A common theme when thinking about electronic games is escapism. In the real world striving to be an infallible hero who can slay dragons by day and craft potions and weapons by night, requires too narrow a skill set to be practical. But when our little avatar is running around in some fictional universe, it’s nice to just bask in their accomplishments. But sometimes a fantasy can include dealing with a real-world circumstance in a way that is cathartic for the player. Two games with Black women-led development teams mine the mundane for truly relatable fun.
First up is Hair Nah, a web-based game created by Momo Pixel, a prolific artist and art director who gathered a small team of developers to make an incredibly topical game. Hair Nah is rooted in the frustrating reality of people thinking it’s ok to touch Black women’s hair without permission. Gameplay is straightforward. The player controls Aeva, a globetrotting Black woman who is tired of people invading her personal space. The object of the game is to quickly swat away all the grabby hands coming at her dome while she’s en route to her next vacation spot. Brilliant!
The levels are broken down into different aspects of the trip, from the taxi to the airport to the security line to the flight itself. You know you’ve made a successful block when you hear the rich slapping sound effect. Right now there are 3 destinations, Havana, Santa Monica, and Osaka. Hopefully, as this title grows, the team will add more destinations, playing modes, hairstyles, and music. The game has enjoyed a robust press cycle, being reported on by everyone from Polygon to Cosmopolitan South Africa, so here’s hoping this game can get full app support because, as I was having frenzied fun on my Mac, I overshot a hand and wound up clicking out of the game altogether, and I was on the last level! Thankfully, Momo Pixel is now on my radar so I look forward to seeing what else she has up her creative sleeve.
Another game deeply rooted in reality is Break Up Squad. This game comes from Brooklyn Gamery founded by Catt Small, Chris Algoo, and Dennis Liaw. It’s such a fun concept and extremely social as you need 5 people to play it. It’s a party game that is fittingly set at an actual party. Two exes with a tumultuous past are in attendance along with others from their friend group. The object of the game for those playing the two exes is to get together and rekindle what’s sure to be another round of foolishness. The other three players are the couple’s friends who are tired of their break up to make up mentality causing friction in the squad, so their objective is to keep them apart. Hilarious.
At the party, players have to frantically use their character abilities to repel and attract NPCs and shuffle the couple around in an effort to never allow them any alone time. What it turns into is a bunch of shouted commands and laughter. And really, isn’t that what party gaming is all about.
Break Up Squad and Hair Nah are part of a successful tradition that includes the seminal game series, The Sims. In The Sims, one of the highest grossing video games of all time, player characters need only answer a single Want Ad to secure gainful employment in their chosen field. Likewise, just keeping your drama llama friends from being alone together at a party can be considered a win, and using one’s quick samurai reflexes to loudly swat disrespectful hands doesn’t come with the fallout of being labeled “the angry Black woman.”
In a way, these games represent the most comforting kind of fantasy, real life, but way more rewarding and convenient. Give these Black woman led games a whirl. And keep an eye out for what they will create in the future. I know I will.
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