Klik hier voor Nederlandse vertaling: Bevorderen van diversiteit: Studenten Lab gebruikt VR-game om de schoonheid van Afrika te tonen

Last Thursday, XR Lab’s students presented their latest VR game prototype to Ubuntopia, the client. Perhaps the first of its kind, it is a unique opportunity to introduce others, especially children, to the African continent in a completely different way. How can African storytelling benefit from Virtual Reality (VR) gaming?

XR lab is a hybrid student learning environment based in Media Park in Hilversum. They carry out research on new media technologies and experiences through experiments and the development of prototypes. According to the students: “the conversations with Ubuntopia showed strongly how important the authenticity of the stories is. So, we really had to do justice to the story.” A difficult undertaking, especially for a team of young students who have never been to Africa.

VR Game about Ethiopia
The prototype is based on Ubuntopia’s upcoming book and focuses on the country Ethiopia and its ancient legend about a unicorn. In the game, the player flies on the back of the unicorn along the Blue Nile in Ethiopia, which is the beginning of the longest river in Africa. You’ll also fly past the 18th Century UNESCO World Heritage site Gondar, where an emperor built some fairy tale castles.

Before the start of the project, and during the project, the students were given the opportunity to learn more about the legend of the unicorn and the Ethiopian locations in the VR game. They also worked closely with the book’s illustrator, Rwandan-born Jean Claude, and the Ubuntopia team.

While playing the game, the player gets the feeling that projects like this are taking African storytelling to the next level. In particular, if you have never been to Ethiopia, you will realise why some people call this country the backpackers’ paradise. This is enormous proof of the potential that virtual reality has to offer.

Diversity and Edutainment
“We use the edutainment method,” says Leontine van Hooft, the writer of the book and initiator of the brand Ubuntopia. Leontine, who has a strong connection the African continent, defines edutainment as a process through which you learn through play. “It’s certainly an effective way to reach today’s generation,” she adds.

This project contributes to Ubuntopia’s goal of positioning African culture (which is also largely represented in the Netherlands) in a positive light, promoting diversity and preserving old stories. The brand uses, (comic) books, theatre, games, films, series and the creation of immersive attractions to achieve its goal.

According to Leontine, “when looking at ways to tackle racism and promote diversity in our society, it’s important to also approach the subject from a positive way. At Ubuntopia, we do that by countering the negative perceptions of ‘other’ cultures like Africa. We show that Africa can also be beautiful and we use modern ways, like VR, to inspire children to connect with these cultures and environments.”

Balla and the Secret of the Source Part 2

Positive image of Africa
The mission to creating a positive image of Africa can also be seen in Ubuntopia’s children’s book series called ‘The Chronicles of Ubuntopia’. The hardcover book collection currently consists of the books: Balla and the Forest of Legends (published in 2019) and the upcoming book Balla and the Secret of the Source, from which the VR game is developed. The books contain old legends in the form of realism-style comics, an overarching storyline and background information.

After the student team handed over the VR game, the day was festively concluded with a treat to traditional Ethiopian food: Injera (a sort of pancake) and a variety of stews. It was the perfect way, to end 6 weeks of a challenging, yet rewarding project that tackles diversity in a unique way.

And what other plans does Ubuntopia have for the future: “we want to further develop this prototype to a game featuring other African countries so that all children in the Netherlands can learn more about the Africa,” says Leontine.

Written by Mavis Akinyi

XR lab