With ongoing debates as to the value and impact gaming has on children continues to rage on GIA writer. Lewis Chege had a chat with Nigeria Bukola Akingbade, who has established a reputation as one of the most active advocates of child gaming on the continent. This is a summary of that conversation.

Video games provide endless entertainment for children and adults alike. Although playing video games is a favourite pastime for kids, its effects on their health are frequently considered detrimental. Parental worries about the adverse effects of video games on kids, especially if they appear to be hooked to spending much time in front of the screen, are common.

Concerns about children’s developmental issues have also been brought forward from this perspective. Despite this, new research indicates that video games have fewer negative effects than previously thought. Researchers from the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University and their Paris Descartes University counterparts examined the relationship between the amount of time children spend playing video games and their mental health and cognitive and social abilities.

The researchers discovered that high video game consumption was linked to 1.75 times the odds of high intellectual functioning and 1.88 times the odds of high overall school competence after adjusting for child demographic factors of age and gender. The researchers also discovered that playing more video games was related to fewer peer relationship issues.

Against this backdrop, GIA sought to glocalize these findings from an African perspective by having a formal sitdown with one of the global e-sports leaders championing brand involvement in gaming and esports to drive education and economic empowerment by providing new career pathways at a grassroots level.

Bukola Akingbade is the founder and CEO of Kucheza Gaming, an Africa-focused esports company for 8 to 18-year-olds. She is also the Vice Chair of the Lagos Esports Association. Additionally, she was featured at AfricaNXT 2022 to discuss how Africans are poised to leapfrog into a more prosperous future by leveraging technological tools such as Blockchain, Robotics & AI, and more. She was also instrumental in organising the second edition of Mobo Game Jam, a global game development competition for children aged 8 to 18. These are some of her career highlights from many other notable achievements.

Her extensive career began from a marketing background, gradually shaping her interest in gaming after observing the global trends in digital communication. She often speaks about the intersection of gaming and education. GIA had the privilege of hosting her to understand how her efforts have built and continue to enrich the conversation about the positive effects gaming has on children. This is how it went.

GIA: Hey, Bukola. Please tell us a little bit more about your personal relationship with video games. What made you want to get into video games specifically? And when did it all start?

Bukola: Hey, Lewis. Thank you for hosting me. So, my journey with gaming began with the classic Commodore 64. Later on, my go-to game was Gradius, a side-scrolling shooter game I played on Nintendo. The player controls a spacecraft that must defend itself from different alien foes. My professional interest came to be because of my sons, aged 10, 13 and 16, who are avid gamers. Coming from a marketing background, I was intrigued by gaming as a product of digital communication. Since my kids were clearly having fun playing, I decided to venture into modern gaming mechanics to understand how they work. My kids, like most kids, are not the biggest fans of the current education system and describe it as somewhat boring. However, when it came to playing video games, boring has never been an adjective they have used to describe their experience. These interactions sparked an idea. What can I do to bring together education, gaming and potential job opportunities? That is how Kucheza gaming came to be.

GIA: One of the many roles you have is founder and CEO of Kucheza gaming which has all the constitutes of a passion project. For our new readers, however, would you elaborate on what Kucheza gaming entails and what was the inspiration behind its creation?

Bukola: That’s an interesting way of putting it. Kucheza Gaming is an Africa-focused games and esports company for 8 – 18-year-olds. We help build a connection between gaming (esports), job opportunities and education. We also re-imagine and use games to retell, preserve, and spread African stories. The idea to build Kucheza gaming stemmed from the need to combine video games and education.

I dug into the video game culture in Africa by extensively researching the gaming trends in Africa. The significant lack of infrastructure directly affects access to video games. However, the proliferation of smartphones has vastly contributed to video game expansion, with Kucheza being a beneficiary and benefactor.

Through game development projects like the Mobo Game Jam, a number of school e-sport leagues, and a game-based computing curriculum developed in collaboration with UKIE Education, we introduce the world of video games to primary and secondary school education in Africa. Kids are also able to learn other skills, such as event, community and talent management since they are the ones who set up tournaments for games like FIFA, Fortnite and Mario Kart.

We also pioneered the Game Makers Assembly for these pupils to show them a lot they can achieve in terms of having a career in the video games industry. We also have developed a mobile game, ‘The Wild Kingdoms,’ based on Yoruba mythology. The game helps educate people on African stories in a fun, re-imagined way through the game. Plans are underway to develop more games as the year progresses.

GIA: I’m thinking you have encountered some misconceptions in your vast career as an advocate and industry leader for children/ youth being actively involved in video games from different parties or people. What are some of these misconceptions about video games you have encountered or come across more so in the African context?

Bukola: One of the most common misconceptions, especially with parents, is the association of gaming with gambling. Most parents assume they are the same thing which is false. Video games are also seen as time wasters and equally or less important than sports and since parents stress academic excellence, video games are perceived to be a huge derailer. Parents fail to realize that some games, such as Minecraft, build social cues among children since they can work together and make awesome builds. Education doesn’t need to be boring. Gaming has a way of making almost everything fun and it can make the process of learning a wholesome, well-rounded activity. So going back to the misconceptions, I would have to say that not differentiating gaming and gambling has been the most common hindrance to making strides in the African gaming sector.

GIA: How do you normally respond to parents/ guardians who may be concerned about how much time their kid is spending in front of a screen or with a controller in their hand playing video games?

Bukola: Implement your role as a parent. First, your word goes. Limit the time your child spends playing video games. Secondly, choose video games that are age-appropriate for your children. Also, it doesn’t hurt to take a proactive approach and read about the games your child is playing. Seek resources that introduce you as a parent to the video game world. 

As kids engage in video game play, it consequentially sparks an interest in other activities, such as event organising for gaming tournaments with friends, which is an essential career skill. The more exposure they get to the gaming world, the more kids realise that they might have a future in the gaming world. They proactively seek out scholarships in universities that offer game development and game design classes which again goes to show how the world of video games and education intersect.

GIA: Are there any particular studies you have read or research you have undertaken that seemingly suggest the effectiveness of video games in improving a child’s quality of life?

Bukola: Assasin’s Creed: Origins. I am sure it was an exciting experience learning a lot about Egypt and its culture from a game. A Stanford Graduate School of Education study found that kids who play Fortnite and other similar games willingly engage in complicated activities for long periods. They practice teamwork, collaboration, and strategic thinking through creative imagination–  and when they lose, they’re highly motivated to try again for a better result.

Kucheza gaming has partnered with the Association of UK Interactive Entertainment  (UKIE), a UK-based non-profit organisation, to promote “games-centric” learning among pupils and teachers. UKIE has done lots of research documenting the benefits of gaming on young children, notably a 2020 article detailing the benefits of video games, such as literacy, creativity and well-being. This, along with recent research work by UKIE, continues to enforce the usefulness of using video game elements to facilitate the learning process among children.

GIA: What are some initiatives Kucheza gaming has undertaken to push for the acceptance of video games in contemporary African society?

Bukola: As I have just mentioned, Kucheza’s gaming partnership with UKIE has significantly helped make education more engaging through various programs. UKIE aims to engage learners and educators with computing to improve the quality and provision of digital skills within schools across the UK. Through Kucheza gaming, the partnership has helped deliver computer science lessons to Nigerian students.

One of the more recent UKIE esports tournaments gave pupils a fully immersive career education experience that helped them understand the various job options at their disposal. Teachers reported the broader impact of the tournament on students. Numerous reports were received of increased student confidence, improved school attendance, and improved social cues among children, such as social interaction that led to close friendships. All teachers also reported an increased rapport with their students because, to kids, teachers who love video games are kind of ‘cool’ to them.

Video games also play a huge role in introducing children to tech, which Kucheza has helped facilitate through the Game Makers assembly.

GIA: E-sports has always been the go-to choice whenever talks about having a career in gaming come up. However, gaming is a vast billion-dollar industry with many other job opportunities for people to pursue. Would you mention some of these opportunities and suggest how people can apply?

Bukola: The global gaming industry is valued at over 200 billion US dollars. Africa gets just 2 billion from this figure, a very tiny portion of the market. Big tech companies such as Microsoft and Sony have been able to set up various programs to aid in helping people get access to job opportunities in the gaming sector. Indie developers are also always recruiting different people to work in other roles, such as programming, art and animation, sound design, story writing, sales and marketing and community management, to mention but a few. Kucheza gaming is helping equip children with some of these skills for a smoother transition once they become adults. 

GIA: You are also the Vice-chair of Lagos e-sports association. What does the role entail and how has the reception been, especially for a seemingly male-dominated industry?

Bukola: Good question. Lagos e-sports association is a full-fledged sports association established by the Lagos State Government and operates under the Lagos State Sports Commission. I connect aspiring developers with African video game development studios at the executive level. Other than that, I help drive the conversation that gaming is not gambling through advocacy, education, and community engagement. I also help in organising gaming tournaments. To be honest, my journey has been incredible. I am glad many women are also enjoying great success as key players in the gaming industry at various levels, whether in competitive e-sports or at the executive level. Right off the bat, I acknowledge Eniola Edun, the Co-founder and CEO of Gamr, a leading e-sports tournament and gaming platform in Africa that helps organise e-sports tournaments across Africa.

GIA: I always tend to ask these questions whenever I am about to conclude an interview. What are the biggest success stories of your career so far? Any 2 or 3 would do.

Bukola: Another great question. Well, my career in gaming began a while back and I have had many milestones that have shaped me professionally and personally. Being invited by games industry.biz as a panellist for their annual Games Education Summit conference to discuss matters of gaming and education stands out. Also, signing an MoU alongside the French government to enable professional e-sports players in Lagos to compete globally in their games of choice across online leagues was a huge milestone. I’d have to say that attending the Paris Games week to showcase the growth of the video game industry in Nigeria was another career highlight.

Through game-centric learning programs, Kucheza has also helped train over 10,000 kids in public schools through our gaming partnership with Ukie. Probably this is the one I am proud of most.

This has yet to go public, but I have been formally invited by Design and Art Direction (D&AD) to be a juror for their Gaming & Virtual Worlds Awards 2023. The awards recognize the creative efforts put in by game developers globally during various stages of their game development process. 

GIA: What can we expect from Bukola Akingbade, Kucheza gaming and Lagos e-sports association in 2023?

Bukola: I am particularly excited to be among the many talented jurors for the D&AD Gaming & Virtual Worlds Awards 2023. We are also planning to organise more gaming tournaments through the Lagos esports association consistently. We hope to do so by having a working gaming calendar that updates gamers on upcoming tournaments and events. Kucheza’s gaming advocacy goals for video game acceptance in contemporary African society shall continue being actualised by supporting African-stylised games’ development.

GIA: Thank you for this conversation.

Bukola: Thank you as well for this session. I hope our conversation has helped bring light to the positive effects that children can obtain from video game use.

Kucheza’s Game Makers Assembly (GMA) is hosting a session with Steam on February 7th. Details and how to signup can be done via this link.