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Telling the untold story of a generation in Windrush Tales

The team behind Windrush Tales discusses the weighted responsibility of celebrating the Black British Caribbean experience

There have been more and more games exploring history, recent or more ancient, through the lens of personal experiences.

My Child Lebensborn, Through the Darkest of Times, Bury Me My Love, to name just a few, all explored facets of history via intimate, emotional and impactful stories, letting players step into the shoes of a lebensborn child in Norway, an underground resistance group under the Nazi regime, or a refugee on her journey to reach Europe.

Windrush Tales seems to be speaking directly to this idea. The latest project from the team behind Before I Forget, which hired a few additional contributors, explores the journey of the Windrush generation, African-Caribbean people who migrated to the UK after WW2.

"We never see representation of Caribbean people, especially the Black British Caribbean experience"Chella Ramanan

In 1948, the British government encouraged this immigration with the British Nationality Act, which would give British citizenship to people from the countries formerly part of its empire, as well as the right for them to enter and settle in the UK.

"2018 was the 70th anniversary of Windrush, so the arrival of that ship in Tilbury Docks," explains Chella Ramanan, who's at the origin of the Windrush Tales project, and co-founder and writer/narrative designer at Before I Forget developer 3-Fold Games.

The Empire Windrush brought over 800 migrants to the port of Tilbury, near London, in June 1948, most of them coming from the Caribbean region.

"My dad was part of the Windrush generation and I wanted to do something to celebrate that," Ramanan continues. "I thought it was really cool that that was being marked, and so I was thinking: what should I do?

"Initially, I just thought I should write a short story. And then I thought a game would be cool actually, because we never see representation of Caribbean people, especially the Black British Caribbean experience."

From there, Ramanan got in touch with Corey Brotherson, lead narrative designer at Silver Rain Games, whose grandfather was also part of the Windrush generation, coming from Caribbean island Saint Kitts. Ramanan asked him if he'd be interested in writing the project with her, and that's how Windrush Tales began.

Soon, they were joined by programmer and artist Claire Morwood, the other half of 3-Fold Games, and artist Naima Ramanan. The entire team is remote working across different time zones.

Unfortunately as the project intended to celebrate a generation and its cultural impact on the UK started taking form, so did the 2018 Windrush scandal. It transpired at the time that British citizens from the Windrush generation had been wrongly detained and denied legal rights. Many people who were part of that generation were wrongly labelled as undocumented migrants and deported to countries they'd not seen for decades.

Chella Ramanan, narrative designer on Windrush Tales

While the scandal didn't derail Windrush Tales' vision, it did impact what the team had in mind in some respect.

"We were talking about success stories of multicultural Britain, and maybe we could end it with carnival or something, some sort of celebratory mood, and then the Windrush scandal videos started coming out and we had another meeting," Ramanan says. "At this point it was just me and Corey, and we were obviously extremely depressed and shocked, and felt betrayed.

"We had to really rethink that aspects of multicultural Britain had failed. Our impact on Britain had been positive but Britain still didn't accept us, or the white establishment of the British government still didn't accept us. So that perspective was kind of a lie really, that's what was revealed."

She adds that while the project's tone remained hopeful, it did become a bit darker.

"We had to consider that the end point isn't as hopeful and as positive, because we're now facing a government that really doesn't want us to be here."

Finding the right balance between celebrating a community and not shying away from showing the challenges that generation has faced came with "lots of conversations and iterations," Ramanan adds.

To find that balance, the team also secured the support of an additional voice in the form of Chase Bethea, who has just been announced as the composer and technical audio designer for the title.

Chase Bethea, composer and technical audio designer on Windrush Tales

"For me, it's about making sure that the feelings of the experiences are translated in that language -- music is the universal language that speaks to all of us as human beings," Bethea says.

"It's focusing directly upon enhancing the narrative that's already written, and the history, and conflating those points of poignancy to really bring up the emotions so that people can not necessarily relate, but resonate with it, and have that impact. So that it's long lasting.

"It's about creating experiences, about creating those moments. And those are somewhat fleeting I feel, especially for projects that are not represented in the media overall. And so, with that, bringing all of that history and translating it would be impactful, I believe. So that the player
-- and everyone else, even just viewers -- are touched by it in some way."

Ramanan adds that telling that story feels like a weighted responsibility, which she and Morwood had felt already when working on Before I Forget, which explored early onset dementia.

"We didn't have personal connection to dementia, but when we took it to events, we suddenly felt what it means to people who have personal connection to our projects and we looked at each other and went like, 'oh, we really need to get this right'," Ramanan says.

"There's definitely that feeling of being the only one. It is the only Windrush game and is the only game that centres on the Black British Caribbean experience. Hopefully, the first of many. But there's that weight of responsibility of wanting to get it right and tell a story, like Chase said, that resonates.

"That's part of the Black experience really, particularly of the diaspora, this sense of a collective ancestral memory or history that binds us because everything else was taken from us. That's something that I think is core to storytelling. Especially people who are descended from enslaved people."

When talking about the design vision for the title, Bury Me My Love is mentioned as a reference.

"It's just the fact that it's rooted in [history], it's quite an intimate story and the format of it is very accessible," Ramanan says. "Games like that are really inspiring. And of course the sensitivity that you can see in Bury Me My Love is always going to be something to aspire to create creatively. We've [also] been looking at things like Where the Water Tastes Like Wine in terms of some of the game design."

It's still very early days for Windrush Tales, with the title currently in pre-production, so the team couldn't share too much about the project's final form.

What the team does know is that Windrush Tales will be launching under the newly-established 3-Fold Presents label, which Ramanan and Morwood created for projects where they collaborate with other people.

Claire Morwood, game designer on Windrush Tales

"3-Fold Presents came from thinking about this project and how Chella and I were going to be involved in it," Morwood says. "We knew it wasn't going to be a 3-Fold Games game because it wasn't going to be just me and Chella, it's other people as well.

"But we also thought, well, we have this platform that we've created for this other game. We've got a following, and we've got people that know our work. And in some ways it's a similar game in terms of the idea of this personal story that is also a story that's not often told within games. And so it's a similar idea in terms of what 3-Fold as a broad thing wants to do.

"So we came up with this thing called 3-Fold Presents, which is for us to use with games that we're working on with other people as well, so it's more of a collaborative approach."

The team doesn't currently have other projects planned under the 3-Fold Presents label, but hopes it will lead them to more collaborations in the future.

"It was one of our dreams in the early days when we had 3-Fold Games," Ramanan continues. "[The company] was born out of necessity, really, for applying for funding and things like that where we needed to have a studio name and a bank account.

"And we were like: wouldn't it be cool if one day we could have some sort of collaborative group that we could help other small projects with, or collaborate with people? It's really exciting that that's happened, and it's happened organically because Windrush Tales kind of just sat outside and started as a side thing that was a personal project, but then Claire is my creative other half," she laughs.

"Then people started assuming it was a 3-Fold Games game when it's not. So that's why we created this and it also allows us to do other things we might be able to do, like if we wanted to put on an event of some sort or explore something creatively outside games. It's somewhere that we could do that and it gives us some freedom and an exciting place to do different things."

"I hope people from the Caribbean community engage with games differently as a result of playing Windrush Tales"Chella Ramanan

For Before I Forget, Ramanan and Morwood had support from Humble Bundle. For Windrush Tales, the team is currently looking into several funding opportunities and isn't set on going down the publisher route.

"We found that it's a different landscape from when we were making Before I Forget," Ramanan says. "There are new smaller funding pots that are available, which is really encouraging, and was really needed. So we're pursuing all sorts of leads at the moment and we'll decide together which direction we want to go in, whether it's funded just through arts funding and investors, or if we want to go the publisher route."

Concluding our chat, Ramanan says that beyond what lies ahead with Windrush Tales, she's already very proud of working alongside a predominantly Black British Caribbean team.

"I want to maintain that through production," she adds. "I don't know any other projects that have done that and I hope people prove me wrong. The hope is that it encourages other people to do projects like this and somehow encourages people to see games in a different way.

"I hope people from the Caribbean community engage with games differently as a result of playing Windrush Tales, that's one of my hopes."

Bethea, who is of Barbadian descent, says that when he mentioned the project to his mum, who was raised in the UK, she said she had never really learnt about the Windrush generation. He adds that Windrush Tales is also for the Caribbean community to become more aware of its history and heritage.

"It's just being more cognisant overall of our history, for those who are unfamiliar," he continues.

Morwood concludes: "It's this idea of increasing the breadth of stories that are told within games and people's perceptions of them. It's what we hoped to achieve with Before I Forget and definitely with this game as well."

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Marie Dealessandri

Features Editor

Marie Dealessandri joined GamesIndustry.biz in 2019 to head its Academy section. A journalist since 2012, she started in games in 2016 at B2B magazine MCV. She can be found (rarely) tweeting @mariedeal, usually on a loop about Baldur’s Gate and the Dead Cells soundtrack.