By: Jolene Latimer, Editor
Governments and educational groups have long known that film, television and even music play a major role in shaping cultural identity — but what about esports? As some African developers and esports athletes are discovering, games that feature African storylines and settings can not only help teach people about their culture, but inspire pride.
“I think Africa is the new frontier of esports,” said Ife Akintaju, founder of The Afro Gamer. “We have the opportunity now to actually tie our culture into gaming and esports so it’s not just improving the lives of youth but telling our stories.”
Some developers have already started doing just that. Akintaju points to a successful mobile racing game that features vehicle options representative of the everyday African experience. “The vehicles that you do have are not sports cars,” he said, “they’re the regular taxi cab in Ghana, the tricycle in Lagos, things like that.”
Then, there’s the popular “Aurion: Legacy of Kori-Odan,” developed by Cameroon’s Kiro’o Games. Not only does the game take place in a distinctly Africa-style world, but it’s based on African mythology, with elements of African fashion, music and culture woven in.
Out of Ethiopia comes the game “Kukulu,” by Qene Technologies. The game serves up a fun take on dinner with your African grandparents. “In Africa, chicken is a favorite of many African households. When you go to someone’s house, like grandma, most of us, they slaughter for us a chicken to welcome you,” said Douglas Ogeto, co founder and CEO of video game publishing company LudiqueWorks. “The game is interesting because it’s an endless runner where you have to go catch the chicken for dinner. They’re picking the African setting but now putting it into a game.”
Games like these create an opportunity for Africans from all countries to show what they love about the continent.
“There are many stories in Africa. Not all of the positive sides of Africa have been portrayed,” said Ogeto. “Most of the content or news that’s featured in the media is not the good side of the continent. Game developers have a medium of being able to change this and using gaming to be able to bring this out.”
Yet despite the opportunity, the African gaming community is challenged by the lack of educational opportunities for game developers. “The structure for education for Africa, when it comes to game development, we don’t have a university that offers that full time,” said Oluwatosin Ogunyebi, who recently founded Africacomicade, which featured a Gamathon to help move the needle for African game developers. “The thought was, ‘Let’s just try to do this to enlighten people more and expose the developers across Africa to opportunities they lack,’” he said.
“The game jam lasted for three days, where game developers were to come up with game ideas relating to the theme we had, which was ‘Avoid the Spread’— of the virus, of aids, stuff like that. Amazingly, we had over 20 games created during the game jam,” Ogunyebi said.
“We were able to give out cash prizes to the winners and we were able to give 15 developers access to game development courses. It was so amazing for us and the feedback we got for the event is what is pushing us right now,” he said.
It’s the kind of step forward that many in Africa have been working toward. Across the continent, the appetite for African-made games is growing.
“I personally have played everything the Western world has,” said Akintaju. “I don’t need an African giving me “Candy Crush.” I want something tied to my culture. Africa as a continent has so many stories to tell.”