Audre Lorde will not save you. She’s too busy resting in the heaven of legendary artist activists to be your personal black feminist guru. A young player named Jonas finds out in the well-intentioned but clumsy “Black Feminist Video Game” by civilians.
Jonas (Christon Andell), our player 1, is a biracial, autistic student with a single mother (Constance Fields) who tried to give her son lessons from the great black feminists like bellhooks. However, Jonas learns how hard it is to internalize these lessons when a girl he dates Nicole (Starr Kirkland) breaks off. To win her back, he looks for an old present from his mother with the help of his player friend Sabine (Kyla Butts): the 2-D video game that gives the piece its title.
The “Black Feminist Video Game”, written by the poet Darrel Alejandro Holnes and staged by Victoria Collado, includes live performances via zoom, the latest video game material and a slight interaction of the audience via YouTube chat. We watch Jonas keep livestream video diaries – and Andell has minimal interaction with the audience, responding to audience comments and seeking advice, even though the impromptu chatter slows the pace of the show and feels inorganic.
The script, too, works with attempts to smoothly and naturally be your most crossed-over selves, but diversity feels downgraded to a checklist. (Black? Mixed Race? Queer? Autistic? Check, check, check, check.) And when it comes to the message of the piece, Jonas is slowly beginning to understand when he is talking and not really listening to and respecting black women: “Black Feminist Video Game “becomes unbearably preaching – and the performances don’t add much to it.
At least there’s the game itself, developed by Ché Rose and Jocelyn Short of Cookout Games, which is a fun, pixelated blast from the past. Adorable avatar versions of Jonas and Sabine run through the levels: the forest of feminist fear, the circle of multifaceted mirrors, the realm of colorism and the peak patriarchy, where the final boss waits. Just as the rules of the game – which, by the way, are psychological – confused Jonas, I was also confused by his logic when Lorde showed up to convey wise words to our would-be feminist Black protagonist.
While I’m a notoriously bad crash-and-burn gamer myself, I like the idea of them – video games, but also games built into theatrical experiences, especially those related to racing. The tension between politics and gaming is exciting – think The Colored Museum, Underground Railroad Game, and Black History Museum. I even thought of Kekubian Assassin, a real-life mobile game based on an episode of Terence Nance’s HBO series Random Acts of Flyness, in which a black woman plays a first person shooter game against racists and sexists fights harassment on the street. “Black Feminist Video Game” strives for the same level of sharpness and ingenuity, but it doesn’t get past Level 1 despite its cute gameplay.
Black feminist video game
Live performances until May 2nd; on request 3.-9. May; thecivilians.org. (The Oregon Shakespeare Festival will host performances of the Black Feminist Video Game May 11-16. On-demand access is May 17-23. Osfashland.org.)