Game Changers: Youth Foster Tech Renaissance through Joy Hack Event

May 13 , 2023
By Bereket Balcha

Amid the hustle and bustle of Africa Avenue (Bole Road) in Addis Abeba, young tech enthusiasts gathered to participate in a unique and vibrant event: "The Joy Hack."

Organised by Innovation, Collaboration, Entrepreneurship Addis Plc (Iceaddis), the event aimed to bring together diverse talents to develop innovative computer games, from arcade-style and play stations to those played on PCs and mobile devices. Incorporated in 2011, Iceaddis Plc has evolved from a start-up incubator to a platform for nurturing and collaborating with young and talented individuals.

The Joy Hack, held on the last weekend of April, was designed as a 48-hour non-stop coding, designing, and problem-solving event, providing participants with the necessary resources, including Wi-Fi, free meals, and sleeping arrangements. As the event unfolded, the participants - a mix of university students and young professionals - engaged in an intense yet collaborative atmosphere filled with anticipation and excitement.

The hackathon began around 7:00pm on Friday, and the work would continue until 6:00pm on Sunday. The venue was buzzing with activities as participants worked on their laptops, discussed game ideas, and developed computer graphics for their game characters.

Game development is a complex process combining science and art, requiring developers to create compelling stories, exciting characters, and impressive visuals. At The Joy Hack, participants enthusiastically tackled this challenge, eager to share their progress and learn from one another.

One of these was Kalab Dita, a 21-year-old computer science student at Harambee University. Kalab was working on a game set in a post-apocalyptic Addis Abeba.

A mutated virus escaped a research facility in his game, turning the city's population into dangerous, zombie-like creatures. Players control a retired marine who must navigate the treacherous streets, eliminate the mutants, and find a vaccine to reverse the mutation and restore normalcy.

Another participant, Alazar Ashebir, a 21-year-old student at HilCoE School of Computer Science and Technology. He was developing a game based on the historic Battle of Adwa, a momentous clash between Ethiopia and Italy. His game aimed to provide a balanced perspective, allowing players to experience the battle from Ethiopian and Italian viewpoints, although the historical outcome remains unchanged.

Like Kalab, Alazar grappled with numerous technical challenges while developing his game, showcasing the incredible talent and dedication required to excel in this field.

Throughout the weekend, participants took breaks to enjoy arcade games and engage in friendly competition. The lively atmosphere was reminiscent of the creative environments fostered by leading tech companies such as Google, which encourage fun and collaboration as drivers of innovation.

The Joy Hack competition was divided into two categories.

The first focused on developing a game prescribed by the organizers, with participants working in teams of programmers and graphic designers. These participants were predominantly experienced game developers in their mid-twenties.

The second category, "jammers," allowed participants to use prefabricated online assets to develop new games. This group mainly consisted of younger talents aged 18-21, some of whom were trying their hand at game development for the first time.

As the event drew to a close on Sunday, the participants, despite their visible fatigue, expressed gratitude for the opportunity to learn, have fun, and connect with like-minded individuals. The rare event was a testament to the attendees' creativity, technical prowess, and collaboration throughout the weekend. With a shared sense of accomplishment, they expressed their appreciation for the knowledge exchange, fun, and camaraderie that The Joy Hack provided.

The young game developers who participated in The Joy Hack have immense potential. As Dagmawi Bedlu, a 36-year-old IT specialist and the main moderator of the event, remarked, the future is up for grabs, and the capabilities of these talented individuals could very well shape Ethiopia's tech industry and contribute to its development.

The Joy Hack showcased some of the best games developed by young Ethiopians, highlighting their immense potential and ingenuity.

The event also served as a source of inspiration for younger generations. Among the attendees were the children of Abiy Balcha, owner of Nota Computers, a computer hardware importer and distributor. These children, Abigail, Samuel, Christian and Ananiel Abiy, aged 9-17, had previous experience with "Scratch," an online platform developed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) that offers free coding resources for children.

Witnessing the hackathon firsthand, they were captivated by the game development possibilities, highlighting the potential for such events to spark interest and enthusiasm among younger generations.

In a world where technology continues redefining our lives, The Joy Hack is a powerful reminder of the importance of nurturing the next generation of tech innovators. By providing opportunities for collaboration, learning, and growth, events like this can pave the way for a brighter and more prosperous future for Ethiopia and Africa.

Dagmawi saw the game development industry grow to surpass Hollywood and the music industry in revenue generation. Many of the world's wealthiest individuals, as featured on the Fortune 500 list, have made their fortunes through tech giants such as Amazon, Facebook, Google, and Twitter. Dagmawi's observations underscore the potential for game development and technology to drive economic growth in Ethiopia and across Africa.

By nurturing and supporting the talents of these young Ethiopian game developers, it may be possible to unlock a future in which technology can generate wealth and development on a scale that far surpasses the contributions of traditional industries like petroleum or other natural resources. As the participants of The Joy Hack have demonstrated, collaboration, rather than competition, is the key to success in this rapidly evolving industry.

Bereket Balcha works for the Ethiopian Airlines and can be reached at

PUBLISHED ON May 13,2023 [ VOL 24 , NO 1202]

Bereket Balcha works in the aviation industry and is passionate about fiction writing and can be reached at (

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