Game zone in Gura building around Cmc road.

Tamrat Abebe, the owner of Tamrat Abebe Car Rentals in Meqelle, Tigray Regional State, comes to the capital every other week with his two daughters.

While he stays in the city, he has made a habit of taking his daughters to one of the entertainment malls in the capital, GAST Entertainment Mall, located in Bole District in CMC near St. Michael Church.

His eldest girl enjoys the games at the mall, according to Tamrat, who pays at least 700 Br for a day outing at the mall.

"I believe the game is developing her mind, and she is happy to be here,” said Tamrat, referring to his four-year-old daughter.

GAST opened its doors on March 7, 2019, with various game zone levels to attract kids, teenagers and adults. It offers general and VIP sections, which both house gyms, spas, massage parlors, Moroccan steam baths and hair salon that caters to adults and carries an annual membership fee.

The mall was built targeting families who come to play together and to entertain them as a group, according to Dawit Teklehaymanot, general manager of GAST.

It is equipped with four cinemas: two gold-class cinemas that serve 18 and 16 people each; and two Dolby Atmos cinemas that offer a 3D experience for crowds of more than 200 each.

The mall also offers grown-up games including laser tag, wall climbing, an escape room and an infinity mirror maze. All the games are played using tokens that cost between 10 Br to 150 Br.

GAST is the only game zone in the capital that has 12-storeys almost entirely devoted to gaming. The ground level of the building is occupied by cafes and other retail stores.

Refurbished at a cost of 600 million Br including construction, finishing and equipment, approximately 400 to 800 visitors come to the mall each day to play games, watch movies, visit the hair salons and to use the gyms, according to Dawit. The gaming consoles were imported from Thailand, China, the United States and Dubai.

Gaming centres are becoming increasingly popular for families living in Addis Abeba, especially during the holidays and weekends, providing fun and entertainment.

Game zone in Gura building around Cmc road.

These game and entertainment centres, which are now widespread in the city, have become part of modern life. Lifestyles are changing as disposable incomes have increased and people have been able to spend more on entertainment.

At a national level, gross disposable income, which is an indicator of a country's living standards, was 1.95 billion Br in 2016/17 fiscal year, according to data from the National Bank of Ethiopia.

Century Mall is another establishment with a game zone that has devoted an entire floor, the fifth floor, to this form of entertainment. The mall, located in CMC near Gurd Shola, has been in operation for the past two years.

The mall hosts multiple shopping centres, and the game zone is just one component that occupies nearly 1,600Sqm and remains free of alcohol and tobacco.

The game zone is open for those who are three years and older and offers table tennis and basketball playing areas. Each game requires one token that may cost between 20 Br to 90 Br.

Two weeks ago, Elizabeth Tesfaye, the owner of Little Stars Daycare in Johannesburg, South Africa, was at Century Mall with her six-year-old twin children.

“Game zones help their mental and physical fitness and is good for their creativity,” Elizabeth told Fortune.

Elizabeth was surprised to find the latest games installed at the mall but recommends that the management of the mall add some features.

"It will be good if they add water slides, parks and large play areas," she said.

Elizabeth paid nearly 300 Br to play different games using 20 Br tokens. Comparing Century Mall with Johannesburg, she claims it is much cheaper to play games in Addis.

Though the trend is growing fast, dedicated game zones are not new in the capital. Edna Mall, located in front of Bole Medhanialem Church on Cameroon Street, is a pioneer.

Game zone in Gura building around Cmc road.

Established by the well-known grade one contractor, Tekleberhan Ambaye, the mall was opened in 2008. It has a 7D cinema and Bob & Bongos games purchased from Middle Eastern supply companies at costs ranging from 70,000 to 120,000 dollars each.

The game zone reopened in June 2014 after an expansion process that added several machines.

In addition to the game zone, Edna Mall offers different services such as regular birthday celebration packages that may cost up to 8,000 Br; golden packages for 10,000 Br; and additional school packages special games, movies and entertainment packages.

There are discounts given for governmental and NGO-related schools, according to Wubshet Abera, assistant marketing manager at Edna Mall.

For grown-up entertainment, there is a 7D cinema simulator in a room that holds 12 seats with the latest technology in sound and special effects.

Customers obtain tokens to play the games, which cost six Birr for each game. The playgrounds work with tickets, which have the same values as the tokens.

There is a ticket prize for those who get high scores, so that they can take prizes based on the number of tickets they won.

The game centre has 100 gaming machines and is visited by 4,000 to 5,000 customers each day, claims Eyasu Kiros, the general manager of the centre.

Fitsum Ergo, who works and lives in Tanzania as an engineer, is just one customer of Edna Mall. Last week he was there with his three kids.

When the family comes to Ethiopia, the first choice of the children is Edna Mall, according to Fitsum.

“My children love the game zone, and they have been coming here once a year or every two years," he said.

Unlike other families, Fitsum does not believe that the games will develop the minds of the children.

"While it doesn’t give them any additional knowledge or doesn't develop their creativity, it may stimulate their minds and keep them entertained,” said Fitsum.

Just in front of Edna Mall, there is another game zone - Medhanialem Mall. The mall has over 100 games along with pool tables and table tennis playing areas. It also offers packages for school and birthday celebrations.

The adult and teenager games occupy the fourth floor, while the ground floor is devoted to kids’ entertainment.

The game zone covers a large open area that feels free and airy to the players. The play tokens are priced at seven Br each, and a game may take three to four tokens.

A simulator car driving game costs 25 Br a person, while a 9D cinema, a feature that is only available at this location, costs 90 Br to entertain.

Mantu Ashene, a mechanical engineer from Canada, Montreal, who arrived in Ethiopia about a month ago with his two kids, ages three and four, was at the mall last week.

Mantu spends 300 Br for different games at six Birr a token at the mall, which is also geared for teenagers and adults and hosts the latest game machines.

Psychologist and counselor Seble Hailu explains that children’s communication language is game playing, so an expanded game zone may be necessary for children to develop their creativity, imagination and their simulation.

But she also believes that these games hurt children when they spend too much time playing them, and their interactions with their friends and families can suffer. Additionally, it can turn into an addiction, their education can suffer, it can reduce their participation in physical exercise.

If children go to game zones for entertainment once a week after school and study times, and they spend their time balanced between entertainment and responsible work, there is no harm, according to Seble.

“Families must keep their children’s play and entertainment times balanced and constantly monitor their activities,” Seble added.

PUBLISHED ON May 18,2019 [ VOL 20 , NO 994]

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