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YouTube Stardom, ‘NIXIE’ and the ‘Free Huey Foodbank’: A Conversation with The Storyteller

After rising YouTube star The Storyteller announced the development of his visual novel hybrid game, ‘NIXIE’, we had the opportunity to sit down with him for a penetrating conversation about underrepresentation of Black Brits in media, the social responsibility of influence, and the true meaning of success.

Storyteller first plunged himself into the YouTube scene at the inspired and curious age of fourteen. “I remember that exact feeling being fourteen and consuming The Boondocks, or Gurren Lagann or any media and going, ‘That’s real. I wanna make something just as cool as that and be that thing for someone else.’” His love for video-game ‘Ace Attorney’ “spawned a series of miscellaneous videos and discussions that formed the backdrop of my early channel”, Storyteller writes in his campaign for NIXIE’s Kickstarter. This eventually evolved into an interest for commentary on black issues and black leftist politics. “I look back at my channel as a time capsule of not only the things I was interested in at each respective time period but also documenting a bit of my growth with each video whether that’s talking about something as complex as Colourism or talking about my love for Gurren Lagann,” Storyteller reveals to us. When questioned about the meaning of success, his answer - “To create things and inspire people” - was one for the books. Storyteller realised from young that he wasn’t necessarily interested in having a specific career path be his main dream or having a certain amount of money in the bank account be the object of his aspirations; rather, he’s always been a believer that having vague, romantic dreams was better than having rigid ones. “If you asked me years ago if I’d be making a game I’d be like ‘Nah, no way. It’s just not me.”’ His ability to keep his dreams vague and indefinite has opened him up to a world of opportunities, but he always knew he wanted to inspire young black kids. Storyteller opens up about his childhood growing up Black British and the challenges that come with lack of representation in the media. “When you’re Black British, or specifically for me growing up, you only had two choices in terms of media that you could identify with. You either had football or American media and if you’re not into football, then you have American media to consume and that’s it,” The Storyteller shares, speaking to many of our realities as children. “The goal is to create media for Black British boys and girls who want characters to play as, characters to cosplay as, characters to fall in love with.”

On April 19th, The Storyteller launched his first ever Kickstarter to raise funds for his debut video-game demo ‘NIXIE’, and in less than thirty-six hours, his independent project was fully funded with eighteen days left on the clock. Storyteller describes NIXIE as a mystery story-game with a lot of action and a lot of heart, where major themes include found family, communication, and the demonisation of African spirituality. Storyteller intends to explore how spirituality has been, not only stigmatised, but also weaponised. “The problem with a lot of media is it either goes hard on criticising anything vaguely religious or spiritual or it’s very conventional, very traditional, very by the book: ‘And then God saves them all in the end’. I’m not sure how much of that makes for a compelling story. I think in working in either one of those binaries you miss the opportunity to tell an interesting story but also, you miss out on the various ways spirituality can help anybody. And that’s what I wanna do.” Storyteller notes that his priority is to make a game that is engaging and entertaining. “Your satire, your commentary, your message are all secondary facets.” As a result, The Storyteller has no doubt that NIXIE is a game for everybody because, political undertones aside, “the gameplay of NIXIE is engaging enough that people will want to play it.” When asked about the inside jokes he has with his fans, Storyteller agrees that there are definitely references that only fans of his content will understand, from the graffiti-esque style derivative of video-game ‘The World Ends With You’, to his character ‘Tray’ who was inspired by ‘Michael Caesar’ from The Boondocks comic strip. “He [Michael Caesar] never made it into the show but people who read the comic strip would see that and go ‘I know exactly who he’s referencing with this character; I know why this character exists.’” Storyteller insists that he doesn’t want to ruin all of the surprises but “even a simple look at the character designs will tell you something. Fiona, the main character; her initial outfit is based on Michiko Malandro from ‘Michiko & Hatchin’ and the green jacket is inspired by ‘Megalobox.’”

Contemplating on the progress he’s made and the growth of his channel, Storyteller speaks candidly on those who he admires. “LJ is incredible”, he beams, referencing LJ-Baptiste of web-comic series ‘COMIXSCAPE’. “So good, so incredible and he has so much humility, too. LJ is one of the greatest people I’ve ever worked with. Also, Doryan; he helped with some promotional assets for the game. The passion he has for the things he creates is insane, he is so dedicated to his craft. I think the whole team, to be honest. My whole team: Doryan Nelson, LJ Baptiste, Monte Miller, Cxldr3 - everybody. I admire all of them. Because ultimately, I’m not doing anything but writing and programming the game. Outside of that, they’re the ones doing the heavy lifting. When people look at the artwork and they’re like “That looks really good”, It’s not me. When people listen to the soundtrack and they’re like “This sounds so good”, It’s not me. It’s them. And while I brought them all together, they’re the ones who made it what it is and it’s so, so incredible. I’m so happy. I’m grateful to be working with them.”

I probed Storyteller into telling us about his Foodbank Initiative which was conceptualised towards the end of last year. The Storyteller shares that profiting from the very struggles he was talking about was a “murky ethical mine” for him to the point where he no longer felt comfortable doing it. “And the solution isn’t to stop talking because then who’s going to talk about these things? Who’s going to platform these things? Who’s going to help people change their minds or expand their horizons? There’s always value in putting out your perspective but because of the way the system is set up, you’re always going to be in a position where if you garner a big audience, you’re profiting off it. You’re gaining from it.” It was for that reason that Storyteller asked himself what he wanted to do with his influence. “And that’s how the foodbank came about.” Once a month Storyteller sends out a box of essential supplies, tailored to neighbourhood requests, along with his Free Huey newsletter - all this funded by his patreon. “The goal isn’t just to satisfy my own conscience; it’s about feeling like I’m doing more to help my community and when I do that - go to Tesco’s and buy the supplies whether those are canned goods or blankets - it makes me feel like I’m making a tangible difference in people’s lives.”

Finally, I ask The Storyteller a question about legacy to which his answer was honest and full of humility. “I would like the things I create to be remembered. I would like the things I create to inform a conversation that is ongoing. I’m not sure how much I care for being remembered as an individual. Yes, I want to inspire young black kids but to be the name behind the art doesn’t really matter to me. I want the art to speak to them.”

You can follow The Storyteller’s game development journey here on Twitter, or view his videos here.

Interview & Words by: Kyra Latinwo


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