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"hair nah" is the video game version of "don’t touch my hair"

Slap those pesky white hands away.

André-Naquian Wheeler

André-Naquian Wheeler

Black people have said it again and again: “Don’t touch my hair.” Yet, for some reason, non-black people have an enduring fascination with our hair. Sometimes they’re amazed by the variety of textures and styles. Sometimes they’re confused. Often they’re both. We’ve all heard the questions before. “How did you get your hair like that?”“How long did it take?” “Can I touch it?” Yesterday, Momo Pixels, a black female art director and pixel designer, gave black people the perfect way to channel our frustrations: the 8-bit video game Hair Nah.

Hair Nah is for both victims and perpetrators of hair touching, Momo, a SCAD graduate who works in advertising, tells i-D. The game wonderfully captures the anxiety and frustration that dodging intrusive hands breeds. The premise is simple yet poignant: Hair Nah is “a travel game about a black woman who is tired of people touching her hair.” Players are able to choose from a variety of destinations, including Cuba and Japan, and have to frantically move left and right to stop pesky white hands from touching their hair. There’s a “Nah” meter that increases with each hand you avoid. The game demonstrates that traveling to different countries — where black people are often seen as exotic — can be stressful in ways white people will never experience.

When you finish the game, a powerful, unfiltered message pops up on the screen: “The game is over, but this experience isn’t. This is an issue that black women face daily. So a note to those who do it STOP THAT SHIT.”

i-D talked to Momo about the creative process behind her socially aware pixel art.

Image courtesy of Momo

Why did creating an 8-bit video game feel like the right outlet for your frustrations?
For people who know me, Hair Nah basically is my personality. I am a very happy, bright, colorful person — but also hella honest. So I always try to use that juxtaposition in the best way. I try to talk about social issues and injustices in colorful ways. I want to make you say, “Oooo” first. Then be like, “Oh… but wait.” No one ever expects the message to be that serious with pixel art. So I always get to hit folks with a surprise! And I love it.

What was the creative process behind building Hair Nah?
I got the idea in early February. Then I spent the next couple of months figuring out the concept and the gameplay. But I had no clue how the game-making process was supposed to go. So I started designing the levels before I had everything figured out. Another designer came in and helped me. She did the destinations and the reaching hands. We finished designing most of the assets at the end of September. The last part was the developer. He did an amazing job. Everything took about ten months.

Image courtesy of Momo

You offer a variety of skin tones, hairstyles, and locations to choose from. It really makes the game feel more personal and reflective for black players. What influenced your design choices?
Everything in the game is intentional and thought out. Which is why it took me forever! Like the skin tone page, for instance. I purposefully put the dark-skinned women at the top because the world often tries to place them at the bottom. That wasn’t going to happen in my game. And on the plane I made that tired old black woman sit directly behind the player because I think only other black women know exactly how this feels. I wanted her features to represent how tired we are of dealing with this problem.

Overall, I wanted the game to have an otherworldly feel. I don’t think that black women get to see themselves having fun on screen that often and there aren’t many video games or anime out there with characters that look like us.

What do you hope players take away from Hair Nah ?
I want players who have never had their hair touched — or who touch others’ hair — to understand how much it’s an invasion of personal space. How disrespectful, entitled, rude, and selfish of an act reaching into a stranger’s head of hair is. I really wanted that to come across and for people to see how this can cause anxiety. When hands come in too fast and you can’t stop them. How overwhelming and defeating it can be when you can’t protect your space. To show that all you’re doing is trying to live your life, go on a trip, but here are all these (mainly white women) who think it’s okay to go reaching into your hair.

But for players who have had their hair touched, and for black women in particular, I wanted them to play this game and get their life! I wanted them to finally have a way to tell white women: “No. My Space. My Body. My Hair. Respect me.” Because when this happens in real life, it’s not funny. So I wanted to give them some joy and let them know, “Hey, I got you.”

Play Hair Nah for yourself here.