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‘Windies Direct’ is a Nintendo-style showcase for Caribbean game makers

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Glen Henry’s been making games in Jamaica for 10 years, but he stills gets one question again and again: Wait, there’s a Jamaican games industry? He’s faced the question so many times that he’s got the answer down pat. There’s no “formal” industry, he said, but there is a community of people making games independently — both as full-time or part-time projects, or as hobbies. Henry, founder of Spritewrench Studios, has worked for years to bring this community together as the Jamaica Game Developer Society (JGDS), “a coalition of projects and people in support of Jamaica’s video game communities,” according to the group.

“It’s a grassroots group of friends, nerds, who want to learn more about the business and craft of video games,” Henry said in an interview with Polygon. Starting as a handful of friends, the internet-connected and in-person community has grown to more than 300 members from Jamaica, Trinidad, Cayman Islands, and beyond. To showcase this group of talented, creative developers, Henry and JGDS dreamed up what they’re calling “Windies Direct” — a play on Nintendo’s indie-focused Directs, but for the West Indies.

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screenshot from Duppy Detective Tashia. A 2D animated woman looks directly at the player with an unimpressed expression and her hand on her hip and asks, “How may I help you today?’

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Image: Spritewrench Studio

“I want people to be impressed,” Henry said. “I want them to be shocked. I want them to be inspired. That’s what the Windies Direct is, feeding back into that community effort. This is what other people are doing. Now what are you going to do?”

The first annual Windies Direct debuted Monday at 11 a.m. EDT and showcased a number of games from the Caribbean and its diaspora. The group has been collecting submissions for months, spotlighting the diverse creations from a breadth of developers.

Graham Reid, who’s making arcade space shooter Super Space Club, pointed to the wider impact an initiative like the Windies Direct will have on the video game industry. “A majority of the Caribbean consists of people of color,” Reid said. “It’s a melting pot of races, cultures, interests, and just overall dope people. The games industry needs to see more developers of color in general, and seeing them come from the Caribbean is a great place to start.”

Alongside the broadcast, the JGDS is running a Steam sale featuring Jamaican- and Caribbean-made games; that’ll run from Oct. 17 to 22. Games included in the Windies Direct and the Steam sale span size, scope, and genre, something that’s important to the JGDS — there is no one type of game or perspective coming out of the burgeoning Caribbean games industry.

“Not every game is necessarily going to be a cultural touchpoint,” Henry said. “That’s another thing that I myself and a lot of people, when they think about Jamaican games, tend to struggle with. Not every project has to necessarily reflect the island — not everything needs to be palm trees and coconuts.

“I want that myth to be dispelled a bit because […] you have that mix of perspectives, of drives or passions, and it’s not just one type of game or one type of experience,” Henry said.

Beyond sharing the region’s creations with the rest of the world, Reid said he hopes it inspires people in the Caribbean, to show others that making games is an option, and that there are many ways to contribute.

“People both back home in Jamaica and in the industry at large need to know that there are creatives, artists, designers, programmers, musicians, and every other role in between, all either living in or originating from the Caribbean,” Reid said. “Oftentimes people think that you need to leave the country to get ahead in the industry, but in today’s world, that’s simply not true.”

Zane Francis, JusDev Studios founder and JGDS meetup coordinator and host, added that video games are a “pivotal” way to tell stories and share experiences. “There are so many riveting stories to tell, which could bring more diversity with authentic voices to the global industry,” Francis said. “Right now when I look around, I see that for the youngest generation of Jamaica (and even my own), much of our culture is already lost on them. I think one of the greatest ways we can reintroduce and preserve our cultures is through video games.”

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