By David Edberg Landeström
Video games have for a very long time had a very strange relationship to the representation of people in conflict zones. Prominent examples include Call of Duty and Battlefield. In the last decade they were among the biggest franchises. The games included numerous battle zones ranging from Vietnam to Kazakhstan. Far Cry 2 where the player character turns two fictional factions in Africa against each other. Resident Evil 5 features a white “hero” shooting African zombies. In many instances the player character is an American soldier fighting in a glorified war against a foreign enemy. Games rarely portray the civilians that have to live through these conflicts and the trauma that they have to experience. But, are things starting to change in this regard? How does game development look in Africa today?
Games have for the longest time been a medium dominated by Western and Japanese developers. This has much to do with the high costs of developing video games. But as the technology has improved much of it has also become more easily available to anyone with a computer. Even I once tried to make a game. Where people play games has also changed. Instead of only using computers and consoles, people play on smartphones, which have made games more readily available to everyone. Both of these factors have together created a market in Africa with 500 million video game players in 2018 and a gaming industry worth 570 million dollars according to Serge Thiam, digital strategy director at StayConnect.
This has allowed for many different stories to be told through the medium. One example is the game Aurion: Legacy of the Kori-Odan, developed by the Cameroonian developer Kiro’o Games, which brings up African themes. It is set in an Afro-Fantasy world, and the main character is prince Enzo Kori-Odan who was a victim of a coup d’état. Another example is a former Ugandan refugee who is making a game called Salaam (which means peace in Arabic). Here, the player has to escape from a war torn present of bombs and find water to ensure their survival. In Ghana Leti Arts are connecting African people to work together for a better future through their games Africa’s Legends and Reawakening. These game developers and many more build on African themes and stories for an African audience instead of catering to Westerners who seemingly only want to fight in guerilla warfare.
Of course, there are still challenges ahead for African game development. Multiple developers interviewed for an article in Gamasutra have expressed that a lack of funds is the biggest roadblock for game development in Africa. They argue that funds could push more people into the field and force governments to improve the infrastructure. This would show that game development is a viable career path for all those who dream of telling a story. Today, many developers have to fund their games by doing consultancy for other companies.
Games are a unique medium where the developers can put the player into whatever situation they want. The player then gets to experience the story through another lens than their own, and this way of seeing life can be excellent in order to gain compassion for other people’s situations. Africa has a rich history and mythology that rarely makes it into the big titles of today. Therefore, instead of playing another military shooter, I urge you to try one of the games mentioned in this article and see for yourself what games from Africa have to offer.
Illustration: Merle Daliah
David Edberg Landeström studies the bachelor’s program in Peace and Development studies in Uppsala. In his free time he likes to listen to music and to ferment. So far he has made Sauerkraut, Kimchi and Kombucha. And there have been zero cases of botulism, so far.