Gamers’ haven: Inside the exclusive GamersNights club of Kampala
Posted Friday, November 1 2013 at 15:31
- Every Wednesday, a group of enthusiasts in Kampala meet to play computer games. They say these games are not only a source of entertainment but also improve their brain power.
- While the primary purpose of gaming is to have fun, most of the players were confident that the sport has indirectly taught them practical skills such as organisation, leadership, computer networking, graphic design and system administration simply as a matter of course.
- They also believe that the growth of the sport is what is needed to create awareness about a little known fact that may prove to be a handicap in the future: The East African region needs its own Internet ecosystem.
It was a chilly Saturday afternoon in Kampala, and I was in a big room at the back of Alleygators Bowling Alley, Garden City.
Mounted against the walls were gigantic 1990s Sega and Namco arcade games like Top Skater and Time Cop. Old and dusty, they reminded me of museum pieces, especially when contrasted with the ultrathin, crystal clear Fifa 13 that four men in their mid-twenties were playing on a 32-inch flat screen HiSense TV, just next to the entrance.
A banner, which had an imposing picture of a soldier in military fatigues, stood nearby with the words “Pain is Temporary, Pride is Forever” inscribed across the bottom.
The room had been converted into a battlefield for the day. Under a low ceiling, rows and rows of laptops and desktop monitors sat atop big white tables, with a labyrinthine network of cables snaking out into hundreds of units.
Before I set out on this assignment – to find out about GamersNights, an underground fraternity of gaming enthusiasts who meet online every Wednesday to play computer games — I told a couple of my friends about it and their responses were openly scornful.
PC gaming is not a practice that is usually brought up when tools for social transformation are being evaluated. Most people think gaming is for geeks.
“It’s because they don’t have all the information,” said a software developer and avid PC gamer, who prefers to be called by his gaming nickname, Saint. Saint, like me, sat on a plastic chair, a tangled mass of computer and extension cables around his feet.
“They just don’t,” he continued after a little reflection.
The gamers sat at their stations playing Call of Duty IV, a popular co-operative multiplayer game that involves teams of Special Ops in combat gear running around under heavy fire in a shell-shocked city somewhere in the Balkans.
Some of the players were dead quiet, hardly blinking, furrowing their brows and occasionally biting their lips in extreme concentration. Others kept up a loud, continuous commentary of what was happening in the game, lacing their analysis with graveyard humour and foul language. No one could doubt that this was serious business and, when the Russian team defeated the US team (or whatever), the whole room erupted in cheers and curses.
“This all started about two years ago,” Saint explained, “NtindaSnyper, SithLord, EagleEye, AgentSmith, I and a few others. We would meet to play PC games like Need for Speed - Most Wanted and Halo. After a while we began wondering if there were other guys out there like us, so we created a Facebook group and reached out to them. We have to vet you, though; not everyone gets in.”
The membership now comprises about 150 young, educated middle class gamers, most of them computer programmers, who refer to each other by aliases. Their names are inscribed on the backs of the group’s black-and-white uniform T-shirts, adding an element of mystique to this exclusive community.
“We don’t know and don’t care who’s whom in real life, we only know each other’s aliases. It’s like a second life for us.”
Typically, the composition of the group is mainly male. SheWolf, an animation and graphics student and one of the few female gamers, believes this is because of society’s stereotypes concerning what women can and cannot do.
I later learnt that the T-shirts were printed by Orange Telecom. The gamers frequently collaborate with Internet service providers like Smile and Orange Telecom when organising non-online events.