Home Technology How one of Britain's worst scandals changed the course of landmark game

How one of Britain's worst scandals changed the course of landmark game

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Windrush Tales, from a small team of mostly black British Caribbean creatives, is the world’s first video game based on the lives and experiences of those who came to Britain to help rebuild after the Second World War.
By Tom Acres, technology reporter
Sunday 18 June 2023 10:52, UK
Imagine packing for a journey into the unknown, unsure of how long you’ll be gone, or if you’ll ever return home.
Do you fill your case with shorts and sandals or a warm jacket? How much room do you leave for family photos or an old favourite soft toy? How about snacks that remind you of home, or your beaten-up journal to document your new life?
These were the small but significant choices faced by hundreds of Caribbean migrants who boarded HMT Empire Windrush. Lured by the promise of a life of prosperity in Britain, they left their homes to help „the motherland” rebuild after the devastation of the Second World War.
Seventy-five years after the ship docked in Tilbury, Essex, the challenges they faced are being recreated in Windrush Tales, the world’s first video game based on their experiences. It tells the story of a generation who came here full of hope, only to end up feeling deeply disillusioned and betrayed.
Great intentions
Chella Ramanan is the creative director on Windrush Tales. Her work’s encompassed a wide range of gaming titles from the BAFTA-nominated, Before I Forget, a moving tale of a woman living with early onset dementia, to an upcoming action blockbuster based on James Cameron’s Avatar franchise.
But Windrush Tales is undoubtedly her most personal project.
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The daughter of a Caribbean father, who arrived in the UK from Grenada in the 1950s, and a white Scottish mother, Ramanan’s team initially conceived Windrush Tales as a celebration of multiculturalism, looking at the positive impact of Caribbean culture on 21st century Britain.
„We thought, ‘let’s make this game about our heritage and our families who came here’,” says Ramanan. „We knew it wasn’t perfect, but we thought the multicultural aspect of Britain was largely supported.”
Created by 3-Fold Games, a small studio co-founded by Ramanan, the game’s beautifully illustrated diary-like presentation uses text to help players inhabit the lives of the Windrush generation.
Its two characters are both black and from the Caribbean. One an aspiring nurse, Rose, the other her older brother, Vernon. Apprehensive but tenacious, Rose follows her sibling to England and plans to start work as a nurse in the newly formed NHS.
Vernon has been in Britain for several years but, unknown to his sister, has struggled to find and stay in work. Through his photography, he documents their attempts to adapt to life in Britain, from grassroots arts and activism, to church and social clubs.
For the 3-Fold team, predominantly made up of black British Caribbean employees, Windrush Tales was seen as an opportunity to tell the types of stories rarely seen in games, which are typically dominated by big budget shooters, sports titles, and huge TV and film franchises.
Just 5% of people working in games in the UK are black, according to the 2022 census by industry trade body Ukie, compared to 66% being white British. And the figures are reflected on screen – a 2021 diversity study by gaming website Diamond Lobby, of more than 100 of the best-selling titles from the previous five years, found 54% of main characters are white, while just 8% are non-white women.
But the celebratory focus of Windrush Tales shifted when, with pre-production barely under way, news broke of a scandal that shook the team’s faith to its core.
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The Windrush scandal
Back in 2018, with the 70th anniversary of the Windrush’s arrival on the horizon, it emerged that many of those who made the same journey over subsequent decades had been wrongly detained, deported, and denied legal rights by a „hostile environment policy” that cracked down on those deemed to have arrived in the UK illegally.
Some of those deported later died.
Among those worst affected by the government’s policy, introduced by the then home secretary Theresa May in 2012, were members of the Windrush generation – who arrived in the UK legally, and with the government’s encouragement, between 1948 and 1973. Many, like Rose, took jobs in the NHS – and other sectors impacted by Britain’s post-war labour shortage.
While indefinite leave to remain was automatically granted upon their arrival in the UK, many weren’t issued with any documents confirming their status and were later unable to prove their right to stay when immigration officers came knocking. Jobs and properties were lost, health care and benefits were denied, and in the worst cases, people were deported to countries they barely knew.
Read more:
Home Office knew policy would hit Windrush generation

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‘A generation were pushed aside’
The game’s writer Corey Brotherson – who is also a descendant of the Windrush generation – says the scandal shifted the „entire tone” of the game, and gave the team extra purpose in their work.
„For a lot of people, Windrush was something that was either not known about much or forgotten,” he says. „The contributions of the Windrush generation were pushed aside. The scandal helped people realise just how significant they were to the foundation of the modern day Britain.”
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The world’s first Windrush game
To inspire the game’s story lines, the studio drew on their families’ experiences, news coverage, books, and art exhibitions.
For Brotherson, his grandad was an obvious source of inspiration.
„My grandad wrote about his experiences when he first came over, what he was feeling and the issues he faced,” he says. One of his grandfather’s first experiences was being ripped off by a taxi driver, and he also struggled for acceptance in the workplace.
„My grandad was a hard worker, but sometimes it was difficult to find work,” Brotherson says. „Sometimes if he got a promotion, his white co-workers would be antagonistic towards him.
„It was typical of the racism, bigotry and pushback his generation experienced when they were trying to establish themselves.”
The team also put a call-out to the British Caribbean community who were part of that period of migration.
„We sat down for several hours with them and talked about their memories,” says Brotherson. „It was absolutely mind-blowing to hear what they went through.”
The landmark nature of Windrush Tales secured it a spot at an exhibition on digital storytelling at the British Library, allowing the public to go hands-on with a demo version for the first time when it opened earlier this month.
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‘You can put yourself in their shoes’
Co-curator Ian Cooke says the exhibition showcases „opportunities for writers to write in new ways”, specifically those which recognise the audience and respond to their presence.
Also on display are a first-person account of someone bereaved by the Manchester Arena bombing, an experimental game by artist Dan Hett, and the Dictionary Of The Revolution, which charts the evolution of language used in the 2011 Egyptian uprising.
„Storytelling and writing is getting more complex, it’s using technology in all sorts of ways,” says Cooke.
„There’s a spread of diversity in terms of who’s writing, who’s reading, what kinds of stories are being told. With Windrush Tales, it’s the first time someone’s written a game about the experience of migration to the UK in the 20th century.”
While the game was being planned by the time of Windrush’s 70th anniversary, its showcase at the British Library comes during its 75th. As anyone in the industry will testify, game development takes a long time.
3-Fold Games remains unwilling to put a firm date on the final release, but the library exhibition, Digital Storytelling, remains open until 15 October. When it does arrive, Ramanan and Brotherson hope their game will do justice to the struggles of a generation.
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Events are taking place across the UK this year to commemorate the 7th anniversary of the Windrush arriving at Tilbury.
Here are a list of some events – for a full selection, visit windrush75.org/events.
• Windrush: It Runs Through Us at Mansfield Museum until 30 November
• Windrush 75 season at the V&A in South Kensington, London, until 31 August
• Windrush 75 Festival at Vernun Sports Club, Preston on 18 June
• Windrush Women’s Space at Audit Room, King’s College, Cambridge on 19 June
• A Man From The Sun at Westlands Entertainment Centre in Yeovil on 20 June
• Commemoration of Windrush at Tilbury Dock on 22 June
• Windrush Day 75 at Bristol Museum and Art Gallery in Bristol on 22 June
• Friends of the Caribbean at Rose Pillar, Campbell Park, Milton Keynes on 22 June
• Celebrating Windrush 75 at RAMM Museum, Queen’s Street, Exeter on 22 June
• Windrush 75 Anniversary Concert at Broadway Theatre, Catford on 16 September
„Hopefully people will get enough of a window to peek inside the experience of what lives may have been like during that time,” says Brotherson. „If they get that taste of it, whether that’s through education, or feel a sense of resemblance to their current day lives, hopefully a good job has been done.”
Ramanan hopes that for players who don’t know anything about the Windrush generation or subsequent scandal, the game „gives an insight into why Britain is the way it is”.
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And for those from the black community, or other minority groups, she hopes it resonates with them.
„Last year we went to a British Caribbean art exhibition, which was amazing – the gallery was full of black Caribbean people,” recalls Ramanan. „It just showed that when you display art that represents people who are underrepresented… it’s not that they’re not interested in art, it is just the art never represents them.”
In the case of Windrush Tales, there’s no doubt that it will.
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