Humans have an insatiable desire to convey their ideas in any way possible. Art and culture are two modalities humans have chosen to express themselves.
Over time, people develop new ways to express these modalities as the world advances technologically. One of those ways is through video games. For this piece, GIA investigates how African video game studios from various parts of the continent have been able to blend and integrate the modalities mentioned above into the video game development process. For easier reference, these amazingly constructed games are drawn from the ongoing Games Industry Africa Awards (GIAA).
Please note that this is not an official endorsement of these games but rather a discussion of how they incorporated Africa’s Art and Culture into the development of their games. Once again, huge congratulations to all the games, studios, personalities and innovations that made it to the list this year.
Video games have captivated and inspired people for decades and have gradually cemented themselves as entertainment and genuine works of art. By definition, art represents reality through the communication of emotion and expression. It entails the application of human creative skill and imagination. On the other hand, culture is an umbrella term that incorporates the social behaviour and conventions in human societies and people’s knowledge, beliefs, laws, customs and habits. It involves the different ways people live and the innovative ways that they express, categorize, and act upon their experiences. Culture also involves the capacity of the human species to use creativity and imagination to symbolically express and categorize events.
African video game studios pay homage to African culture by expressing it through different ways such as clothing, cuisine, music and languages. For example, Wagadu Chronicles by Twin Drums is a Massive multiplayer online role-playing game designed to return to the roots of the role-playing genre, where players represented a role rather than simply maxing out character stats as they play. Players can hone fundamental life skills such as farming, fishing and crafting. It is intended to be played as both an online MMO and a tabletop game, bringing players together offline to immerse themselves in the environment further.
From the get-go, it is evident the game is African-oriented, with various elements showcasing what Africa as a continent is all about. The multiple classes, or as the game calls them, ‘lineages,’ are all dark-skinned characters with well-constructed back stories that feature ancestral roots and the general way of life of some Africans living to date. Moreover, the environment, character models and even the clothing worn are all African-inspired. The game also delves into ancestry and the spirit world, a common theme for several African societies.
According to Twin Studios Creative Director Allan Cudicio, The Wagadu Chronicles is an African-inspired fantasy sandbox MMORPG, so you travel through this African-inspired world, doing what you could call life skills: farming, fishing, crafting. “It also has combat, mostly PVE, inspired by single-player turn-based RPGs. Community is very important. Every village you see in The Wagadu Chronicles has been created, nurtured and expanded by communal efforts, which again is inspired by traditions of the continent.” he adds.
Outliver: Tribulation by Gbrossoft is a third-person survival horror game set in a fictional supernatural realm of Africa mythology. It follows a young female African soldier, Bola, fleeing militants and who unfortunately finds herself in the heart of a historical ritual. As Bola, you must explore, solve riddles, scavenge, and manage limited resources while battling mythological creatures to survive and return to her realm . The game is a clever take by the studio to the more known survivor horror games such as Deadspace and soon-to-be-launched Callisto Protocol. Instead of battling Aliens, the game localizes its content, and you battle supernatural demons and spirits throughout the game. Moreover, the game’s environment is stylized to reflect the feeling of being lost in a massive cave deep in the jungles of Africa, which is a massive plus for the game’s overall feel.
Mortal Darkness by Dark Faction Studio (South Africa) tells the story of a warrior whom the tribe elder has summoned to investigate the attack on a small-scale farming village. Throughout this adventurous game, you get to wade off different types of enemies who present a unique blend of attacks. The game emphasizes quick movements and keenness to the different enemy attacks. As with the other games mentioned, the developers understood how to sell the African warrior protagonist who finds himself playing hero to his community. The character models and the environment in which the game plays also draw inspiration from African culture to a tee.
Mama Mboga is a clever re-imagination of the popular game Fruit Ninja by Kenyan Studio Usiku games. Mama mboga, in the Kenyan context, is simply a greengrocer who sells all types of vegetables and fruits to people. They are a beloved part of the community as they provide these items at an affordable price. For no extra fee, Mama Mbogas chop up these items to save you the hassle of doing so yourself. The game’s concept is to cut as many veggies as possible without hitting the bombs. The game personalizes the artistic experience and relatability by glocalizing the game to fit Kenya’s version of who a Fruit Ninja would be: Mama Mboga.
Technology has increased the size of the canvas on which artists can paint and communicate their stories. Despite being products of the digital realm, video games are genuinely a confluence of art and culture. They incorporate a variety of conventional artistic mediums—3D modelling for sculpture, illustrations, story arcs, and dynamic music that work together to produce a work of art.