Can Tales of Kenzara: Zau open a new world of video game stories?

  • Written by Andrew Rogers and Tom Richardson
  • BBC Newsbeat

Comment on the photo, Abu Bakr Salem grew up playing games, and now he launches his own games

“Every story begins at another end.”

These are the words that greet players when they boot up Abu Bakr Salem's debut video game – Tales of Kenzera: Zau.

It's fitting because the British actor, who appeared in TV series Raised by Wolves and will soon appear in House of the Dragon, is speaking to BBC Newsbeat just days before his big release.

This is the final chapter of Tales of Kenzera's four-year development cycle – one that began last December in Los Angeles.

Abu, as he likes to be known, stands on stage at The Game Awards, addressing a crowd of 4,000 people at the Peacock Theatre. It is watched by an audience of millions online around the world.

During the unveiling of Tales of Kenzera, he gave an emotional speech explaining how the game was inspired by the death of his father, Ali, 10 years ago.

Like Abu, the game's title character Zau, a young shaman, has lost his father.

Unable to accept this, he summons the God of Death and goes on a mission to bring his father back to life.

“Actually, at its core, the film is about a young boy who feels sad,” Abu told BBC Newsbeat.

His honest revelation struck a chord with many, and the Game Awards clip went viral.

“The reception has been wild. It's been amazing and wonderful,” says Abu, who believes the “universal” theme of grief helps make his idea resonate with players.

But for some players, there is another element, also influenced by Ali and Abu's Kenyan heritage, that keeps them passionate about the game.

Image source, Abu Bakr Salim

Comment on the photo, Abu says his father played a big role in getting him interested in gaming

It is based heavily on myths and legends told by the Bantu peoples – hundreds of different groups living throughout Africa.

These tales are often passed down, orally, from generation to generation, something Abu has experienced firsthand.

“It was really inspired by the stories my father used to tell me when I was a kid,” he says.

“My grandfather was a Nganga, which is like a traditional spiritual healer.

“So my father would share these really wonderful worlds and ideas with me.

“And because the game is about that journey of grief, and that kind of connection between my father and me, it had to exist in space.”

But a high-profile video game with a black main character is a rarity. Something that is based heavily on African mythology is even stranger.

So, for many players, seeing Abu on stage brings up another set of emotions.

“It was amazing to see him there,” Annabelle Ashali Anthony says. “We don't get to see that often.”

But the spectacle of a black female creator at The Game Awards — often referred to as “the Oscars of the industry” — resonated with her.

“For him, making his debut was very important, seeing ourselves clearly represented in a nice way,” she says.

“I was like, ‘This is something I have to play.’”

Image source, Melanin games

Comment on the photo, Annabelle and Alan Ashali Anthony organized the events as part of their work at Melanin Gamers

When Abu first released the game, a number of people made comparisons between Tales of Kenzera and a certain record-breaking film.

Annabelle agrees that the similarities are there.

“He's definitely the Black Panther of gaming,” she says.

Surgent Studios, the development company Abu set up to make the game, has acknowledged the influence of the hit Marvel game – both have elements of Afrofuturism, an aesthetic that blends science fiction and African culture, and the game's soundtrack features the same chorus. heard in the movie.

When Abu revealed the game, he wore a colorful scarf designed by Nigerian artist Ikere Jones, whose designs appeared in Black Panther.

Annabelle's brother Alan, who also runs Melanin Gamers, remembers the “cultural movement” that arose behind the film and believes it “opened the floodgates” for games like Zau to emerge.

“When it comes to this kind of project that hits the big stage, and everyone's floodgates open, it's like, 'Oh my God, there's huge potential out there, let's take advantage of it,'” he says.

“But there is a huge, really untapped market when it comes to African mythology as a whole.”

Image source, Surjeant Studios

Comment on the photo, The main character Zau is a shaman who uses powers granted to him by two mysterious masks

Abu said it was important to him to “honor and respect” Bantu culture as seen in the Kinzera tales, and “celebrate it as well, because you don’t necessarily see a lot of it.”

For Abu, the end of Zao's development story may be the beginning of another.

He hopes to turn Tales of Kenzera into a full-fledged film, television, and sitcom series.

“Even though you're building this really cool world, not everyone is going to play the game,” he says.

“If I can convince my mom, for example, to watch the TV show, I can at least talk to her about the game and find the connections there. And I quite like that.”

“It's also a great way to inspire other writers and other creators to tell stories within this universe or even create their own.”

Listen to Newsbeat He lives At 12:45 and 17:45 weekdays – or listen again here.

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