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The Complex Evolution of African Gaming

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Source: Pixabay

In recent years, video gaming in Africa has developed in much the same way as in Europe and Asia. But while those continents enjoyed a continuous culture of game-playing that stretched back centuries, Africa’s tale is slightly different.

Gaming traditions

Many traditional African games had gone out of favor by the 18th century as the appetite for gaming diminished. As mentioned by Wesley Kirinya in the book “Video Games Around the World” published by the MIT Press: “There is not much on record regarding games in African countries for the last half of the nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth century.”

As cultures were displaced and independent nations formed, many traditions were abandoned as other priorities took precedent. Many of the traditional games that did survive were combat games such as Laamb in Senegal, Nguni Stick Fighting in South Africa, and Dambe Boxing, which is rooted in the culture of the Hausa people in Nigeria. These are a far cry from the comfortable world of video gaming.

Video gaming craze

From the mid-20th century onwards, gaming culture followed the same path as many other countries around the world. This meant that by the early 1970s, the video game craze swept across Africa. In the big cities, in particular, video games were embraced. The first game to take off was PONG, which was released in 1972. That was followed by classic titles such as Space Invaders (1978), Asteroids (1979), and Pac-Man (1980).

Of those, Space Invaders was the biggest hit of all, featuring in arcades and gaming locations all over the continent. The game was a global smash and is still honored today at annual gaming conventions. Space Invaders machines are reappearing at retro gaming venues all over the world and there is also a slot version based on the original available to play at the best online casinos. The original alien shoot ‘em up hit is still going strong after nearly 45 years.

Millennium boom

Despite this bright start for African video gaming, poor telecommunications systems and infrastructure held back the further growth of African gaming until the new millennium. Since then, there has been a massive boom. By 2021, there were 168 million regular gamers in sub-Saharan Africa.

More recently, Africa has made its own contribution to the gaming industry with a handful of developers forming their own studios. Many of the earliest developers opted to relocate elsewhere due to the ongoing industry challenges of operating out of African countries, but this trend is now reversing. The game “Destiny of Ancient Kingdoms” was developed to give South African players a game that they could call their own. The free-to-play massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) was released on Steam in 2016. However, it didn’t have the longevity of global titles like World of Warcraft and has since closed down.

African innovation

A Cape Town video game development company called Free Lives was the brains behind “Broforce” and the virtual reality game “Gorn.” Their next project is the PC game, Terra Nil. The game will focus on the reconstruction of the ecosystem. So, rather than building worlds using natural resources, the game seeks to restore nature and create a greener world. This reverse concept is inspired by the climate crisis movement. The highly anticipated game is expected to be ready in 2022; however, there is a developer version available now on Steam.

If things keep moving in this direction, there could be further expansion in African gaming with many expecting eSports to be the next big area of growth over the next five years.

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