For slum youth, the game ‘Pamoja Mtaani’ is no child’s play
Until recently, computer and video games were associated with well off families. Slum children would only dream of accessing such facilities but the Hope Worldwide Resource Centre in Nairobi’s Mukuru kwa Reuben is helping them live the dream.
Youth from the slum flock to the centre every day, where 14 computers have been installed and, for no charges at all, they play a computer game, Pamoja Mtaani.
The game is made by American producers but with local themes. Music by local artistes plays in the background.
Pamoja Mtaani, developed by Warner Bros Entertainment in partnership with the US President’s Emergency Plan for Aids for Relief (Pepfar), has inspired in the Mukuru youth dreams of making it as sports people and artistes and craving a life of accomplishment.
Above all, it has served as a tool for entertaining the youth while teaching them about HIV/Aids and sexually transmitted diseases. Youth aged between 15 and 26 years frequent the centre to play and learn.
Until the installation of the game at the centre last year, the slum youth idled in the alleys. Crime was rampant. Anthony Kyalo, 24, plays the game twice a week.
“This is not only a game. I also get the opportunity to learn more about Aids,” says Kyalo. “We don’t have a gym here, this is basically our gym.” Kyalo spends at least three hours on the game.
According to Boniface Onyango, 26, the team leader, there are 989 participants, 293 of whom are girls.
“Most of the youth come here thinking that it is a computer-training centre, but when they find out that it is a game, they keep on coming back. Boys are the ones who come here in large numbers,” Mr Onyango says.
He adds that the participants acquire skills that help them achieve the things they aspire for in life.
“We hone skills we need in life, such as negotiation, arts and music as well as technical skills because, while some want to become engineers others want to become marketers,” says Onyango. The team leader says the game helps the youth to discover their talents and exploit them.
Job Odoyance Akuno, the technical advisor at Hope Worldwide Kenya says the choice of a video game was to attract the interest of young people as they are usually interested in computer, IT, music and entertainment.
“The video game offers a perfect platform to reach the youth by meeting their entertainment needs as we lace it with education,” says Mr Akuno.
The concept is now one of the activities under the youth lifestyle brand, G-Pange. Pamoja Mtaani has five characters: Lady-D who is a musician, Lefty, a footballer, George, a tout, Judy, who is a medical student and Sean, a technician. All portray the character of urban youth and are aged between 18 and 23.
A player assumes the identity of one of the five characters. The players are usually assigned passwords to access the game on a computer. They are handed headsets to aid in listening to the conversation. Songs by such artistes as Wyre and Redsan play in the background.
The video game has different levels: Chini ya Maji, which depicts a slum, Ulamini, which represents the affluent neighbourhoods in the city and Jijini for the city, and the Youth Festival, the resolution of the game. The characters in the game speak Sheng, a combination of English and Kiswahili.
The game begins with a scene in a matatu with the youthful passengers chatting amidst music. Carjackers commandeer the matatu into a bush where a passenger is gang-raped.
The passengers take the victim to a nearby health centre but on their way out they meet Mama Africa, who plays a significant role by giving them tasks, for which tokens such as earrings, shells and necklaces are awarded. Successful completion of a task earns a player points and clears them to graduate to the next level of the game.
Some of the tasks include persuasion and first aid skills. For instance, George, the tout is supposed to convince a youth in the neighbourhood to stop spending time around a group of bad boys. Judy, the medical student, is required to attend to a wounded boy and administer first aid.
Other tasks include weight lifting, creating graffiti on a street wall, disabling an alarm, climbing a fence, catching a burglar, playing a guitar, and persuading a club manager to let one leave Club Vunjika.
The tasks vary from level to level, all depicting life in the slums, middle class neighbourhoods and the city suburbs.
Some of the characters ask your main character (the one you chose) questions for which you choose answers displayed on the screen.
At the final level, The Youth Festival, the characters discuss issues such as going to a voluntary counselling and testing (VCT) centre and using their time productively.
Mr Onyango says most of the youth who visit the VCT booth attribute their decision to the game. At the end of the video game, the participants come together to discuss the message in it.
Caroline Wangeci, 20, says the messages in the game such as sugar daddies and use of condoms, abstaining from sex and the importance of being faithful to one’s partner have taught her important lessons in life.
“This game keeps me busy, otherwise I would be thinking of other things, sometimes destructive activities. Though I usually come to have fun, I also learn how to live with other people through the game,” says Benjamin Kioko, a 15-year-old high school student.