Video Games Are Mapping Your World I

by Andy Kozlov

A couple of days ago, I met with a group of youth in Entumbane, a western township of Bulawayo, which is the 2nd largest city of Zimbabwe. Since it was an introductory meeting (SteppesinSync  has organized a film-making workshop at a local parish there) almost immediately our conversation brought us to Ukraine, my home country.

Being asked, whether they know where Ukraine is, one of the guys, an 18-year-old Zenzele explained to me that they have heard of the country from their Playstation games. “Anything else?”, I kept inquiring aroused with curiosity. “Not really, no”.

Video games mapping Your world.

Here is where I thought again of the way nations brand each other. And how others brand them. Mostly, in Zimbabwe you will hear that Ukraine is OR (from those who follow the news) used to be in the Soviet Union. This is why people here go for the definite article: “the Ukraine”. “The Ukraine” we heard at the Smithsonian in Washington D.C. two years back. So, kind of getting  used to it. It’s the land of Andriy Shevchenko (a soccer player who used to play for Inter Milan and Chelsea F.C.) and, occasionally, Yulia Tymoshenko and Victor Yushchenko, the ‘heroes’ of the 2004 Orange Revolution .

Recently, I have heard the freshest reading of this  ‘revolution’ from  a South African passenger of the Citylink bus on the Bulawayo- Harare route. Somewhere after Kadoma, we were engaged in a discussion of the state of the Zimbabwean roads. And my neighbor attributed the occasional potholes on the otherwise good two-lane road to the scandalous neglect by the entities in question. When I pointed out that in Ukraine our roads are in a much worse shape, she wasn’t surprised at all-“Well this is understandable since you had this military conflict a couple of years ago, like the one they have now in Lybia “. Yeah, we certainly need more video games out there.

Complex. com has published a chartof video games that enable a player to travel the world and fight the evil. And who could have thought that such places as Eastern Africa and the former Soviet Union are hit destinations. Someone from non-Western creatives should probably think up something more original. In the meantime, the Africans and Slavs are all going to stay in the virtual bomb shelter, occasionally throwing grenades out of it .

According to Jeune Afrique, the Ubisoft studio in Casablanca, Marocco has the only video game studio on the continent. Ukraine and Russia are doing slightly better. But we certainly need more of that kind of creative production facilities.

And we also need more substance to the nation branding campaigns. Consider the recent media rally prepared by the Western agencies for their respective audiences in the run-up to the UEFA 2012 championship that Ukraine co-hosts with Poland.

“Efforts include lobbying Brussels, paid TV news features, inserts in a major U.K. newspaper and opinion pieces galore.”, writes Viktor Tkachuk, chief executive of the People First Foundation. He continues, “Good PR is the result of achievement, not what you hope to achieve or worse still what you think the world might like to hear.” This same opinion was  expressed by Simon Anholt (founder of “Anholt Nation Brands Index”  a survey which provides rankings by brand value of several countries) during the recent workshop in Botswana commissioned by the government. Ukrainian government, though, seems to have difficulty hearing this principal. ” Around $150,000 was spent on an eight-page supplement in the U.K.’s Daily Telegraph. Even more was spent on sponsored features on CNN in January.”

Time to go back to the video games, boys and girls. I wonder where the bad guys are coming from this time.

You can write to Andy Kozlov on a.kozlov@steppesinsync.com

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