This piece is a guest contribution from Bethlehem Anteneh. An Ethiopian program manager and game thinking designer at Enter Africa driven by a desire to utilize the merits of gaming to build a better future. .

In a country where life becomes about racing at 300km/hr to cover for basic needs, how does one stop-and-stare to think about the future? What is even the future? How does one find the resources, inspiration, will and courage to pause and create platforms that give others to pause too?

The future could be a very volatile and dangerous word in a place where “the future” is birthed in the rat race of insecurities and risk averse mentality. Also known as: the influence of poverty.

Currently in Addis, it is not difficult to notice young graduates having the need to work at multiple jobs/freelance to cover elementary needs. But it’s also not uncommon to see most add in their own passion start ups besides their jobs in hopes of a brighter future.

If there’s as much interest and curiosity in young people to want to navigate the world a little better, then nurturing these minds, hearts and souls is an utmost necessity. And it just might be possible by putting them in the forefront and helping them rethinking processes to improve our even create more options of alternative futures. If worked towards this, one of the smallest products you’d get becomes a platform; something similar to the festival concept of ChewataCon held in Ethiopia.

ChewataCon is a first of its kind gaming convention based in Addis Abeba; planned to be held annually. This convention is an example of the kind of future discussed here. I don’t mean it in a way that sells the brand/convention. I mean it in terms of how it prepares different interested stakeholders with the future in mind.

It had landed a second year festival this last October. We just finalized this year’s convention exactly 6 weeks ago today with a big festival to tie down every game-based activity that happened through out the month of October. I’m only about to write about this experience today since the whole organizing role was another experience of it’s own that obviously takes much more time and I promised myself that I’d only write when things with the organization are completed. If all goes well, tomorrow (6 weeks later) is when the organization part is almost completed. This is where all budgets and client/partners’ matters are settled.

Here’s how it became though… In 2020, it was birthed from a simple make-believe pitch for the late Goethe-Institute director to host the first and greatest annual gaming festival using the slim budget of a games exhibition that was touring Africa. The fest’s purpose was so it could grow and collect bright minds in the games industry. Unexpectedly and fortunately, we got a yes. But unfortunately too, Covid entered Addis exactly 4 days before the official opening of the first ever convention and we had to rethink very quickly how the itinerary could be handled virtually. Fast forward to today on its second year, it successfully hosted a collective of game tournaments, game jams, talks, experimental labs, workshops, game nights and much more. This is a “we beat Covid” success story in a way.

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I know that what’s started here will be taken to go on very far by me and by my fellow industry activists who took a diligent part in making the convention possible. This was not just a gaming convention or a festival. This was a journey taken to use games as a tool to break free and imagine a new worlds; a fantasy into reality. This was a journey taken to scale up and standardize unhealthy street games where its players excessively indulge in drugs and wasting time. This was a journey taken to allow games to be made side by side with Ethiopian farmers in the countryside (yes! Farmers). This was a journey taken to showcase how embracing a beginner’s mind and using play allows innovation. If only I could go on illustrating all the journeys pinned up on our map both individually and collectively…. Either ways, all this is only the beginning, a scratch on the surface to achieve what’s needed in the industry.

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This is only a small start towards paving a path for the industry to continue growing; an industry where we have to make sure is being developed in a way that’s contextualized, lucrative and safe for people to grow into without falling into stereotypes and unhealthy biases.

Dear curious minds, everyone in almost every other industry needs better and contextualized solutions to their newest problems that change in a much faster pace. But it also has never been easier to disrupt processes and structures of what society is doing now because of the economical implications. Therefore, why do we advise one another to remain loyal to things that could be rethought and improved? Games as we knew them can be a potent tool to bring minds and hearts together for a novel cause. But games we don’t know yet; those that are still in the mystery, can potentially lead change making. They can help us get conformable with stopping and staring; with knowing which risks to bet on considering the future. Therefore, play! And make play happen!

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I’m proud that ChewataCon 2021 was able to nurture minds, hearts and souls and plunge them into options of possible futures by putting people in the forefront and rethinking processes. In the name of the organizing teams, I thank the Goethe-Institute and the GIZ who powered this year’s con! We’ll see what the 2022 version will look like, together!

Let there be Play…Because Humans are Created to Play!