Monday, July 27, 2020

How COVID-19 devastated African Safari industry

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Charvi Trivedi

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How COVID-19 devastated African Safari industry

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Global Views 360

Publication Date

July 27, 2020

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African Safari | Source: Sneha via Unsplash

With COVID-19 wrecking the economies of superpowers like the US and China, Africa is no exception. The continent of Africa is bestowed with rich biodiversity which attracts millions of tourists every year. But due to the pandemic, the safari industry of Africa is in a freefall.

The countries which are visited more often by the international tourists for their remarkable safari experiences include Botswana, Kenya, Namibia, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia. These contribute more than 12 billion US dollars to the economy, according to the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO).

The tourism industry is one of the most impacted economic sectors due to lockdowns being imposed all over the world. The magnitude of loss came into light when Safaribookings.com, a website for booking safari tours in Africa, ran its fourth monthly survey. The bookings this year declined by a massive 75%. “We don’t have bookings, and we don’t have money to pay salaries for staff, office rental etc. Things are really bad” says a Kenyan safari vehicle operator. Thousands of the people depending on services related to industry lost the livelihood due to this downturn..

Khimbini Hlongwane, the proprietor of a small tour business in Kruger National Park of South Africa, is devastated as he had invested all his savings to purchase a new minibus for his visitors. “It hasn’t moved since the day we bought it,” he says.  Leon Plutsick, who owns a lodge in Manyeleti private game reserve adjacent to the Kruger National Park says that he is barely surviving on the remaining meagre reserves. What used to be a lodge packed with tourists, is now replaced by Baboons. A tour guide and father of four, Sipho Nkosi, who earns a decent amount of 550 rand per tour, finds himself and his family in troubled waters. “We’d saved some money. But it's running out, so we’ll start starving” he says.

Not only the local communities but also the prolific wildlife of Africa is bearing the brunt of the pandemic. Tourist funds play a key role in conservation projects. Jackson Looseyia, a conservationist and lodge owner at Maasai Mara says, “In conservation terms, it is a crisis. We have no money coming in whatsoever, and the future is so bleak”.

Many of the families dependent on ecotourism see no option but to turn towards poaching as a means of survival. This further poses a threat to the species. Dickson Kaelo, CEO of Kenya Wildlife Conservancies Association says, “Due to the high rates of unemployment, commercial bushmeat has become rampant in some areas. Recently there were even cases of giraffes killed for commercial purposes”. At least six black rhinos, who might face extinction soon, were killed by poachers in Okavango Delta, Botswana, in the month of March. Efforts are being taken to evacuate the remaining rhinos and shift them to safer places.

The Tourism Business Council of South Africa is urging the government to reopen the national parks and sanctuaries for the public, latest by September. However, the South African government states that the tourism industry is not likely to reopen before 2021.

Kenya, Namibia and Rwanda are not open for tourists. Zambia is permitting tourists but with an obligatory two-week quarantine. Tanzania has imposed no such requirements. However, tourists will think twice before going on any international trips as we have not yet won the fight against coronavirus.

All this has left the people associated with the ecotourism sector in Africa in a dark tunnel with seemingly no end at the moment.

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January 18, 2021 2:21 PM

The Toxicity in Video Games and Cyberpunk 2077

Cyberpunk 2077, the most awaited video game was released on consoles and PC on 10th of December, 2020. The game went under 10 years of build-up and had kept gamers waiting for over 8 years. Cyberpunk 2077 is inspired by a cult-favourite tabletop roleplaying game. The video game was designed by well-known Polish studio, CD Projekt Red. Cyberpunk was the studio’s first big console game since The Witcher 3: Wild hunt which was an extraordinarily triumphant game that won numerous awards after its launch in 2015.

The popular video game, when released, faced backlash from the gaming community and non-gamers for several reasons. To many observers and gamers, Cyberpunk 2077 even proved to be an absolute failure. Several gamers called out the game developers for the promotion of sexiest ideologies and transphobia. However, the reviews weren’t well received by the fans. Cyberpunk 2077 fans responded with unacceptable abuses, harrasing and hateful messages and even rape and death threats.

Keanu Reeves in Cyberpunk 2077

Cyberpunk 2077 released ample previews, trailers, motion pictures and marketing material. Aside from this, the appearence of popular Canadian actor, Keanu Reeves as a character in the game carved the expectations of gamers and promised a sexy and kinky world of futuristic and revolutionary action. CD Projekt Red, one of Europe’s most successful video game company announced Cyberpunk 2077 project in 2012 and released the first trailer in 2013

The game is set in an alternate timeline in the city of California. The streets in the game are owned by tyrannical corporations. Everyone in the game modifies their body with illegal technology. Much of the state in the video game setting is said to be suffering from the impacts of a major nuclear attack which happened years ago. Every player gets to be a cyber-enhanced human who has to fight against physical and psychological threats to their survival. The game character of Keanu Reeves comes in as your sidekick.

In 2018, the developers insisted and had assured the gamers that Cyberpunk 2077 would not include in game purchases. CD Projekt Red did not want to lock any content behind a paywall. The studio was also insistent that the game would come out only when it was completely “ready”. They announced that the release would take place in April 2020 but it was delayed multiple times due to the COVID-19 pandemic as well as other quality problems that the game was facing. When it was finally released in December 2020, gamers expected their experience of the game to be “worth the wait”. However, the video game wasn’t well revived by all. In spite of several months of work that went into making and developing the game, the game was launched with several technical issues. Players on both PC and consoles were having terrible experiences. As a result of multiple glitches and technical problems, the characters’ faces were obscured and the game would reset randomly. Some of the environments or areas of the game map was unappealing. The game even caused consoles to crash repeatedly and sometimes sacrificed players’ progress. One glitch led to characters’ breasts and penises being exposed. The characters’ genitals would poke out of their clothes. CD Projeckt Red offered refunds to players who were disappointed with the product. In fact, they updated a self-review discouraging gamers from playing the game on console until the game was fixed and improved.

Cyberpunk 2077 was roundly criticized by reviewers, game designers, industry insiders and other gamers across the gaming community. The wait and hype for the game had already created a fanbase which turned toxic by harassing reviewers who criticised the game.

There is another reason why the game wasn’t well received. Cyberpunk 2077 transphobia was apparent in the game contradicting the fact that the developers had claimed that the game was ahead of its time. The game has an incredibly detailed character creation menu. The players can control several aspects of their character’s appearance including the shapes and size of the genitals. The game even allows players to decline the option of including genitals to their characters. However, this isn’t the problem and is in fact appreciable. The idea of not determining gender by the character’s genitals in fact made many trans players happy. But this soon turned into disbelief and disappointment. The gamers realised that the game actually assigned the gender to the characters not based on their genitals but rather by the voice. Characters with higher-pitched voices were identified as females and characters with deep-voiced characters were assigned male pronouns. This purports the toxic idea that people’s gender can be determined by certain traits. A non-sexist video game would determine the gender of a player’s character based on an independent choice made by players themselves. This is uninfluenced by other physical traits or qualities.

Several reviewers called out Cyberpunk 2077 for promoting sexist ideologies. Unfortunately, toxic fans harassed the reviewers. “You just KNOW when you're going to get harassed. If the game with all the hype has anything wrong with it, and you're honest about that, or even just want to provide any context outside of ‘it's fun’, you're going to get harassed. It's a given.” These were precisely what Susan Arendt, a podcast host quoted. She even second guessed herself whether sharing her true opinions was worth the hateful, threatening and harassing messages that she received.

Controversial Tweet by Cyberpunk 2077 Twitter Handle

In the early days of arcade, gaming was a family activity. The popular male dominance and stereotype that only boys or men are good at video games were perpetuated in the past three decades. We observe this change due to sexualisation of video games. Today, most video games aren’t family friendly as they include explicit and sexual content. This, in fact, is a marketing tactic used by developers to target the male population. In 2018, a Cyberpunk 2077 fan who was awaiting the game at that point of time tweeted that the user wanted to see more from the “guys” at CDPR. In response to this tweet, CD Projekt Red tweeted, “Did you just assume their gender?!”. On the look of it, the tweet seems innocent but it is a joke at the expense of the trans community. After receiving backlash to the tweet, CDPR took it down and issued an apology staying sorry to “all those offended”. The apology seems like another targeted mockery and CDPR did no right by not taking responsibility for its actions.

Not only is Cyberpunk2077 transphobic and sexist, it is non user friendly as well. The game has several epilepsy triggers without any warnings about it. There are several instances and situations in the game where the effects and the graphics are brighter, louder and flashing. This is a general trigger for seizures. Liana Rupert, a player of Cyberpunk 2077 suffered a major seizure and at several moments felt that she was close to another one. After bringing this to the notice of CD Projekt Red, the company agreed to add trigger warnings wherever necessary.  

The gaming industry has definitely taken a few steps forward in terms of inclusivity of all genders but has also taken a few steps backward. While all genders are welcome, they still face harassment and judgement for simply existing in the community and need a lot more improvement.

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