[This article was originally posted on Brain in the Box’s blog]
Admit it. When someone says “Italy” you think about pizza, The Renaissance, or something connected to the mafia. Hold on – isn’t everything in Italy connected to the mafia? If the tongue-in-cheek wasn’t obvious then here’s some clarity. Human beings subscribe to stereotypes. We all do it. Yes, even you.
Now, when we say Italy, we’re thinking about home of indie game development studio Brain In The Box. When we say indie game development, we’re talking about delivering an immersive experience of interactive entertainment. When we say interactive entertainment, we’re talking about freedom of creative expression through game mechanics and digital art.
We’ve received a good amount of flak about our upcoming video game, Voodoo. Indeed, some of our earliest supporters warned us: “I hope it doesn’t get slammed with the race card.”
In the end it was probably inevitable. What’s a team of white dudes doing making a video game about Africa? Don’t you know “voodoo” isn’t African? These are some of the most popular game critic FAQs.
However, before sharing half-hearted history lessons about the first humans, or trying to put responsibility for global warfare on video game developers (pretentious much?!), we’d like to put in our voice.
Voodoo is a spiritual belief that originated in West Africa and transcended belief systems found in the African Diaspora. The fact that it was popularized in the Caribbean and North America doesn’t mean that those regions own it any more legitimately than they owned the slaves who brought it with them.
We chose the term “Voodoo” simply because it’s a salute to Africans on the continent and in the diaspora, with rich diversity of culture and their own definitions of an African identity. These are elements we’d to like to provoke thoughts and discussions with through an immersive video game.
Voodoo is a video game.
Video games are born out of the imagination. They may be inspired by real world places or events, but for an overwhelming majority they are fictional. Voodoo is no different. It’s our fantasy recreation of the dawn of civilization. It’s also a multiplayer open-world survival game coming out on Steam.
We created Voodoo out of our imagination of a mythological time even before the African continent was invaded, carved up, and countries were given names by colonialists. It’s a fact some people can’t seem to get around. They expect that if you say the word “Africa” but you don’t name a country then you’re stereotyped. We operate beyond that box.
So yes, in this primal setting, players start the game stark naked with nothing but their wits. We didn’t intend to offend and/or belittle the critics who feel embarrassed by this. Voodoo is about using the environment or interaction with other players to acquire food, clothing, equipment, and lodging – survival. Our media guy is actually an Izimu of an African (from Bamenda, Cameroon) who we really wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of! (Cheers, Al!)
Just A Video Game About Africa
So what are we saying?
First of all, we’re not saying “who cares about stereotypes; this is just a videogame?” We are saying we’re fascinated by the sociocultural history of Africa, it’s breadth and depth, and we want to make our contribution to bring it to the spotlight. As creators, it’s truly fresh territory for us and we’re thrilled to take it on.
We opened a call-for-submissions several weeks ago calling on anybody with relevant knowledge and expertise to share interesting ideas on making Voodoo more historically accurate. Historical accuracy isn’t actually a priority for us; we just don’t want to miss important details that could botch the concept or make gameplay even more interesting.
Finally, we’d like to share a Guinean proverb: “Knowledge without wisdom is like water in the sand.” If you truly think that a game like Voodoo gives people a pass not to think seriously about drone strikes in Somalia, then you should really be concerned about violence in videogames in general. If you really wonder how “white dudes” can create a game about Africa – well check the creators of some of your favorite titles. You’ll probably be blown away.