Nixie game aims to highlight British Blackness

Colin Campbell, Tuesday, November 7th, 2023 10:18 am

London-based developer and YouTuber David Akinola is working on a game called Nixie, that was the focus of a successful Kickstarter campaign earlier this year. The game follows the life of Fiona Soul, a soup kitchen worker with hoverboard skills. It’s a game that Akinola says will “give the Black children of the next generation characters to fall in love with,” something he felt was lacking as he looked in vain for Black British characters in games, when he was growing up. GameDaily spoke to David about his work and his aims.

GameDaily: Tell us a bit about yourself, and your game, Nixie…

David Akinola: I run a YouTube channel called The Storyteller where for a couple of years I discussed race issues, politics and nerd culture and community. Eventually, I came out with this game idea called Nixie, and I’ve been working on it quietly for a little while as creative director and lead programmer. We Kickstarted it, and it got funded, and I’m really happy about that. I’ve been working on Nixie for about a year now. It’s coming out on PC, and I’m looking at other platforms.

GameDaily: Your Kickstarter speaks about Nixie as addressing the “demonization of African Spirituality”. Can you tell us more about that?

David Akinola: The demonization of African spirituality is an interracial discussion, which is part of Black communities and outside Black communities. I wanted to tell a story around that, because I felt that portrayals of African spirituality are often very simplistic and binary. It’s either the idea that God saves everyone, or that God is not real.

I don’t feel like that’s a very nuanced exploration into spirituality. I want to add more nuanced perspectives on traditional African spirituality and folklore that’s a bit different and new.

GameDaily: You also want to address a general lack of Black British perspectives in games?

David Akinola: A lot of this is connected to my upbringing, but also it’s something that a lot of Black people go through. When I was growing up and trying to find media to identify with, it was a real struggle. It was either [British soap opera] EastEnders or football. Outside of that, it was a case of ‘good luck’ trying to find Black British representation in the media.

What often happens is a lot of us cling to American media. But the problem is that hyper centralizes Blackness around being American. I talk to Black British voice actors and they have a difficult time finding work, speaking with their own accents. They often have to speak with American accents, because that’s what people are hiring for.

I think it’s important to highlight the Black diaspora that exists outside of New York City, or Brooklyn or Chicago, and all these things depicted in the media, whether it’s film, games, what have you.

I’ve never seen my area of London depicted in video games from a Black perspective. I’ve never seen the things I grew up with used as a story in games. I think it’s important to tell these stories.

I’m quietly trying to make the game that I would have fallen in love with, and identified with, at 14, and I would have found really fun. The big goal of Nixie is not only to educate people on a Black British perspective, but also to represent something that hasn’t been represented in games before. It’s a really exciting project.

GameDaily: What’s the response been so far?

David Akinola: A lot of Black people have been really supportive and looking for ways to help, which has been really positive. I mean, it’s been pretty much all positive, because everybody shares similar sentiments. It was the same with YouTube, that you’re expressing yourself and being very honest with how you feel – and you find that other people feel like you.

When I speak about this issue of how everything is centralized around Black American identity – in games and in other media – it feels like it’s a bit of a shame to me and to other creative people. I quietly think to myself, it would be nice to hear a black British character.

That’s why Hobie [Brown] from Across the Spider-Verse was such a big deal to me – ‘oh, they’re actually doing this’. And while I don’t think the depiction of Hobie was perfect, it was still a refreshing step forward – something that a lot of people haven’t seen before.

If you’re Black, and you’re British, and you live in London, you’re very familiar with being seen as something foreign, because the media’s depiction of Blackness is so centralized around American identity.

GameDaily: What do you see as the main differences between portrayals of British Blackness’ in contrast to American Blackness?

David Akinola: One of the big ones is the use of Multi-Cultural English or MLE as opposed to African-American Vernacular or AAV. Language and speech patterns are important parts of how we communicate. MLE is so multicultural. It uses Caribbean patois, and African dialect, jargon and phrases. It’s so different that it’s almost a language barrier.

We definitely all have a shared experience of Blackness and living with White supremacy. But there are certainly differences in our language, in our history, in our community.

One of the locations for Nixie is Deptford High Street, where I always get my hair cut, where my barber is, and where I see a lot of Black people go. I wanted to depict that, and how it’s closely tied to our African roots.

My last name is Akinola, and that’s a Nigerian last name. There’s a lot of Nigerians, Ghanians and people from Sierra Leone [in London]. There’s a lot to dive into in terms of Black British history and culture that I don’t think is like Black American culture.

That’s not to say that one is inherently more interesting than the other. It’s more to say that there’s value in representing both of them and discussing them both. I just want to be honest about my own reality. I’m not Black American. I can’t do that.

GameDaily: Do you see a lack of Black British representation in the game industry as contributing to the problem?

David Akinola: There’s some incredible Black British game developers, voice actors, and people involved in game development communities. It’s not so much about an absence of talent, as the fact that media production revolves around America. I understand that companies that want to find international appeal are going to want to appeal to Black Americans but what about Black Italians and Black people in France and around Europe?

It’s a shame because there are so many unique voices. That takes me back to Hobie. He isn’t anything remarkable or spectacular, but people were so blown away by him and enamored by the way he spoke. It shows that even if you’re hyper-fixated on profit, you can still find an international audience for Black diaspora voices that aren’t American.

You can find out more about Nixie here.

Colin Campbell

Colin Campbell has been reporting on the gaming industry for more than three decades, including for Polygon, IGN, The Guardian, Next Generation, and The Economist. © 2024 | All Rights Reserved.