"Africa": the game

MTV News has an article describing a new massively multiplayer online game, called "Africa". The game will be set in "a land of 13th century African civilization and mythology", encompassing the entire continent.

"We felt very strongly that video games can help increase understanding and education about Africa and get the unmotivated public fired up about what is going on with Africa," said John Sarpong, grandson of Ashanti king Prampeh of Ghana, exiled by the British from 1895 to 1924. Sarpong has spent recent years running Africast, a company that broadcasts African programming over the Internet.
Less reserved, Adam Ghetti, the teenage creative director at Rapid Reality, the company actually creating the game, said he hopes the game will right some wrongs. "The white American board developers of the large MMO development companies out there right now don't honestly have the right background and knowledge on the continent of Africa and its lore, mythology and rich history, and quite honestly neither did I," said Ghetti, who is white. "They just don't teach it over here." The game is designed, in part, to change that.

It sounds a bit more involved than "The Oregon Trail".

I'm really attracted to this concept of immersion into a historic world. Of course, the quality of the experience is only as good as the quality of the AI interactors, and the other players.

Now, I suppose some people will get into the experience like Civil War reenactors, but for the most part, they won't share culture with 13th century Africans. More and more, people are experiencing these pseudo-ethnographic simulations; I wonder where they are going to end up:

"Africa" will be a vessel for Ghetti and Spaight's ambition. They want a virtual world that functions dynamically: antelope that find new pastures when grassland is scorched, drum music fully customizable by players and used -- as in real ancient Africa -- as an alternate langue. They want players to be able to become famous and change the map. More flexible than the mostly developer-controlled "World of Warcraft" but more restrained than the free-living "Second Life," "Africa" would let a tribe of 100 players establish their own officially recognized empire, but only after the equivalent of 12 hours of play across 48 weeks. For the less hard-core, play can be done casually as a fighter, merchant, musician or even a human who can turn into a bird.
Ghetti said he thinks the setting will present gamers a welcome and surprisingly rich change of scenery. "The African mythology back from 1200 to 1400 A.D. is thousands of times richer than the J.R.R. Tolkien series of novels," he said. "Don't get me wrong, he was an amazing individual with brilliant ideas. But that's been milked for 80 years now."

Yes, it will be much more useful to have people learning about the actual landscape of historic Africa than the fictional landscape of Middle Earth. It should be interesting -- MMO games are increasingly involving real-life trade in currency and skills. The game creators say they hope the game will be played in Africa. You can be pretty sure it will be played in China -- a lot, since Chinese companies employ game players to get virtual goods to be sold on EBay.

Imagine the 45-year-old white stocktrader paying 30 seventeen-year-old Chinese kids to help him become the next king of the Ashanti.