Taking Video Games in a New Direction: Africans, Native Americans, and Storytellers

Video games are a unique medium: players are able to virtually explore and interact with other worlds. Instead of rehashing similar settings/themes to create more games about zombies, military, and fantasy worlds, why not take games in a new direction?

(Originally posted on KitGuru Gaming.)

In a recent post, I wrote about the importance of storytelling within video games and why storytelling matters more than other components like graphics.  Video games are a unique medium in that players are able to virtually explore and interact with other worlds.  Instead of rehashing similar settings and themes to create more games about zombies, hack and slashers, military shooters, and fantasy worlds, why not take games in a new direction?

It took a good amount of time after films were created for the general public to take them seriously, and now filmmakers make moving pieces that give viewers insights across borders and into foreign lands.  Video games have the power not only to transport players but also give them the opportunity to experience these places in a new way.

arabian lords Taking Video Games in a New Direction: Africans, Native Americans, and Storytellers

(Arabian Lords from the Dubai-based developer Quirkat.)

The developing world is gaining local game developers who imbed culture into their games, such as Phyne Gamesin Mexico and Quirkat in Dubai.  But what about regions like Africa that have individuals interested in game development but are unable to bring their ideas to fruition?  Although Africa currently houses a small number of game developers, it is nothing like the video game markets of Latin America and Mexico.  Often, plans to create African-based games fall to the wayside due to the difficulty in obtaining equipment/internet access and the availability of more lucrative positions at large corporations or abroad.  As Luke Lamothe (a Canadian who denied an opportunity at Nintendo in order to build a development studio in South Africa) says:

The big problem with programmers here, though is that as game development in [South Africa] doesn’t have big money backing it, they will always be able to get higher paying jobs working for big corporate (i.e. banks), or companies who are contracted by big corporates.

If Africa is to make an appearance in video games beyond shooters like Resident Evil, how will that be accomplished if Africa’s programmers gravitate toward secure jobs at banks and other corporations?

african zombies in resident evil 5 big 300x168 Taking Video Games in a New Direction: Africans, Native Americans, and Storytellers

(Resident Evil.)

An article six years ago states the plans of the grandson of a Ghana king and a young programmer from Atlanta, Georgia to create a MMO about Africa through which players can explore the rich history and mythology of the continent.  As the programmer, Adam Ghetti, believes, “The African mythology from 1200 to 1400 A.D. is thousands of times richer than the J.R.R. Tolkien series of novels.  Don’t get me wrong, he was an amazing individual with brilliant ideas.  But that’s been milked for 80 years now.”  Unfortunately, I couldn’t find information about the MMO beyond 2006 when the game was initially announced, leading me to believe it is another game that never made it to market.

Although regions like Africa currently don’t have game development opportunities as extensive as Latin America, there may be a way to bring their creativity to the video game market at large.  Why not incorporate the mythology and real life stories of the people from other nations, allowing gamers to interact with these stories in an immersive way?  Why not take the manpower and resources of major developers from the U.S. and the storytelling and creative ideas of other cultures to create a new gaming experience?  What would it take to get acclaimed authors like Chinua Achebe from Nigeria to consider creating a game narrative in collaboration with major developers?

517cmqpmlxl ss500 300x300 Taking Video Games in a New Direction: Africans, Native Americans, and Storytellers

(Achebe's powerful narrative.)

In fact, U.S. game developers don’t even have to venture beyond their own backyards in order to bring to life the stories of a culture shoved to the wayside.  Native Americans have a rich culture full of storytelling, and as the Native American population dwindles, so too are speakers of native languages and the original storytellers important to telling the peoples’ collective experience.

Upon the death of her parents, Violet Hilbert (a speaker of Lushootseed, native language of the Puget Sound Salish) created a cultural conservation project.  Her project was propelled by the fact that, “There are very few places where stories are being told, and the people who know them are dying…That’s why I feel such a sense of urgency to collect and write remnants I know.”

Rather than creating more shooters like Prey (in which Native Americans fight against an army of aliens), games could be developed to include ancient tales narrated by actual Native American storytellers, accompanied by music of the native tradition.

There may not be a strong demand for traditional storytelling or heck, even people who actually pick up a real novel…but what the world does have is gamers – a built in market of people hungry for story.  Although RPG’s aren’t the most widely played genre, there is still a core of thousands of players worldwide who are looking for new stories and new adventures to embark upon.  And what better way to conserve a nation’s stories than to make them widely available for the general public to enjoy?

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