Game Changer: How Skateistan is inviting online gamers to play skateboarding games to help kids in South Africa and around the world
Skateistan, a non-profit organization that runs skateboarding and arts-based programs for kids living in underprivileged and vulnerable societies worldwide, has created a unique gamer-focused fundraising project called ‘Play for Skateistan’. Gamers can choose to skate three characters, Natalia from Johannesburg, Arun from Cambodia and Sara from Afghanistan, while at the same time helping to raise funds for Skateistan. Plus a Q&A with Heitor Buchalla, one of the game’s originators at the end of the article.
Words and Images courtesy Heitor Buchalla/Skateistan.
Conflicts and crises all over the world are excluding a generation from safe spaces, positive role models and sports. Girls are especially affected. That’s where Skateistan steps in. But unsafe conditions make it harder and harder for the NGO to operate. They need support to keep providing programmess and a safe space for these kids.
So Skateistan brought their cause to a place anyone can learn about their stories and help their fellow skaters – the gaming world. Together with the online skateboard gaming modding community, three playable characters were developed based on real Skateistan students and their backstories.
“Skateistan is all about the empowerment & education of young people. Just as our students show us how to make our programs better, the next generation can show us how to tell the story of Skateistan and its impact in more exciting and interactive ways.” – Oisin Tammas, Skateistan.
Gamers can equip the characters with unique skateboard deck designs portraying messages of empowerment. Additionally, playable replicas of their hometown skate parks are available for download, including the Skateistan Skate School in Jozi.
These are currently only available on Skater XL, with mods for the games Session and True Skate to follow soon.
The mods are made available to the gaming community on playforskateistan.com, where gamers cannot only download to play with them, but also donate to support Skateistan. The more people who skate with the students’ characters in-game, the more these children will be able to skate in reality – thanks to the donations raised.
The campaign was launched on April 6, United Nations’ International Day of Sport for Development and Peace, with the support of the biggest skateboard gaming streamers like JL_Nightmare and Milky and real pro skaters, such as Nyimas Bunga Cinta and Walker Ryan.
The mods are made available to the gaming community on playforskateistan.com, where gamers cannot only download to play with them, but also donate to support Skateistan.
The more people who skate with the students’ characters in-game, the more these children will be able to skate in reality – thanks to the donations raised. However, the campaign serves another purpose: to foster a sense of community among at-risk children worldwide, including those outside of Skateistan’s operating countries. The aim is to help them to feel represented and make them a part of the global skateboarding community.
“Skateistan is all about the empowerment & education of young people,” said Oisin Tammas of Skateistan. “Just as our students show us how to make our programs better, the next generation can show us how to tell the story of Skateistan and its impact in more exciting and interactive ways. This project does just this: engaging a new, young audience with Skateistan and its students, in new (virtual) realities. This is a game-changer for the social skate world.”
For more info go to:
Check out their videos on YouTube
– Promo clip
– Skateboarding games streamer JL_Nightmare (Jesse LaCroix) plays PlayforSkateistan
– Skateboarding games streamer itspigeonthief (Adam McCullough) plays PlayforSkateistan
Q&A With Heitor Buchalla, one of the originators of Play For Skateistan:
How did Play for Skateistan come into being? Whose idea was it and what role did you play in making it happen? Who else was involved?
I work as a Creative Director at DDB Berlin, Germany. Back in 2021, I was reading an article about the situation in Afghanistan and it reminded me of Skateistan, an NGO of which I’ve been a big fan for a long time and I knew was active there. I did some research and ended up discovering they had to find new ways of working after the country’s political transformation. They were searching for new ways of keeping their mission rolling. Also, the Covid-19 and other crises happening in the next year of 2022 were challenging their work in loco. Me and my creative partner working at DDB at the moment, kept that information on the back of our heads, and some months later, we had a spark while having a conversation – “If things are challenging or dangerous for Skateistan and the kids on the real world, why don’t we take them somewhere they can keep running digitally, while presenting them to a whole new generation of young supporters?”. It was clear we needed to take Skateistan to the gaming world. We contacted the Skateistan comms team, based in Berlin, and started this amazing journey and built a great partnership to bring this project together.
Together with the team at DDB and Futura FTW, a Slovenian agency specialised in gaming, we started to research, and to find ways of bringing this project to life. It took us almost a year and a half of researching, finding the right leads, talking to a lot of skateboarding gaming streamers, digging into the community, until we were finally able to make a plan to bring it to life. We collaborated with gaming modders – which are basically gamers who know how to modify files, appearances, maps, characters and other elements – to make their gaming experience better, who got super excited with the project and ended up helping us to create three parks and the characters.
We partnered also with a 3D artist, who created the characters from scratch, based on the students likenesses and attributes. And finally, invited artists from Brazil, Portugal, Lithuania, Germany, Cambodia, and other places of the world, to design in-game skate decks with messages of hope and empowerment. More than 17 amazing humans from the gaming community collaborated on the parks/characters in some way (helping with modelling, textures, playtesting, just giving some advice or bug fixing overall).
Tell us a bit more about the South African part of it and Skateistan’s skate school in Johannesburg?
From the core information we received from Skateistan, extreme economic inequality within the city of Johannesburg exposes young people from low-income backgrounds to social risks such as a lack of a quality education, violence and social isolation. Limited access to recreational facilities and quality education can also undermine children’s ability and desire to learn.
“We really saw the opportunity of introducing Skateistan to a whole new generation of supporters, exactly where they are and in their comfort-zone, the gaming world. Skateistan needs to find new, engaging and exciting ways to tell their and the student’s stories, therefore, the gaming world is the perfect platform to combine entertainment with support. ” – Heitor Buchalla.
That’s why Skateistan has been active in the disadvantaged inner city of Johannesburg since early 2014, when they started running Outreach sessions in a previously abandoned skate bowl at a park in the neighborhood of Troyeville. In August 2016, they officially opened their fourth Skate School, located in downtown Johannesburg. The Skate School includes a state-of-the-art concrete skatepark and three-story education center, with flexible office and classroom space. Programs run five days a week in the afternoon for children to attend after they have been to public school. Girls-only sessions address the gender divide and give girls an equal opportunity to join in.
This is a great concept, where do you see it expanding to?
We really saw the opportunity of introducing Skateistan to a whole new generation of supporters, exactly where they are and in their comfort-zone, the gaming world. Skateistan needs to find new, engaging and exciting ways to tell their and the student’s stories, therefore, the gaming world is the perfect platform to combine entertainment with support. We definitely see the skateparks and the characters being taken to other skateboarding games and franchises, possibily not anymore as mods, but hopefully as already in-game features, to allow more and more gamers worldwide to get to know Skateistan, the project, the kids and actively help while they’re doing what they love most: gaming.
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