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Western Cape residents to use digital game to drive social change

Tuesday, 21 February 2017   (0 Comments)
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A digital game competition is set to give Western Cape residents the opportunity to drive social change in their communities.


Alan Winde, Minister of Economic Opportunities, said the Serious About Games initiative would use a new approach to address the challenges facing the province’s poorest residents.


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).


Minister Winde 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. Four teams were selected as semi-finalists and have until 24 March to develop the prototype of their game.


“We asked gamers to partner with community organisations to look at the biggest social and economic challenges caused by apartheid urban planning. 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.


Michelle Matthews, Head of innovation at CiTi, said: “We are seeing a growing community of professionals from different backgrounds coming together to use games as a platform for education and learning across sectors, from civic engagement to healthcare. In the coming months, we hope this competition, funded by the Western Cape Department of Economic Development and Tourism, will serve as a catalyst for the Serious About Games community.”


Lisa Parkes, CCDI Design Support Programme Manager said: "We look forward to assisting the shortlisted teams to take their idea to a working prototype. Through bespoke support, tailored to each team’s needs, we want to facilitate the journey through rapid prototyping and show how this tool can be used in design, marketing, communication and testing."


Each team received R50 000 to create a prototype of their game for final judging. The winning team receives R1 million to develop their game and make it available to communities.

The panel of judges 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.


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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