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Xavier Students and Professor Partner with University of Connecticut Professor to Bring Historical Video Game to Life

NEW ORLEANS — “Blackhaven” is a newly-developed historically-themed video game that explores themes of confronting truth in an unwelcome historical space. Under the direction of Dr. Shearon Roberts, Assistant Professor of Mass Communications and faculty member in African American and Diaspora Studies, a group of Xavier students partnered with University of Connecticut Professor James Coltrain to craft the personality of the game’s main character, “Kendra,” a sophomore at a historically Black college interning at the fictional Blackhaven Hall Historical Society.

“There are so many silences in our American history on the topic of slavery and its legacy,” said Dr. Roberts. “A video game that explores how silences are created and passed down through generations is very timely for today as we call on all Americans to confront the past and reconcile our national history so that it delivers justice for all, particularly African Americans. This is what ‘Blackhaven’ offers, and through historical gaming, it takes a media platform that appeals to this generation and educates them on history through it.”

Dr. Roberts and the group of students worked with Coltrain to formulate dialogue and accurate reflections of the experiences of an HBCU student of color in an unwelcoming historical space. Dr. Roberts and the students held long zoom sessions with Coltrain to develop Kendra, voiced by actress and former HBCU student Darby Farr.

“Professor Coltrain was intentional about being inclusive in creating this narrative. He centered Black voices and perspectives in this game, casting a former HBCU student as the voice of the main character and working with myself, Dr. Sharlene Sinegal-DeCuir and four Xavier students to develop an authentic character that is recognizable for Black audiences. I appreciate his deliberate collaboration as the creative force behind this historical game. The work was always important, but it is far more representative because Xavier faculty and staff were invited in to enhance it.” Dr. Roberts said.

“Blackhaven” is a first-person 3D narrative game that follows Kendra as she works alone during a holiday at the grounds of Blackhaven Hall, the site of the ruins of the eponymous 18th-century mansion supposedly burned down during a battle of the American Revolution and base of the Blackhaven Hall Historical Society. Thomas Harwood, a fictionalized “forgotten founding father,” was the mansion’s original owner, and the building has been restored in a modern glass and steel reconstruction. As Kendra works through the archives, galleries and exhibits of the Blackhaven Hall Historical Society, she finds cracks in the official story of Blackhaven Hall, uncovering a trail of insidious secrets and misdeeds that spans centuries. Kendra’s curiosity leads to discovery and determination of her future.

“James saw the necessity of bringing in people that reflect the life experience of the character he was developing,” said Tia Alphonse, a recent Xavier graduate who worked with Coltrain as a student. “It was really amazing to collaborate on the character’s dialogue. Students from Xavier brought Kendra to life.”

Alphonse is currently a graduate student at the University of Missouri.

“Blackhaven” was developed and published by Historiated Games, a company that Coltrain founded. It is the first game published by the company, with a related game, “Cassius,” currently under development and set for release in 2022. “Blackhaven” is available to play for free online and is recommended for ages 14 and up. Click here to experience “Blackhaven”.