South Africa is a hugely political country, with the public taking strong stances on a host of issues.
A large factor that has led to a highly charged and engaged public is the divisive and damaging legacy that is apartheid. In recent months, tensions in the country have risen significantly.
From the national crisis of femicide to the issue of State Capture, the country is going through tumultuous times and a lack of leadership from the government only exacerbates the situation. Despite the lack of leadership, or perhaps because of it, journalism and the courts have risen up to the challenge and served the public as much as possible.
Some have been paying the price, however. Journalists are being attacked, and in some cases, killed for their passion and duty to uphold the truth and hold the government accountable. Government officials are losing their jobs for standing up to corruption. As the headlines continue to roll in, it makes for bleak reading. This is a time to look at sources of inspiration and hope and how the people can take back the country and save it from corruption. Whilst art has often been used to create discussion and awareness around important political topics as well as inspire revolutions, it is often imagined in written form, drawn art or else film.
But what if gaming was a recognised as a medium to create the same level of discussion in a manner that these other forms of art cannot.
Gaming as a storytelling
Films, books and a host of other arts have often carried strong messages on current affairs and provided insightful social commentary. It is so acceptable and expected in these forms of art that even films for children have powerful themes interwoven that appeal to both children and adults alike.
For those unfamiliar or lacking knowledge of gaming, it has often been looked at as an activity to waste time and that lacked substance. This couldn't be further from the truth. Gaming is as powerful a medium for story telling as the latest blockbuster film or best-selling novel. Despite this, gaming suffers from a double standard due largely to the misconception that it is an infantile and pointless pastime.
Numerous studies are published stating a link between violent video games and violent children, only to be thoroughly debunked by follow up studies. Films can depict horrific acts and be praised for it but when a video game attempts to do the same, it is reviled and seen as promoting violence.
One of the more infamous cases of this was a popular shooter game titled Call of Duty, which allowed players to shoot and kill innocent civilians in an airport terrorist attack. The scene was meant to disgust players and create an emotional reaction that would fuel the gameplay for when they played on the other side, the counter terrorist group, who would seek to prevent future attacks. The scene was poignant and served to reinforce the horror that terrorist attacks inflict on innocent people.
For many of those outside of the gaming world they attempt to put gaming in a box but unfortunately, that box is too small to encompass this rapidly evolving industry.
Despite such a powerful and well-executed scene, mainstream media was outraged and the constant debate over the place of violence in games occurred once again. For many of those outside of the gaming world they attempt to put gaming in a box but unfortunately, that box is too small to encompass this rapidly evolving industry.
Many in the gaming scene ignore the critics and continue to push the boundaries of what is expected of games, packaging an enthralling gameplay experience with deep social commentary. Game developers are not shy to take a stand on a variety of issues and provide commentary on everything from racism to mental issues to police brutality and more. One of the most anticipated games of the year, Far Cry 5, is tackling Christian extremism head on, a controversial subject in an American society that is unwilling to label anything non-Islamic as terrorism.
A beacon of hope for South Africa
The creative scene in South Africa is already blossoming with untold stories of SA youth and showcasing a different perspective on places that are often misconstrued in mainstream media. Young creatives are taking back the power and narrative by telling their own stories and local game developers have the same opportunity.
Game devs too can make statements on current affairs and have their say on the state of this country. The local gaming development scene is a young one but it is growing rapidly and is filled with passionate individuals keen to make a mark.
This is not a new concept at all for local game devs. Organisations such as Serious About Games already facilitate game development with many of the game devs under their wing creating largely political and social games. These games tackle everything from what it means to be a leader in the community to making statements about the state of government and more.
Whilst e-sports may be all the rage locally as well as abroad, the local game dev scene is quietly creating games that are teaching the youth in this country as well as inspiring hope and creating awareness about the problems this country is facing. It may not be flashy nor bring in the headlines, but local games can be a beacon of hope for a country that is steadily being starved of it.