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‘We Are The Caretakers’ Puts Afrofuturism Front and Center


Afrofuturism, if you’re unfamiliar, is a movement in literature, music, art, video games, movies, etc., featuring futuristic or science fiction themes which incorporate elements of global Black history and culture, or better yet, making them central themes. We’ve seen some games that take the concept to heart, like Usoni, but few go beyond including Black or African characters to actually include their stories or experiences.

We Are The Caretakers is an unapologetically Afrofuturist sci-fi squad-management RPG about protecting endangered animals—and your planet—from extinction. In the game, you recruit, train, manage and build squads of arcane protectors called the Caretakers. Set in the land of Shadra, a fictional nation in Africa, the story revolves around defending Raun, rhino-like creatures, from human and alien poachers. The game tries to go past the usual Western lens of wildlife conservation to see what people who live in areas where poaching is a common way of life go through. Some people need a way to survive, so they’re involved not because they want to be but out of economic need. We also see people who are in it for sport. And in between is the wildlife, on the brink of extinction.

Upon entering a fight, the game transforms into turn-based-style combat. The goal is familiar to RPG fans: Wear the poachers down by Will, indicated by a blue bar, or Stamina, indicated by a red bar. Then you use a finishing move to send them packing. The most surprising thing about fighting enemies in this game is that it’s extremely hard to diminish their Will.

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The inspiration for We Are the Caretakers came from previous titles in the turn-based RPG genre, like Ogre Battle, XCOM, and Northgard. The game is well-polished, but it’s an even better representation of the Afrofuturism genre.

Scott Brodie, founder of Heart Shaped Games and lead developer on the game, told WIRED, “I look at Afrofuturism as a way to center stories around Black people and the broader diaspora and not being so Western-centric. I was first introduced to it through Black Panther. As well, throughout this project, I’ve really become a fan of Nnedi Okorafor,” the two-time Hugo award-winning Nigerian American writer. “It’s been great learning about other works in the genre while working on the game. I do think we ultimately saw that there is a non-Western story here that we could tell, and Afrofuturism really fit what we wanted to try to do.”

Afrofuturism doesn’t only promote representation for the Black diaspora; it can also create a sense of understanding between Black creators and viewers of all backgrounds—or at least a want or need to understand those lived experiences. Black people are often told those experiences are untrue. Afrofuturism often works to amplify elements and themes of Black culture: people, history, persecution, liberation, joy, community, and more. 

For example, people who can’t wrap their head around systemic racism can easily understand that the mutants in the Marvel Universe are treated poorly and should have protective rights. Afrofuturism will replace mutants with Black people directly—not as a stand-in race or group of people—and forces viewers and readers to engage with us as real people in complicated worlds. Art can make people think, change their minds, and understand human beings better. Afrofuturism in science fiction and speculative fiction can showcase what a world would look like based on different histories, or worlds where racism is but a dark splotch on human history. The more common approach is to swap in a mythological species for the struggles of real humans, or present racism in terms of genocide or warfare, which only encourages viewers or readers to have empathy when lives are at risk: something that doesn’t truly include or value those lives. We Are The Caretakers doesn’t take this approach.

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