A Senegalese Indie Game Developer Turned a Street Kid into a Hero in This Game
Ousseynou Khadim Bèye wants to raise awareness of child begging in Dakar.
Players must ensure that Mamadou gets home safely without getting crushed by traffic. Image: Cross Dakar City
Remember Frogger? The retro arcade game from 1981 where players guided frogs home across roads while making sure they weren't squished by oncoming vehicles?
Ousseynou Khadim Bèye, a Senegalese indie games developer, has transposed that thinking onto a more socio-politically charged game.
Cross Dakar City, an app available for free on Android and iOS devices, features Mamadou, a Senegalese child beggar ("enfant talibé"), who is trying to cross the streets of Dakar in order to find his parents and return home. Mamadou has to avoid fast-moving vehicles, trains, bombs, and rivers during the six levels of the game.
"I wanted to make something that had a positive impact on Sénégal, and to reach the widest public as possible with this game and highlight the issue of child begging in Sénégal," Bèye told me over the phone.
"Players have to ensure that Mamadou crosses the streets of Dakar with their iconic local taxis safely. Many child beggars (enfants talibés), who are as young as seven, become accident victims, they are also subject to kidnappings and sexual abuse," he added.
Enfants talibés are affiliated with Quranic schools (daara) in Sénégal. Parents in economically dire straits often hand their male children over to these schools in order to secure them a better future. However, sometimes the Muslim religious leader (marabout) of these schools will send their young charges out to beg on the streets.
In 2005, Sénégal adopted a law outlawing this practice, but critics such as Bèye say that little has been done to enforce it. In 2010, Human Rights Watch, a non-profit organization estimated the number of enfants talibés in the country to be 50,000. Bèye wants the Sénégalese government to enforce the 2005 law more strictly and suggested that it would be better if daaras could be partnered with regular local schools that didn't send kids out to beg in the streets.
Bèye, currently working at an energy firm in France, started making the game last year while he was interning at game developer Ubisoft. Hailing from a computer science background and with a love of games, Bèye worked weeknights and weekends to get his first app made.
So far, Cross Dakar City has been downloaded close to 36,300 times, and has experienced a surge of popularity in Sénégal, with spatterings of interest in France, Italy, and the US. Bèye attributed the high levels of interest in the game from his country to the iconic Dakar landscapes with their mosques and local residents that players could probably relate to.
According to Bèye, there isn't much of a games or startup infrastructure in Sénégal yet. Though he wants to set up his own indie games development studio in Dakar in the near future, he acknowledged that for the time being he'll have to continue working in France.
"I really want to make Cross Dakar City in 3D animation next, and then go on to make games that incorporate African themes in the future. For example, Sénégalese wrestling is a lot more popular in the country than, say, football—so I want to make a game about that," said Bèye.
"Ultimately, I want to partner with non-profit organizations and make more games on themes like solar energy and deforestation that make people more aware of how these issues are affecting communities in Africa," he added.
Bootstrapped is a column exploring how people facing socio-economic and political challenges are leveraging technology to launch projects aimed at tackling social issues.