In autumn of 2013, I was invited as a video game designer from Morocco to a collaborative development workshop between China and Africa. FIAM in partnership with OIF organized the workshop from 21 - 27 October as a cultural collaboration held in Beijing.
The workshop was akin to a game jam where we developed a new mobile game in 5 days. Sammy Fatnassi, a senior graphics programmer in the industry, coordinated the group, composed of game developers from Tunisia, Morocco, and Senegal as well as digital art students from The Institute of Graphic Communication in Beijing.
In this article, I discuss the rich experience of bringing together developers from different regions of the world and prototype a game that combines cultures.
Upon arriving in China, the workshop organized touristic trips to visit historical sites and museums, including the Great Wall of China and the Forbidden City, in order to inspire us before breaking into the development process. We met our Chinese teammates from the university and the organizer presented the scope of the project: develop a 2D game inspired from combined cultures with cooperative gameplay, no competition, and focus on aesthetics.
We brainstormed about concepts that drew from our cultures. We were confronted with the challenge on how to best represent a unified vision of Africa as a game concept. While we came from one continent, each of us was from different regions and the team was culturally diverse (Arab, Amazigh, Sub-Saharan). We chose to set key words that were common points between us such as sociability, nature, the Sahara, forests, memories, and masks. From there, we merged the ideas into several game concept proposals to help our digital artist, illustrate our plans.
We chose the third proposal, a running game where the player switches between two mask that represent China and Africa. The object of the game is to collect points by switching between the masks that represent each culture. The accumulated points reconstitute lost memories from the cultures which were destroyed by demons represented as the negative side of the mass consumerism.
Translators aided both sides in bridging the linguistic gaps that the team faced. However, in addition to language difficulties, references were sometimes different between cultures, leading to conceptual misunderstandings. To remedy conceptual problems, I chose to adopt the design method of "form follows function" where I created only the functional side of the game and left the aesthetic form to the Chinese art team.
We used the Unity Engine free license as it is a great tool for prototyping. Unity is built for 3D play and as the 2D support was not currently available, we lost time dealing with the technical issues.
While we were shy in our initial interactions with our Chinese teammates, we bridged our cultural differences through the creative process.
After finishing the game, we traveled to Chongqing and presented our project to the summit where we met veterans of the industry like Joseph Olin and Moacyr Alves, the president of ACIGAMES, a Brazilian association focus on video game business and culture. Mr. Alves presented on the state of the Brazilian game industry where I learned of commonality between the Brazilian industry and the African. While Africa does not yet enjoy the richness of video games that Brazil has, the presentation serves as an inspiration to developing our regional game industry.
As an African team, our next mission is to create a platform to promote a game industry that includes the diverse game developer communities throughout the continent. While we have combined local associations between Moroccan and Tunisian game developers, a vertical approach that expands beyond Maghreb and Middle Eastern countries to all African regions benefits the industry and continent.
A big thank you to FIAM and OIF for organizing the initiative as well as to all the people and partners who participated to the success of this event, and to Sammy and his wife for editing this article :)
This was a great collaborative experience between cultures through creativity.
謝謝 (Xie Xie. Chinese - thank you.)