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Gaming for change

The Serious About Games initiative – a gaming competition – uses a new approach to address the challenges facing the Western Cape’s poorest residents.

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A young man discovers VR at a Serious About Games pop-up gaming event at Langa Sports Centre. Credit: Xola dos Santos

Four teams have been selected as semi-finalists and have been awarded R50 000 to develop the prototype of their game, which must be ready for final judging by 24 March.

The project is a collaboration between the Western Cape Department of Economic Development and Tourism, the Cape Innovation and Technology Initiative (CiTi), Interactive Entertainment South Africa (IESA), 67 Games, and the Cape Craft and Design Institute (CCDI).

Alan Winde, Minister of Economic Opportunities, said the Serious About Games initiative called for game developers to work with communities to create a game which would allow residents to reimagine their communities, with a focus on better access to economic opportunities. “We asked gamers to partner with community organisations to look at the biggest social and economic challenges caused by apartheid urban planning,” Minister Winde said.

“The focus is on creating a platform for innovative community-sourced solutions to these problems. We also hope to foster a culture of innovation in our communities. As government, we are thinking of new ways to obtain data and trends we can use to make sure our projects are responsive to residents’ needs.

“We’ve seen how the fourth industrial revolution continues to disrupt the economy, and it also presents alternative pathways to connect with citizens to improve government services,” said Minister Winde.

The winning team receives R1-million to develop their game and make it available to communities. The panel of judges in the semi-final included WITS game design lecturer Hanli Geyser, international indie game developer Veve Jaffer, start-up consultant Alex Fraser, gaming industry lawyer Nicholas Hall, and Olivia Dyers and Bianca Mpahlaza-Schiff of DEDAT.

The games proposed by the four semi-finalists are:

  • Vukuzenzela: The team is comprised of RenderHeads, an experienced game development company, and Ikhayalami, an NPO with years of experience in on-the-ground informal settlement “reblocking”. Their game focuses on improving living standards by reconfiguring the layout of informal settlements, allowing for easy access for emergency services, provision of infrastructure and basic services, and recreational areas;
  • Sea Monster and VPUU: (Violence Prevention Through Urban Upgrading) Collaboration: Their players would be community youth leaders with few resources, but a “secret special ability” to influence the world around them. “They do this by using their ‘Energy’ – an ability to have agency over their own actions – to inspire and get support from others who want the same things they do, in order to create successful projects that upgrade their community,” team leader Jade Mathieson of serious games producer Sea Monster told the judges. The game is informed by content used by VPUU in its leadership forums, and the game would be user-tested by these groups during prototyping. The team argued that the data produced would provide both the VPUU and the Department of Economic Development and Tourism with greater insight into social conditions and preferences of youth in poor communities;
  • Next Question: Their game tackles the issue of youth unemployment, and team member Fabio da Graca told the judges they wanted to help inspire people to start their own businesses, but also to boost existing entrepreneurs who could learn from the successes of others. “Through an intuitive swipe-based decision system, you interact with the community, building relationships and creating business nodes as you go,” he said. They were addressing the harsh reality faced by young South Africans – a lack of confidence, business skills, and validation of their ideas;

    Rodain Joubert, of shortlisted team Indie Collective, in discussion at a Serious About Games pop-up gaming event at Langa Sports Centre. Credit: Xola dos Santos

  • Indie Collective: This is a collaboration between experienced entertainment game developers who collectively have worked on nine released games. Under-utilised community facilities were the subject of their game proposal, which sees players build up and manage their own community centre. “Community members visit the centre and engage with the facilities and people there. As the player gathers enough resources to afford more extensions – such as trading spaces, libraries, sports fields or gardens – they will find resource demands increasing for additional upgrades, as well as more interesting tap-to-earn opportunities,” said game designer Rodain Joubert. Effectively, they would gather data about what players would like to see in their real-life communities, ultimately guiding thinking about how to achieve full use of community facilities.

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