My computer screen almost won the staring match today. You know, the match I engage in with it every time I sit down to write. I look at it, and it looks right back at me. We stare down each other. Sometimes for mere seconds. Other times, for hours.
I had a lot of trouble writing this article. First, I put it off for days. Normally, I write the first word of a new piece, and a few more if the muses have had their breakfast, at the start of each week. Over the following days, I build it up, slowly sculpting it into something worth putting out here. By the end of the week, only a few final touches are needed before I let it loose.
In my first article of this year, I mentioned that I would start posting articles only on my personal website (the one on which you are reading this). In effect, I am abandoning all the other platforms on which I have written before. The only exceptions are those for which I continue to write commissioned or pitched pieces.
2019 is over.
With it goes the decade in which I not only ventured to explore my penchant for writing and to use it for more than school work required (I was in form three, in 2010, when I started writing novel manuscripts on dog-eared exercise book pages), but also developed it into a skill that has come to define me more than any other.
The other day I was having a conversation with a friend. After some time, he asked me, “By the way, why do you write?” It was not the first time I had been asked that question. In fact, for a long time, I had been thinking of writing down an answer because so many people ask it. But I didn’t know what to write. Why would I? To be honest, it doesn’t make sense to me that people should be interested in why I write; as if what I write were not enough.
It’s a hot Monday afternoon in Nairobi. I am in town to meet Dave Ojay, who is the founder of an organisation called Naam Festival. I get to our rendezvous point before Dave. When he arrives, I am standing on the kerb, leaning on one of those short concrete barrier pillars, partly shaded from the afternoon sun by a shrivelling tree. He sees me before I do him, and gives me a comfortable bro hug before I am aware he is there.
Evans is a second-year university student. He is also the CEO of a company that makes electronic games. No, he is not American. His second name is Kiragu, as Kenyan as they get. And no, he is not very rich. He is just an ordinary 20-something out to do the extraordinary. His company is on its way to releasing its second game, going by the harmless name “Craving Carrots.” Their first, “Wings of Fury” garnered over 25,000 downloads last year.
Together with a few friends, Evans started Mekan Games last year. The name is a corruption of “me can” which is – I need not say – itself a corruption of “I can.” Like all young people exposed to computers from an early age, he grew up playing games and tinkering with electronics every chance he got. He says he always fixed everything he broke, which is to say everything he touched, but his mother, who bought him his first computer as a reward for good performance in school, was not always amused.
He learned to code after high school, and since then has never looked back. Now he studies Computer Technology at the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) near Nairobi. He created his first game, a first-person shooter zombie apocalypse flick, on a whim. When he told his friends he would create the game, the reaction was a healthy mix of incredulity and enthusiasm. But then he did and everybody took him seriously. He says it was the first 3D first-person shooter game made by a Kenyan, although the credit in the end went to the creator of the game Nairobi X, another young Kenyan.
A number of his friends had, or were then building, skills in graphic design, 3D animation, music, and writing, the essentials of game-making. They came in handy when Mekan Games was launched last year. Now they are all pumping in hours and hours into Craving Carrots, their first deliberate game. The intention is to launch it in July.
Craving Carrots is a 2D game that involves preventing ninjas, using a combination of weapons and booby traps, from acquiring carrots that can give them superhuman strength and thus enable them to overrun the world. It is innocent, simple and immediately addictive, and a little bit silly. Evans says he meant it to be that way. A short break from the monotony of the workday. A little laugh for the tired student when he sees the black stick figures running all over his phone screen like ants gone rogue.
For Evans, nothing could be better. To have the products of his mind explored by people far and wide, many of whom he will never meet, is for him the greatest reward for his long labours. That is what keeps him going.
And he needs it. The gaming scene in Kenya is still deplorably underdeveloped, and the market is firmly in the hands of massive foreign companies the likes of which young creators like Evans do not have the resources to even begin rivaling. So theirs is a first step, a case of cautious dabbling in the league of the seasoned. But they are doing a good job of it, if the quality and consistency of their games is anything to go by. The trail they blaze will be the foundation on which a truly native gaming industry will rely to grow.
Whether they achieve the effect they aim at remains a mystery that only time can unveil. But that they are on the right path cannot be doubted. Thanks to Evans and his peers, for the first time there is a homegrown community of gaming companies. And mainstream media is starting to notice. The African story is now being told through African games. It can only get better.
Feature image: Mekan Games.
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by Daniel Kobimbo
Superman, the most popular comic book hero, is known for a lot of things. His symbol is among the most recognisable the world over. He is known for his immense strength, his ability to leap from tall buildings or fly (depending on the writer) and his X-ray vision. But have you ever wondered what inspired the creation of the character?
Howdy! Yes, that’s how rusty I’ve become since you last heard from me. It’s been a very quiet time. Literally quiet. Especially inside my head. It was a time which I will henceforth think of as the days of the caged eagle.