Not long ago, Africa and video games were worlds apart. Fantasy settings and well-known European and North American landscapes dominated our screens, flickering fuzzy recognition. Today, fortunately, this is a thing of the past. Developers are taking interest in cultures, geography, and history of the massive continent. They are digging deeper into rich diversity and multi-layered traditions, ditching shallow observations and reductive depictions for the most part.
Back to black
Movies like the Black Panther have changed the game in popular culture. It seems that Hollywood is getting real about Africa, but many people overlook how present it is in the video game realm as well. Over the years, we have seen everything from open-world, first-person shooters to fighting games and side-scrolling platformers featuring African settings.
If you take a look at this Wikipedia page, you will see that a list of games set in Africa is second only to the selection of games that take place in Europe. Just to name a few: Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, Mega Man 8, Sniper Elite III, Battlefield 1, Far Cry 2, Resident Evil V, and Delta Force: Black Hawk Down. One of the most recent entries we should add to the list is Assassin’s Creed: Origins that takes us to Ptolemaic Egypt.
Uncharted 4 is an interesting case of a triple-A game that deserves attention. Naughty Dog’s Developer Insight Videos reveal just how important the breathtaking setting was in unraveling complex themes and stories, as well as setting the tone for outlandish endeavors of Nate & his companions.
Africa is not just some neat backdrop anymore, but an element integral to the art of visual storytelling.
The irresistible pull
So, why do developers and audiences love it so much?
One of the main reasons is perceived exoticism, an image of Africa as an untamed wild frontier waiting to be (re)discovered. Most people have not had a chance to the taste of its vivid culture, wander striking landscapes, and observe wild animals. These things seem distant and intriguing, yet on our screen, they also become accessible and consumable.
While consoles are lagging behind a bit, popular savannah animals have inspired dozens of mobile games, even thematic gambling titles like the funny slot Raging Rhino offered by PlayOJO. This is a digital adventure that invites you to go off the beaten track and seek hidden riches. You just have to watch out for hulking beasts charging at you.
War never won
On the other hand, it must also be noted that wars that plague some parts of the continent have also brought Africa into the limelight.
Delta Force: Black Hawk Down is perhaps the prime example of a game inspired by a real war event that ravaged Somalia and prompted an intervention on the part of the U.S. In fact, the gruesome images of dead US soldiers on the streets of Mogadishu were the tipping point for U.S’s policy in Africa and also inspired a blockbuster movie of the same name.
Overall, I would say that there is still huge untapped potential there. There is much more waiting beneath the surface of political turmoil, widespread poverty, and powerful warlords. What gives room for optimism, though, is an increasing number of games that genuinely explore culture, mythology, natural life, and history of Africa.
It has not always been so, but these days Africa is not reduced to a role of a bystander. Western companies are ushering in a new era in the role black continent plays, but also need to learn to portray the continent without reproducing stereotypes and appropriating culture. It is time to tell real, engaging stories that involve Africa and pull gamers into its riveting world. The global appetite for such games is certainly present.