It’s been 11 months since the inception of this Warner Bros. Project, now debuted and launched. Named, Pamoja Mtaani (‘Together in The Hood’ in Swahili) it’s unprecedented territory as far as both gaming and Social Awareness on HIV/AIDS is concerned.
The PC Video game “Pamoja Mtaani”, developed by Virtual Heroes and Published by Warner Bros Interactive Entertainment (WBIE) is part of the HIV Free Generation Project made possible by PEPFAR ( The President’s Emergency Program for AIDS Response). I will state unashamedly that US President George W. Bush has done more for Africa than any other president in history. There is little to debate on this matter.
Obama may hail from Kenya, and remain it’s talisman, but it is hard to see him ever coming close to reaching the touchstone that President Bush has reached. With economic hardship, and the American people demanding change, his mandate is to serve his country; we will respect that. But what’s for sure, is that we’re really proud of him and we are sure that with PEPFAR and the HIV Free Generation Programs in place, we’re in good hands.
With Pamoja Mtaani, what we are witnessing is a radical and most certain an unprecedentedly bold approach to combating HIV/AIDS. Targetting the younger African generation, starting in Kenya, addressing them where they are at. With this project in particular, the beginning of the HIV Free Generation Initiative, the youth are being engaged on a level not before envisioned here in Kenya. Through players engaging and fostering a creative and communal approach to challenges in the game, it’s been rolled out at three major locations in Nairobi to start with: the National Youth Service HQ, The Hope Worldwide Center in Mukuru and Micato Safaris St. Mary’s Church in Mukuru as well.
The game is a RPG (Role-Playing Game) which was designed to be played by 5 characters at a time over a LAN (Local Area Network). The official statement from WBIE (Warner Bros. Interactive) sums it up.
“The game follows five strangers who are brought together through unforeseen circumstances, losing what is most precious to each of them. Working their way through various East African neighborhoods, players must recover the stolen items and help an injured woman on their quest. Along the way, they will experience barriers and facilitators to behavior change through a variety of missions and mini-games. ”
Writing the videogame was a challenge, and one of the most insightful, and demanding projects I have ever been involved in. And I loved the opportunity to create, and adapt something this visual and this visceral for a market that hasn’t been approached in this way before.
One of the most interesting things for me was ensuring that the videogame was able to achieve the Behaviour Change Communication (BCC) Objectives. With each character crafted with an arc, to which they gradually transform and fulfil during the game. We had BCC Expert Nichola Harford, currently based in Zimbabwe working with us, as well as several other teams on both continents.
My trip to the U.S at the beginning of the year to study meant that my schedule would change slightly, and I would be away from home. With that, seasoned writer and thespian Cajetan Boy was selected to write the game from Kenya, with Nicola and I forming the rest of the writing team. This turned out for the best. We were in constant contact, the time difference was cut back significantly for me (From +10 Hours to +3). And best of all, I was able to harness the power of ‘real’ broadband to teleconference, send and download Giga-sized chunks of material at will.
To integrate sheng (local slang- a blend of English and Swahili) into the game, as well as translate the entire game into sheng was something I relished. Sheng, I believe is the epitomy of popular youth culture in Kenya. It is dynamic, unashamed, and defiant. Sheng conforms itself to your reality. So much so that it is by no means restricted to it’s transcribed form. It’s written form cannot keep up.
It continually defies the rules set to govern it (sound like your member of parliament?), and it fluctuates in punctuation and inflection between neighbourhoods, street corners and cities. An example, that’s already outdated by the fact I can write it down : some words get reversed at a moments notice, and their reversed and revised editions replace them. Most times indefinitely, but then there is no indefinity in it, is there?
There were also 5 CG Short Films developed to debut with the game, and give players and the masses quick views into the characters lives. They were directed by visionary animation director Chris Bailey and were produced by Aaron Parry of Mainstreet Productions. I had the chance to do writing and consultation on part of the project, and you can view them here on the HIV Free Website hosted by Warner Bros. (http://hivfreegeneration.warnerbros.com)
The entire process of writing both the Short Films and the Videogame was a revelation. Being able to see scripts go from being marked up in their 10th version, and being able to meet on a middleground between our different cultures, yet staying relevant to Kenya’s was amazing.
There is hope that with the game, and the large amounts of data that will be collected from it, we will be several great steps closer to achieving a HIV Free Generation.