Kissoro Tribal Game: Helping Africans tell their story

Saturday August 11 2018

Teddy Kossoko, the developer of the video game, Kissoro Tribal Game.

Teddy Kossoko, the developer of the video game, Kissoro Tribal Game, that has taken Africa by storm. PHOTO | COURTESY MASSEKA GAME STUDIO 

By BAMUTURAKI MUSINGUZI
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Born in the Central African Republic, Teddy Kossoko was sent to France in 2012 by his parents to study computer science and he was introduced to gaming culture there.

Kossoko, now aged 23, has a degree in Computer Science and Business Management.

He was motivated to develop the “Kissoro Tribal Game” to address the prevailing ignorance and misunderstanding of Africa in Europe.

“In France, I noticed four things quickly: Many people did not know that my country exists; for many people, Africa is like some black box and they do not know exactly what is going on in it. This blocks a lot of opportunities. I also noticed that video games in the West are a powerful medium that has the ability to capture people’s attention; and despite the development in Africa of smartphones, the world of video games is struggling to develop here,” he says.

“I decided to use the power of video games to bring Africa to the West and develop video games on Africa,” Kossoko added.

He partnered with Matthieu Acloque to create the game. It took three years.

“Matthieu is the second graphic designer of the game. He is one of the first people who believed in the project. He gave life to all my ideas. It is one of the reasons for the success of this project. All Africans praised the quality of his work. He encouraged me not to give up. He has learned a lot about Africa and some day, I will persuade him to visit the continent,” he said.

Two days after its release, Apple featured the game in the top strategy games in France.

Kissoro is an African strategy game. It belongs to the Mancala family of board games, and has been played for centuries in almost all African countries. The object of the game is to capture all of an opponent’s pawns to stop him/her moving.

The board game is known by hundreds of different names in Africa. For example, it is known as omweso in Luganda, orusoro in Runyoro/Rutoro, ekishoro in Rukiga, coro in Langi and Acholi, soro in Alur, Lugbra, Madi and Kakwa, or mbao or kombe in Kiswahili.

It can be downloaded from Google Playstore and is available in French, Spanish, English, Japanese and Russian.

Characters from the Kissoro Tribal Game video strategise.

Characters from the Kissoro Tribal Game video strategise. PHOTO | COURTESY MASSEKA GAME STUDIO

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What is the story behind Kissoro Tribal Game?

Kissoro is inspired by the various conflicts that African countries have suffered and continue to suffer.

This story is about two kingdoms that have fought for years to control a river rich in gold. There are many dead and no kingdom can lay claim to the gold vein.

One day, a young man who lost his parents in the conflict visits his king and tells him they have nothing in left in common with the other kingdom except the game Kissoro.

He offers to organise a tournament based on the game with the winner’s kingdom taking control of the river. The rival kings accepted the challenge as a way out of the fighting and killing.

In the story, the game is reserved for the elite of society, but the young orphan decides to participate in the tournament, and beats them all and saves his kingdom.

I wanted, through this story to advise African youth that they can propose solutions and determine their destiny, without necessarily taking up weapons to solve problems.

Did you develop it under the Masseka Game Studio?

Yes and no. When I created the game, and promoted it worldwide, the studio was not yet created. However, I advertised around the studio as if it had existed since the beginning of the project. Today, the studio is officially created and the game officially attached to it.

What can one hope to learn from playing Kissoro?

Kissoro is a strategy game like chess. It is an Africa-based strategy game and one of the world’s oldest.

Kissoro players develop mathematical skills, in that they will be able to calculate faster, develop their ability to memorise and anticipate moves and new situations. I am campaigning for Kissoro to be promoted in schools.

Do you believe it can bring about peace in your country Central African Republic?

Perhaps not directly. My job is to awaken the youth of my country and of Africa. I start from the premise that youth need leaders and mentors who point out the right way, thereby encouraging them to make positive change.

In the CAR, the situation is complex, but I have deployed billboards countrywide, showing them that the lessons of kissoro apply worldwide, so that they feel valued.

I offer hope to a people worn down and out by war. This is my small contribution. African youth must rekindle the torch of hope for we have a better future to build.

How has the civil war in CAR affected your family? Are they still in CAR?

My parents still live in the Central African Republic. My father lost his job, which made life difficult. My mother no longer lives in her house, which is close to a sensitive area. All in all, life is not the same as before and everyone is scared. These realities also limit family financial ability.

How did your parents react like when this game won the Pitch Your Game of the Geek Touch 2017 and the Tongolo Awards 2017?

They were very proud. They were especially proud when everyone in the country talked about this young Central African who values and promotes his country abroad.

My life as an entrepreneur demands a lot of sacrifice. They have trouble understanding that at my age I can make these many sacrifices. I would have just preferred that they believe in me without limits, because the success hides the iceberg of difficulty and pressures that I deal with.

What is the importance of exploring Africa’s cultural heritage to develop such traditional games in Africa today?

In Africa, slavery and colonialisation left terrible scars. Young people were uprooted from the familiar. They do not know each other's story. For me, using African culture as a base allows African youth to know that they have a great deal in their heritage.

The history of Africa did not begin with and end with slavery. We had kingdoms and scientists and learning. African culture is the foundation and strength of this continent, and it is essential to preserve it and share it using the tools available today. There is an important African diaspora. This diaspora must also discover what the real Africa is.

What are your plans regarding developing more video games?

I have created Masseka Game Studio. We are preparing our next game, an adventure set in the Songhai Kingdom and featuring one of the greatest African conquerors, Sonni Ali.

We will participate in meetings to talk about the continent and video games. We have also contacted companies that would like to create games for the African market. In Europe, we will continue to promote Africa so that the world can discover our true image.

What are the prospects of video games in Africa?

Things are moving slowly but positively. The gaming market in Africa is a mobile phone gaming market that will probably surpass Asia in a few years.

But on the continent, developers cannot live on their games because most players do not have credit cards to pay for games.

We need not only awareness campaigns, but also develop a platform dedicated to Africa and its video game players. This platform will take into account our technical realities and simplify methods of payment.

Can Africans afford video games?

Yes, the African market is essentially a mobile market, as in Asia. Developers will have to offer mobile phone games so that Africans can easily access them.

We cannot create Play Stations or other gaming for the continent. Our next game, for example, will have a mobile phone version for the African player and a PC and Mac version for the rest of the world.

With regard to the mode of payment, we will find mechanisms to help players to buy the games. Our continent must catch up with the rest of the gaming world, sooner rather than later.

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