Anthropology is very much concerned with the representation not only of its findings, but with what it looks upon: cultures. The whole Writing-Culture debate and everything in its wake revolves around this. It triggered new experimental means of mediating anthropological knowledge up to ethnographic fiction or even poetry. “Anthropological knowledge” itself has been challenged, and still is. Then there is visual anthropology, occupied with media decidedly different from the written text: images, the moving image, ethnographic film. Finally the so-called ‘new media’ came into focus, too—the digital, computer-driven media with their interactive potential, able to generate and support decidedly new and different ways of mediating knowledge, experience, and emotions. Computergames constitute one bundle of said ways. Already back in 2002 Xenophilia was launched, a game striving to mediate an understanding of people who were socialized in cultures different from the ‘western’ one. Since 2005 there is a game, a MMOG, in the making which—according to its producers—strives to mediate an understanding of a continent which was and is essential for sociocultural anthropology: Africa. From the MTV-News article How Do You Teach People About Africa? Make A Video Game:

The grandson of a Ghana king and a 19-year-old programmer in Atlanta both agree on one thing: The Western world doesn’t understand Africa. Their solution? Make a video game about the 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.


The official game overview tries to give us an impression of how Africa will be like:

Take up your spear and set forth on an unforgettable adventure in 13th century Africa. Choose from one of the many kingdoms or found your own tribe. Protect your people and conquer your enemies, and the Griots will sing the praises of your heroic deeds. Farm the land, herd cattle, grow wealthy through trade, become a mighty warrior, master the wisdom of the ancients, or rule an empire. The choice is yours.

Using Rapid Reality’s ground-breaking Aura 3-D engine, Africa will feature landscapes of breath-taking beauty and lush soundscapes of African drums, horns, and strings. Hundreds of unique locations such as Egyptian tombs, Roman ruins guarded by the shades of fallen legionnaires, and even a mysterious desert city of that only appears during a full moon await discovery. Visit fabled cities like Timbuktu, brave the scorching deserts of the Sahara, climb the snowy peaks of the Atlas Mountains, and journey to the land of the dead. […]

Survival in Africa requires players to work together to achieve their goals. Crafters create the weapons and armor that warriors need to defeat their opponents. Gatherers collect the raw materials necessary for crafters to make their wares. Warriors defend the frontier and insure access to resources like pasturage, watering holes, mines, and other valuable resources. Conquering and holding lands will require courage and vigilance. Are you up to the challenge?


Additionally there is an impressive trailer [.mov | 314MB] online, showing off a MMOG-gameworld in HL2-quality. But because of information from the developer’s blog I suspect that the trailer is not a piece of machinima, but a pre-rendered thing—it’s worthwhile to watch anyway. What is to be seen there reminds me not so much of the anthropologist’s Africa, but of Robert E. Howard‘s and L. Sprague de Camp‘s pulp fantasy worlds, or graphic-novelist Richard Corben‘s universes. Mythical landscapes. Every graduate concerned with the continent of Africa will blame the game already at that stage for its inauthenticity—not so sure about the old African hands. Isn’t there something like understanding via ideascapes, too? Well, we have to see and play the game first, I guess.


Especially interesting to me is the way in which Africa‘s website encourages community building. There’s the dev. blog, there will be dev. journals, and there’s a forum. There even are open opportunities within Africa‘s development team, and the way the job advertisements are written promises hope for people from the modding-scene. And anthropologists: there definitely is work for you in projects like that—just take a look at the lead game designer’s reading list [scroll down]. Head over there, guys’n’gals.


initially via entry at 2R | screen-caps from Africa-trailer | last pic from Richard Corben’s Den, 1977

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