Video games are an exceptional way to share our personal experiences.
They capture the player’s imagination, catapulting them into a world they have never seen before. Through playing video games, I have seen Chicago, Tokyo, Paris, and so many other cities. Not only did I have a chance to see these places, I was fully immersed. I got a chance to explore them like I would in real life.
Of course, there is a great amount of fabrication that comes with any kind of storytelling, especially when it comes to creating world maps and quests for the player’s enjoyment. But no one can deny the effects of seeing your city digitized, even if it means getting to scale its walls with inconceivable ease.
I have never seen Africa, and South Africa in particular, depicted in video games. And to be honest, it makes me pretty sad.
The South African gaming industry is growing. With the success of games like Toxic Bunny and more recently Bro Force, it is clear that we have many talented companies aiming to put South African games on the map. The accessibility of Steam has made it easier for companies to make their games available to a global audience.
Despite the success of Bro Force and my pride in the fact, there was still a critical component that was missing- the choice of narrative.
Bro Force felt like an easy means of pandering to the American fascination with war and celebrity. By bringing together a cast mimicking Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Chuck Norris, bursting through walls and beating up bad guys, Bro Force took the obvious route of celebrity plus humor plus guns equals profit.
But what I want to see is something that captures a different part of our existence altogether.
Games are an exceptional way of sharing our personal experiences. South African society is rich with so many stories that can be translated into unending possibilities for captivating games, that would not only entice a local audience but an international one too.
Take, for example, the Fallout franchise from Bethesda; in most of the games, you are a vault-dweller, emerging sometime after the nuclear fallout. You spend the game completing the main story and side quests, all set in an imaginative futuristic America. The way Bethesda inserts funny quips about American culture into the world map is a commendable feat of environmental storytelling. You get a sense of calm intrigue walking through the world, trying to figure out what life was like before the chaotic landscape seen before you.
To have a game similar to that of Fallout, but set in South Africa would be surreal. Not only would it propel our cultural narrative into mainstream media on our terms, it would also give us a chance to explore topics like Afrofuturism through video games.
Of course, a lot of this is dependent on the environment through which the game would come into being.
Firstly, racism is still rife in South Africa, and to have a white-owned gaming company making this kind of art would result in culturally and racially insensitive portrayals of black people and ‘indigenous’ knowledge.
Secondly, this kind of game with such a big world map, with near-countless quests requires a budget far beyond what the South African gaming industry has seen before.
Lastly, we would need to see more South Africans entering into the game development industry, something that is only just being introduced in our tertiary institutions.
Maybe it is a little bit naive of me to want a black-owned gaming company with a brilliant research team, developers and a huge budget to create a truly South African gaming experience.
But I don’t think we’re that far off.
With a little bit of patience, perseverance, and pain, I believe we will be seeing our faces and our stories in games very soon.