Thu, Apr 11, 2019 - Page 6 News List

Benin eyes video gaming in play for jobs and growth

AFP, COTONOU, Benin

West Africa lags behind the northern hemisphere when it comes to software development, but moves are afoot to tap into a growing interest in the region and across the continent.

At a large hotel in Cotonou, Benin held its first “hackathon,” where participants were given just 24 hours to try to create a fun and educational video game for mobile phones.

“Socially, gaming is seen only as a distraction when it’s a sector of the future,” said organizer Tania Okanla, of the Benin Digital Development Agency.

Last year, the video games market was bigger than music and cinema, generating US$138 billion worldwide, according to Newzoo, which specializes in data on the sector.

However, Africa is estimated to represent just 1 percent of that market, making it an area ripe for development and job creation.

Accountants PwC said that in 2017, the value of Africa’s video game industry would more than double to US$642 million by 2021.

Sidick Bakayoko, president of the Benin Game Jam jury and organiser of the Electronic and Video Game Festival of Abidjan, wants to shine the spotlight on African talent.

“A few years ago, we were happy when we had 10 enthusiasts at a video game conference,” he said.

This year, there were more than 70 at the hackathon, including three women. Those involved billed themselves as game designers, programmers and graphic artists.

Laurenda Agbo, 25, started playing on a console at a video club run by her father for just 25 CFA francs (US$0.04) a game.

She now develops Web sites and games for mobile phones.

“When I found out there was a hackathon, I said: ‘Wow, I’m going to be able to show what I can do,’” she said.

Patrice de Souza likened himself to a “compulsive teenage gamer.” He has already created a game based on a Beninese folk tale, which has been downloaded about 10,000 times.

“It’s the chance to produce games about Africa, which go beyond the cliches and stereotypes we see in Western productions,” he said.

“We’ve got a lot of things to say,” the 25-year-old said.

Bakayoko is optimistic.

“There are jobs galore and huge opportunities in video gaming. Africa has a part to play,” he said.

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