Games by Devs of Color, And How to Support Them
Lately, it seems like most people haven’t learned anything either from four years of Trump or the pandemic, and I fear that it will doom our species to oblivion.
Although America has made significant progress in the fields of science and technology, most of that knowledge has been used to benefit the wealthy and powerful — to reinforce and uphold capitalism and white supremacy. We have made very little social progress in the last 150 years.
I’m reminded of this every single time I look at a screen.
When migrant mothers travel thousands of miles to flee poverty and violence from their own countries, only to have bullets and tear gas fired on them and have their children ripped from them and literally put in cages.
When every week I hear news about police murdering people of color in the street without any consequences.
When another hate-fueled mass shooter takes out a city street, a nightclub, or a church, and barely gets a slap on the wrist.
When I see all of this trauma and violence from the relative safety of my home in Barbados, I see images of a nation that would prefer to destroy itself than build the path to a better world.
The picture isn’t all doom and gloom though. The silver lining in all of this is that our media has evolved to include a broader spectrum of the human experience, thanks in no small part to social justice movements like Black Lives Matter.
TV shows like Steven Universe and Orange Is the New Black that included BIPOC perspectives were already opening the door by the 2016 election. After the murder of Geroge Floyd in police custody, a LOT more shows, movies, and tv commercials followed suit. Whether this was a cynical attempt to cash in on a fleeting trend or a real sea change for the representation of people of color in American media is based on your perspective.
Although people of color are still underrepresented in the games industry, progress has been made to include their stories — particularly in the indie gaming space.
I’ve interviewed some of the gamedevs on this list before. To learn their stories. Learn what they experienced. How that translates into their work as video game developers.
Now I wanna talk about their games.
These are 5 games by devs of color, and how you can support them!
I interviewed Khalil Abdullah, one half of the duo of brothers behind Decoy Games, as part of my series of interviews highlighting gamedevs of color. Presenting their project Swimsanity, a multiplayer underwater co-op shooter.
This is the kind of game you would play with your friends to unwind when you come home from school from a long hard day of bullies giving you Indian burns. Think Castle Crashers, but with guns. And underwater. Good ol’ fashioned arcadey fun is what you’re getting here.
Swimsanity offers a lot of high-energy action and eye-popping visuals: killer whales, crab robots, and all kinds of enemies come flying at you from all directions and you never quite know what to expect next.
This game is challenging, but accessible to new players. It markets itself as “easy to learn, hard to master.”
I’m particularly impressed by how well they’ve done themselves as a small, two-man team. Swimsanity has received multiple awards and has had multiple showcases at PAX East. And can you blame them? They have one of the most gorgeous and fun landing pages I’ve seen in a while.
You can buy Swimswanity for $14.99 on Steam and follow the devs on Twitter at @DecoyGames.
Keenan, the brains behind SideB Gaming is another incredible game dev I interviewed for the blog last year to get his perspective on the state of race relations in America.
He has an incredible, inspirational life story and has lived through traumatic experiences that would have broken me. This guy went to San Francisco to pursue his dream of being a game developer with just $150 in his pocket. I don’t have the balls to do what he did, and neither do most people. When he struck out on his own as a solo dev, Keenen blazed a trail for other gamedevs of color to follow suit.
FarRock Dodgeball Gameplay Trailer
Keenan/SideB Gaming now has three published games under his belt. FarRock Dodgeball is his fourth.
Well, I can tell you that the soundtrack is pretty epic. FarRock Dodgeball uses a unique chiptune hip-hop soundtrack. Imagine if the soundtrack to 8 Mile were made on a Game Boy. A strange combo on the face of it but in practice, it sounds baller. This could be my fight music.
The game isn’t playable yet and is slated for release later this year. So what can I tell you about it?
When I look at the gameplay footage, I think of those Humongous Games CD-Rom games like Spyfox and Backyard Soccer you used to play obsessively as a kid because it was the only thing your parents would let you play without having a freak-out. And then you revisit them later in life as an adult and go “wow, this game is actually fun.”
That’s the vibe I get. Cartoony characters, fun power-ups, and gameplay that gets very addicting once you get into it.
This game tells a personal story as well. Keenan based this game on his own formative experiences growing up in Far Rockaway, Queens. One of the characters on the title card is a tribute to a childhood friend who inspired to get him into gamedev in the first place.
You can support Keenan by wishlisting FarRock Dodgeball on Steam and following him at @SideBGaming on Twitter.
The Wagadu Chronicles
This is a game that I’ve been following with a lot of interest. It’s rare that an indie game really grabs my attention in the way that The Wagadu Chronicles has.
The Wagadu Chronicles by studio Twin Drums is an MMORPG based on a D20 pen and paper tabletop game that takes place in an afro-fantasy setting. It takes away the lens of European history and mythology that permeates most western fantasy games to make a game centered on African mythology.
The Wagadu Chronicles Kickstarter Video
Rather than the same routine fantasy classes like thief, fighter, mage, etc., you get classes based on African mythological archetypes like the hunter, the griot (monk) and alawo (wizard). Many of them have parallel traits to conventional DND classes, they also have a unique identity and lore all of their own.
Speaking of lore, the lore books absorb me and grab me in. It gives me the same feeling of wonder and awe that I get from looking at DnD monster manuals.
This is a hugely ambitious game that seeks to accomplish a lot with both its setting and scope. Imagine all of the stories that can be told using non-western/pre-colonial folklore. There’s a whole world of stories and settings waiting to be told. The Wagadu Chronicles is a trailblazer in that regard.
One of the best ways you can support development is by subscribing to the Wagadu Chronicles newsletter. Please also remember to follow them on Twitter at WagaduChronicle, and join the Discord.
Aerial_Knight’s Never Yield
Aerial_Knight’s Never Yield doesn’t set out to be industry-changing and epic like Wagadu. Nor does it tell a deeply personal story like FarRock Dodgeball. Or be a co-op party bonanza like Swimsanity. It doesn’t promise to be anything more or less than what it is: pure, simple fun.
Aerial_Knight’s Never Yield is like many of the endless runners you see on both Steam and the various app stores. Gameplay-wise it’s most similar to Bit.Trip Runner.
There’s not much story to be had here. It says right on the Steam page that the game is about as long as a feature-length movie. When it comes to Aerial_Knight’s Never Yield, you come for the dope funk-jazz soundtrack and bonkers stylized visuals and stay for the gameplay.
Aerial_Knight’s Never Yield — Announcement Trailer
The soundtrack is really cool. It reminds me of something you’d hear in Persona 5 or The World Ends With You.
Support Aerial_Knight’s Never Yield by following the Twitter at @aerial_knight, or buying it on Steam for $11.99.
Galactic Bar Fight
Short disclaimer here: Galactic Bar Fight is made by Weird Kid Studios which is fronted by Jonathan Jennings, another good friend of mine who I’ve interviewed for the blog before. He’s also now a client at the agency where I work.
Galactic Bar Fight is what I would call a stupidfun game. An arcade arena shooter with a goofy and offbeat sense of humor that throws everything at you at once and gets your blood pumping. Pure chaos, shots, and explosions everywhere. Pretty much everything you’d expect from a game with a title like this, and more.
Jonathan blogs about gamedev topics on his blog from time to time. He also speaks at conferences and events for people of color in tech and software development. It’s worth connecting with Jonathan on LinkedIn just for that.
Galactic Bar Fight is now available on the Oculus Store. To support the release, follow Weird Kid Studios on Twitter and TikTok, follow Jonathan on Instagram.
There is little denying it. The future is Black. The foundation is already being built even as I write this.
While white, middle America sinks into stagnation, violence, and decay, the future Google’s and Twitter’s we’ll be using by the time we hit middle age are being built in Africa and here in the Caribbean where I now live.
The world we live in is rapidly becoming an ugly, dark, dangerous place, and we may not come back from it. But insofar as there is any hope for the future at all, it’s in the cultural achievements, social justice advocacy, and scientific progress made by people of color.
The games made by the people on this list are just one small microcosm of a much larger ongoing trend. And that gives my heart some much-needed hope.
If you’d like to give these devs more visibility, please leave a comment and share! 🙏