Last February, Teddy Kossoko, a young Central African, launched the world’s first 100% African mobile game: Kissoro Tribal Game. Similar to chess, Kissoro is one of the oldest game in the world and is played across Africa. Kissoro Tribal Game tells the story of a young boy who decides to play Kissoro to settle a war between two kingdoms. With this game, Teddy Kossoko intends to shed a positive light on the troubled Central African Republic, combat negative misrepresentations about Africa and promote African myths, traditions and culture.
We interviewed Teddy to learn more about his business, his inspiration and aspirations:
BS: “Have you always been this passionate about video games?”
TK: “No, I was born and I grew up in the Central African Republic where there is no gaming culture. When I turned 18 years-old, and had just finished high school, I was faced with a choice: stay and study in Bangui or study abroad and discover another culture. I decided to study computing in France.”
BS: How came the idea to develop a video game?
TK: “When I arrived in France, most people had never heard of the Central African Republic, and those who had only knew it through the media coverage of conflicts and former emperor Bokassa and his diamonds. When I was telling people I was from the Central African Republic, people were responding “okay but where is that”. I thought I had to change that! More generally, people did not know much about Africa, its culture and traditions.
In France, I discovered that gaming was a big part of people’s lives and that it allowed people to discover places and universes. In Africa, gaming is not much developed.
This is when I decided to create a studio to develop video games promoting Africa and its culture. When I was looking for inspiration for my first game, I remembered the African proverb, “If one does not know where he is going, one must know where he is from”. I realised Kissoro was played across the continent, under many different names, as well as in Asia and in the Caribbean.”
BS: Tell us more about Kissoro Tribal Game.
TK: “In addition to the game itself, I wanted to create a universe. I wrote a scenario with both a cultural and political dimension. I wanted to send a positive message.
The game is based on the story of two kingdoms at war to control a river full of resources. After decades of fighting, neither of them is wining and thousands have been killed. One day, an orphan goes to his king and says that as both kingdoms play Kissoro, they should play it to settle the war. Both kings think they have the best players and accept.
In real life, Kissoro is played by poor people. In the game, I modified this aspect and said it was only played by elites: the orphan, who has never played it, enters the tournament to defy the elites, showing that youth has a lot to say regarding their country’s future. Through the game, the orphan becomes more confident and manages to beat the elites and save his kingdom. The player is the orphan.
In addition to these dimensions, players enhance their mental maths skills.
I worked three years on the game. It was met with a lot of enthusiasm and people liked the idea behind it.”
BS: What is your message to your fellow Central Africans?
TK: “I want to convey a message of hope, I want the Central African youth to start dreaming again.
Last summer, I went back to Bangui and I used the game to talk about the conflict. The game can instill positive change as it helps people realise they have more in common than they think. I received a lot of positive feedback from people who told me it gave them hope in the future.
When I launched the game, I installed billboards across the country for people to realise nothing is lost with messages like “Kissoro is the best Central African game” or “Representing the Central African Republic abroad”. I wanted to promote the Central African Republic beyond conflict, shed a positive light on its culture and show that its youth is mobilized to bring about change in the country.
Across the continent, the game appeals to the younger generations and shows another vision of the continent, beyond poverty and war.”
BS: A lot of people in Bangui play Kissoro, how can your game help foster peace in the country?
TK: “When I was in Bangui, I organized a tournament to gather people from every neighborhood of Bangui. My goal was for them to meet, greet and talk to each other. As they got to know each other, I knew they would go back into their neighborhood and tell people that the person next door is not the enemy. I think this game can foster social cohesion by bringing people together.
I would like to organize a big tournament with people coming from each community and gather them around the game. It would be broadcasted on TV and the radio so people could follow it. The goal would be to create a buzz for the youth to live again and forget about the war.”
BS: Now that you have released the game, what’s next?
TK: “I am setting up a studio dedicated to African video games.
I am working on another game. It will be about a Central African police inspector who is very skilled and will be sent into the past to solve unsolved murders — murders of famous persons in Africa’s history. I want people to know the African continent, its legends and traditions. This game will highlight our rich history, the men and women who helped shape the continent and our past.”
The Central African Republic descended into civil war in 2012, triggering the country’s worst humanitarian crisis since it gained independence from France in 1960, with 1 in 2 in need of aid to survive. Today, 70% of the territory is controlled by armed groups and, although they battle to control resources and trade routes, fighting is also taking place along ethnic and religious lines.
With entrepreneurs such as Teddy, the Central African Republic could see hope to end decades of instability.
Want to learn more about the Central African Republic?
Head to weareiguacu.org were you can read about the conflict and support our recommended charity, Triangle Generation Humanitaire.