaming world. She was excited to discover a vibrant and flourishing industry, with a growing independent developer culture. Many of these shifts allowed a new wave of games to emerge – games that were starting to utilize the power of the medium to tell impactful stories, to educate and enrich people’s lives with new experiences and perspectives. Maggie found herself, once again, drawn to the power of story, experiential learning and creative art design. She knew she wanted to build a career in the gaming industry. Entry level jobs in the field are hard to come by, but she secured a position in quality assurance (QA) with the well-known company, Dire Wolf Digital, as a games tester. She quickly advanced to project manager and was promoted to producer on The Elder Scrolls: Legends game among others. To her initial surprise, Maggie found work in Outdoor Education to be particularly helpful in her new job. As she puts it, “The world of game development involves many people with different specialties and ways of communicating. It’s fast paced and sometimes you need to be able to work grueling hours while also keeping your cool and maintaining perspective. When you’re leading an expedition, you need to be able to bridge communication style differences within your group, manage the unexpected under pressure, and sometimes, help the group maintain momentum (even after an exhausting hike in sub-optimal weather conditions!).” Maggie used team building skills she learned in outdoor ed to build effective product teams, helping her team become known as a particularly effective and efficient group of testers.

While she learned a lot at Dire Wolf and greatly values her experience there, Maggie wanted to explore more progressive companies. She was particularly drawn to her current company, Niantic, because of its mission driven approach to game development and focus on augmented reality. Niantic describes its mission this way: “Niantic strives to create a workplace culture that reinforces our core values of exploration, exercise, and real-world social interaction. We value mutual respect, creativity, intellectual rigor, and a genuine commitment to making the world a better place through our products”. (www.nianticlabs.com/about) In what has been a male-dominated field with a reputation for fostering hostile work environments for women, Niantic is a progressive company that has near gender equality, promotes women to leadership positions, and develops gender neutral games. They have a focus on augmented reality games that get players outside and interacting with real people instead of only in the virtual world. They seek to change perspectives and transform lives through their products.

What’s next for Maggie? She’s thrilled to be working at Niantic, a company she believes in, and on games like Pokémon Go, the Harry Potter Wizards Unite game and Ingress. While still in QA for now, Maggie continues to learn coding on the side and hopes to become the Development Director of a game in the future. She is excited about the future of augmented reality, and is encouraged by a growing trend in game development for games that address crippling social concerns such as addiction and mental illness. She believes in the power of games to help change lives. Given Maggie’s talent, tenacity and determination to do good for others, achievement of her goals in the games industry seems assured for which the world will surely be a better place.

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