Regina Kgatle grew up in her parents’ game arcade in South Africa. The first born, she was tasked with figuring out the tricks to clocking new games and then showing the other kids how to play them. Later, as an engineer, the time she spent watching children playing games instead of hitting their schoolbooks became the inspiration to start Educade, her business which is¬†bringing educational games on custom built arcade machines to under-served school children. More recently she launched 67games, an ongoing call to game developers for open source games that focus on the primary school curriculum – specifically on lessons that learners find difficult to grasp – and important social concepts and life skills suggested by non-profit organisations and LGTBI groups. Thanks to the power of the internet, and Regina’s irrepressible energy, game jams have been held in Berlin, Lusaka and Paris where game developers and designers meet to create new games for the 67games collection. Today, for Mandela Day, these games are being played at a pop-up game party at Kannemeyer Primary in Grassy Park, Cape Town, before they’ll be taken to other schools and children’s hospitals.
Regina says, “We don‚Äôt only look at the primary school curriculum, we look at how we can complement it. Things that are missing: like sexual awareness, consent, things that are really important like how to avoid getting into gangsterism.”¬†Her game, There‚Äôs a monster for everyone,¬†addresses different sexualities. In the game there are monsters of various colours, shapes and numbers of eyes. Each has a thought bubble and in it they‚Äôre thinking about another monster. Regina explains, “A monster who is green and has two eyes can like other monsters who are green and have two eyes which represents girls who like girls or guys who like guys.” The love interests can either reject or accept the advances of the player’s monster. Regina says, “When I asked kids what they learnt afterwards, they had learned about consent somehow. They‚Äôd say, ‚Äúsome monsters don‚Äôt like me so I go to the monsters that like me.‚Äù And I‚Äôm like, “Yes! You got it!””
Regina is infinitely inspiring – which a shout out from Sheryl Sandberg can attest to. She spoke with Casimir last week to let us know what it’s been like to follow her life’s calling and how she is using arcade games to obliterate stereotypes, while keeping the focus on fun.
“Why do you feel like you can make things that change people‚Äôs lives? Who do you think you are?”
Letting kids be kids
Growing up at the arcade, we had parents complaining saying, ‚ÄúIf you see my kid here, just give them 2 hours, and then tell them to go home.‚Äù But kids are so clever, they have ways to come back to the arcade: changing their t-shirts, wearing ispoti (a hat). They will do anything to keep on playing!¬†For most of my life I‚Äôve been around arcades. I would say I understand how kids play.¬†I‚Äôve always tried to hide the content in the games.¬†So they’re doing maths without knowing it or they‚Äôre getting concepts that are very fundamental.
The environment around arcades is very interesting. You have an audience who can also get lessons from the games. There‚Äôll be one person playing, maybe two, and you‚Äôll have six to ten kids just watching. So I‚Äôm conscious that there is not just one person who is learning, the person who is observing should to some extent be entertained.
Almost all these kids are stressed in some way: they‚Äôre surrounded by alcohol abuse, drug addiction. I feel like games are more than just a medium for entertainment. They can be used for therapy, for exercise, psychologically they can be used as a relief from certain spaces.
She‚Äôs a black girl slaying math – she‚Äôs a black girl who is slaying math, and she has short hair.
I feel like I have something different to contribute to the gaming industry as a whole. Some of the games I‚Äôve made are explicitly African. I have a game I‚Äôve made that I‚Äôve called King Luki on Math: it‚Äôs about a black girl who is trying to navigate the forest. It‚Äôs very important for kids to see themselves in games, there‚Äôs something that happens if you‚Äôre in spaces and you can‚Äôt recognise yourself. I was at UCT through Rhodes Must Fall and Fees Must Fall. I‚Äôm not the kind of person who is not confident in their work, but there is this silent thing that happens when you get to a space like UCT and you ask yourself: Why is every black woman a cleaner? During my engineering degree, why was every one of my lecturers a white man? In games, why is nobody looking like me? I feel like it‚Äôs deeply, deeply psychological to always interact with people in power who don‚Äôt look like you. Every time you see a woman in a game it‚Äôs objectifying her. So with King Luki on Math, she‚Äôs a black girl slaying math – she‚Äôs a black girl who is slaying math, and she has short hair.
I feel like it‚Äôs deeply, deeply psychological to always interact with people in power who don‚Äôt look like you.
I‚Äôm playing this game right now on Playstation and I can‚Äôt really figure it out so my person keeps falling and dying. And it happens over and over. I don‚Äôt think that‚Äôs fun. I think lets give people non-violent options and see how they react. There are good games with no violence in them that people love – Pac-Man is a classic, so is Super Mario.
A good game is…
It has to be short. Especially for the arcade experience. It has to have levels, kids must be able to see how they progress. Sound also makes a very important impact. And hidden tricks: like if you spin a joystick and press two buttons at the same time, could it release fire?
All the things that have happened in my life, they align, properly! I wanted to practise as an engineer but there was also this feeling that I didn‚Äôt know how I would do it because I‚Äôve always seen mom and dad wake up and answer to themselves. I didn‚Äôt see how I was going to make an actual impact in the engineering industry. I know I‚Äôd have been able to do an app for a big company maybe but it was difficult because I felt like I would not be building for the kind of community that I‚Äôm from.¬†A lot of my friends practising engineering say it‚Äôs for the money, that they need to pay rent. But I‚Äôm paying rent!¬†Sometimes I feel so overwhelmed but I always find that if I identify a problem and I’m equipped to fix it then I should do it.¬†I read a lot, and I’ve read a lot about god complexes and I feel like, “Hmm, Reg, you definitely have god complexities! Why do you feel like you can make things that change people‚Äôs lives? Who do you think you are?”¬†I have Kanye moments in my head, but I don‚Äôt go to Twitter!
Figuring it out, together
It‚Äôs so rewarding to do things on your own. It’s self empowering to know you can teach yourself things. The internet is huge for that now. I‚Äôm always googling and asking questions online to teach myself things. You just ask questions on a forum, “Hey, I‚Äôm stuck with this. Can you help?” I think the reason I can do this is because I‚Äôm not ashamed to ask for help. I feel like people are always willing to help you if you help yourself. I ask for help a lot but I always make sure that I‚Äôve put everything that I can into it first, that I‚Äôve done my part. In the tech space, a lot of people don‚Äôt want to ask. I‚Äôm not trying to be the smartest person in the room. You should always ask questions because someone may know something you don‚Äôt. I don’t think people do that enough. Which is why I‚Äôm excited about collaboration and open source because I think it opens the door for this.
Regina Kgatle is¬†an engineer, innovator and entrepreneur who founded the educational games organisation Educade and the¬†67games initiative. Visit the website to find out how you can help. Buy tickets for the Back to School Game Party at Bandwidth Barn in Woodstock, Cape Town this Saturday.
This interview was condensed and edited.
Featured image by Jamie Dimitra Ashton