A paradise beach with palm trees and cayucos is polluted by plastic bottles, flip flops, tires and even masks, now that the pandemic is raging. But there is also a hand that offers to throw all that into a recycling bin, to clean it up and get the animals back to their natural habitat.
That's what the slingshot-style game "Clean my beach" is all about, created by the emerging Senegalese company Kayfo Games Studio and which puts players at the centre of the problem of beach pollution, bringing young and not so young people together in a playful way, a serious and relevant issue with the intention of raising awareness.
"It is a matter that concerns us all, especially when we see the state of beaches here in Senegal, it is something that strikes us every time we go to the beach," Frenchman Julien Herbin, founder of Kayfo Game Studio, told Efe.
Created in June 2019 in Dakar, Kayfo is a newcomer to the sector, and is looking to use the games to raise awareness of salient issues in what has previously largely been an entertainment business while also creating games of the highest quality to be able to compete with those produced abroad.
Its name comes from Wolof, the main local language in Senegal, and means “come and play”.
The games created at Kayfo are intended for smartphones and tablets, the most accessible devices for Senegalese people.
Since its creation, the company has released three games: Da’karapid, in which players race with Senegal’s iconic buses, Afro Juggle Challenge, a football game, and the latest, Clean My Beach.
“In general, the users of the video game are fairly young, but not exclusively. Here in Africa, the population is very young and we see the opportunity to raise awareness of environmental problems and challenges,” Herbin says.
In "Clean my beach", when the level is raised, new animals are unlocked and return to the beach, from conches, sea urchins and starfish to seagulls, turtles, dolphins and whales, among many others.
Another aspect of the game, available for both Android and iOS, is that items collected from the beach can be recycled into a machine and turned into a new one, giving the waste a second life.
"In Senegal, people throw waste everywhere, on the beaches, in the streets; we told ourselves that something had to be done, to open people's eyes, to raise collective awareness," says 29 year-old Efe Binta Dème, the only woman on the team and the only video game designer in Senegal, who joined Kayfo's team with the motivation of creating games that would reflect her.
Kayfo has developed the game to be distributed for free, using adverts to stay afloat and train the small team of seven people, who are all native Senegalese apart from the founder, who is the member of the group with any video game experience outside of Kayfo, having worked for 12 years at Ubisoft, one of the industry’s leading companies.
The only person with experience in videogames outside Kayfo is its founder, after twelve years working for Ubisoft, an important company in the sector that has produced games such as "Assassin's Creed" or "Far Cry".
The rest of the team, while hugely passionate for video games and qualified in general technical or artistic backgrounds, lack specific design training, as the industry in Senegal remains underdeveloped.
The reason is that the video game industry in Senegal is not developed, nor is it in West Africa, where there are only a few small studios often lacking in means.
“As far as I know, we are the only professional studio dedicated exclusively to video games (in Senegal). There are often some initiatives led by young students who have made good games and that deal with African issues, more specifically Senegalese”.
“But, in my opinion, these young people do not go too far due to the lack of resources, knowledge of the industry and the necessary time to invest in the project. If their projects were better guided, they would end up creating games comparable to those created in other places “, Herbin says.
The developer of Clean My Beach, Thierno Ndiaye, who studied programming at a private institution in the Senegalese capital, says “there are many young people (students) interested in video games, but they can’t find a way to practice or learn” in Senegal.
In addition, as a symbolic but also a declaration of intent Kayfo has partnered with Ecolibri Senegal, a socio-environmental association aiming to achieve clean, green and beautiful public places in the Senegalese capital by planting trees and agaves along its coastline.
Thanks to the partnership, Kayfo will plant a tree every month on behalf of the player with the highest score, something already done during the testing of the video game with a player who lives in Canada. The fact that the game is named in English is not random either, because Kayfo's intention is that it will achieve a global reach.
The pollution of beaches in some parts of the world is obviously a much bigger problem than in others," says Herbin, "but it's a global problem and, if we go further, we all share in the pollution of the ocean.