opinionBy Tahar Rajab
As we await the ever-important March 4, many people are enjoying election frenzy through a rather comical yet undeniably-addictive way.
Election Thief is an indie Android game developed by four young Kenyans, who together makeup the University of Games. Its compelling storyline sees the votes of a state election stolen while being counted.
Playing the national hero, it is the player's job to chase down the bandit and save the day for their country. Available as a free download via Amazon and the Google Store, there are three things that make Election Thief such a fantastic and necessary game.
The first is obvious: playability. The second is the game's storyline, while the third is its social reconciliation aspect, with Election Thief acting as a tool for spreading a message of peace, fairness and the honour of democracy, via social media networks.
The scars of Kenya's previous elections in 2007, during which widespread violence led to the deaths of several hundred are still felt within a country eager to use this year's election process to prove to the world - and more importantly themselves - that they have truly moved on.
Election Thief is a light-hearted way to help Kenya triumph through the elections amicably and peacefully, highlighting the nobility in collectively ensuring elections are conducted with integrity.
Rather than needing to recover a batch of votes in one go, the task in Election Thief is to retrieve one vote at a time, demonstrating each single vote's importance.
Furthermore, wise and engaging messages transmittable to friends through Twitter and Facebook, display throughout the game, serving to politically-educate as well as entertain.
"The overall message of the game is peace. We wanted to spread messages that encourage peace through the game," says the University of Games' lead programmer Brian Kinyua.
Brian has a history of developing computer games with political implications. As a student studying Computer Science at the University of Nairobi, he produced a first-person shooter game based on the story of the Mau Mau struggle for independence.
In regards to this tendency to involve Kenyan history and politics, Brian says: "Let's just say that I develop games based on stories that I feel strongly about, and some topics are just hard to ignore."
He recalls presenting his Mau Mau game to a group of panellists before being asked how they could verify whether he was merely playing them a movie.
This is perhaps indicative to the reserved attitudes in Kenya towards unconventional careers such as computer game programming, and Brian has had to get used to receiving awkward responses when explaining his craft.
"There was one time, when a professor wanted to make a point to a fellow student," he says. "I happened to be nearest to the professor and so he asked me what I had done for my second year project.
I looked up, smiled, and said 'Inteli-Tic-Tac-Toe'. The professor twisted his face in great confusion, paused for a while, and then asked what that was. When I said it was a game, his look of confusion grew even deeper!"
The situation is that while the Android computer game market is now booming throughout parts of the world, Kenya hasn't quite clocked on. "Game development is still very new here and as such, people are always shocked to hear that it is what I do professionally."
The University of Games plan to change this; although with no formal schools in Kenya covering the subject, Brian admits it will have to take time.
"People here are yet to take game development seriously as a business. The same goes for developers here who would rather be involved in the tried and tested road of making systems considered more serious such as those used in business.
We are trying to develop some home-grown developers of games, although it is going slowly." Kenyans would be pleased to know that there are plans to fully develop Brian's Mau Mau game, once the University of Games have enough capacity and resources. In the meantime, Android owners can immerse themselves in the highly addictive and informative Election Thief.