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Serious About Games winners announced

And the winner of the R1-million prize for the Serious About Games competition is … Team Vukuzenzele!

Serious About Games

Ben Nkuna, Andre Isaacs, Andy Bolnick, Alan Winde, Shane Marks

The win sees game development company RenderHeads working with pioneering community organisation Ikhayalami to innovate in yet another field: developing and distributing a serious digital game about informal settlement upgrading. The outcome was announced at the finals of the competition, held at the Bandwidth Barn in Woodstock.

The competition, which was funded by the Western Cape Government Department of Economic Development and Tourism (DEDAT), called for local game developers to create a game that would help address the socio-economic challenges faced by Western Cape youth.

Gaming for change

Speaking at the competition final, Provincial Minister of Economic Opportunities Alan Winde said it was exciting to see how digital games can become drivers of economic change. Pointing to the Fourth Industrial Revolution and the massive growth in the gaming industry, he said: “We need to make sure we play a role in driving the digital revolution.” He pointed out that initiatives like the Serious About Games competition and investment in the digital game development industry could help the Western Cape become a serious player in the $100B dollar global gaming sector.

“Through mechanisms like Serious About Games we are claiming our space in this new world economy. More importantly, we are harnessing the power of technology to help residents improve their lives.”Last night’s announcement comes at the end of a six-month process which began in November 2016 when Serious About Games put out a call for local game developers to partner with communities to create an educational game that could also be used to collect data that would further help residents.

The project is supported by the Cape Innovation and Technology Initiative (CiTi), in partnership with the Cape Craft and Design Initiative (CCDI), 67Games and Interactive Entertainment SA (IESA).

The finalists

Of the 16 teams who entered the competition, four were chosen to develop a prototype and present their playable game to a judging panel made up of industry experts: including WITS game design lecturer Hanli Geyser, international game developer Veve Jaffer, start-up consultant Alex Fraser, gaming industry lawyer Nicholas Hall, and Olivia Dyers and Bianca Mpahlaza-Schiff of DEDAT.

The winning team, Team Vukuzenzele, wowed the judges with their Android-based application that would allow communities to learn about the importance of re-blocking; a term that refers to the spatial reconfiguration of informal settlements to help them better withstand disasters, like fires.

Ikhayalami have been local pioneers of re-blocking, helping to create structurally sound communities around the Cape. They were already thinking of creating a game when they heard about the competition and were put in contact with RenderHeads.

“We instantly connected,” the organisation’s managing director Andy Bolnick says of her first meeting with RenderHeads director Shane Marks. Once their ideas were on the table, Bolnick says the game development process simply flowed.

The result is a game that will be loaded onto a low cost, kiosk-style mini-computer and placed at community centres. In the game, players are asked to interview their “neighbours” to take a census, before putting re-blocking skills into action in their virtual “neighbourhood”.

Ian Merrington the CEO of The Cape Innovation and Technology Initiative (CiTi) said, “We are fortunate to live in a region which has an abundance of creative talent. This competition has managed to harness that in a way which could improve the lives of the residents of informal settlements. The importance of spatial configuration in mitigating the risk and damage caused by fires cannot be underestimated. Using a gaming virtual environment to reinforce and support that message is a wonderful use case of harnessing digital technology to improve people’s communities.”

Marks says the exposure RenderHeads will get from this win is “awesome”, but more importantly, it gives the company an opportunity to build their own intellectually property.

Going forward, with the funding from DEDAT, Team Vukuzenzele will be expanding their concept and setting up kiosks at two sites, before taking the game to other communities. Their next challenge will be raising money to put the lessons learned about re-blocking into practice in the real world, using the data collected from players.

In the future, they hope to introduce the game to people not living in informal settlements, to bridge the gap between communities.

Visit seriousaboutgames.co.za for more information about the competition.

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