Black History Month @ USC Games: Interview with Kai Nyame
For the fourth feature in our series celebrating Black History Month, USC Games met with undergraduate student Kai Nyame (she/her). Below, Nyame discusses her thoughts on Black History Month and her experience as an intersectional game developer.
Questions and answers have been edited for brevity and clarity.
Q: Kai, please tell our viewers who you are, and what are you passionate about in games?
A: I am from the San Francisco Bay Area; I was born and raised in Oakland, California and came down to Los Angeles for school. I just really love sharing the things that I make with the world. It’s not just about making games—it’s about getting to show them to everyone else. Nationality-wise, I am half-Black, half-Asian—which is sort of a weird thing to say, because you can’t really say that you’re half-anything. Growing up, I’ve had a very mixed set of facial features. So when I’m in the Asian community, it’s like, “You’re Asian but you’re also something else. What is that ‘something else’?” Then, when you’re in the Black community, it’s like, “You’re Black, and you’re also something else. What is that ‘something else’?”
Q: Thank you so much for sharing. What does Black History Month mean to you?
A: For me, Black History Month has really been about embracing the fact that I am Black but also an intersection of things—that I’m also queer and all these other things that make up one person. So, letting myself define myself as just me, whatever mix that is, has been on my mind this month. In terms of the games industry, it’s a reflection for me to look at the things that we want to highlight and the people that we want to celebrate, because the rest of the industry isn’t always going to celebrate for us. I think that the big thing is making sure that people know that we are here; we are in the industry. It’s not like you can’t find us. We’re there—you just have to look.
Q: How would you say your identity as someone who is Black intersects with your identity as a game developer, and how does that shape your experience?
A: I think there’s a lot of pressure within the Black game development community to make games about Black trauma and “Black struggle,” and all of the big articles around this time of year are always like, “Person Makes Game About Black Experiences.” I always thought that was kind of odd. I don’t want to be defined by just my Black experience; I want to be defined as a game developer who’s good at what she does. It’s frustrating because you get this feeling in your heart that’s like: are they really talking about me because of the things that I’ve done, or are they talking about me within the context of this Black qualifier? I think that there shouldn’t be that qualifier there. It should just be like: Kai is this game developer who’s doing amazing things. And you don’t have to limit it or qualify it within the context of Black History Month.
Q: Who is a Black hero from either a game or real life that inspires you?
A: Lisette Titre-Montgomery—she’s an art director at Double Fine. When I was first getting into games, I did an after-school program that taught in Oakland, and it was very much focused on the experience of being a minority in tech and how to navigate that. I met Lisette there—and I remember it was a time I was really struggling to figure out what I wanted to do and whether or not I felt I was good enough to do it. She’s been a really amazing mentor who has gone through imposter syndrome and has had that experience of being the only person that looks like her in a room. She’s really focused on making everyone see that there’s a path forward for them, and she’s not shy of coming to you and celebrating your wins with you and making sure that you know that you feel supported and loved and cared for in this industry.