Everyone loves a good game, so Momo Pixel, a 27-year-old art director living in Oregon, decided to engineer one with a purpose. Her masterpiece is called Hair Nah, and it encourages users to digitally “swat” hands jockeying to touch a black woman’s hair. The free game, which can be played on hairnah.com, addresses an all too common microaggression plaguing black women. But it’s also really fun.
Released last Wednesday, the game attracted 10,000 new users in its first day; today, it has 100,000 total users. To play, gamers select an avatar (which come equipped with a selection of beautiful natural hair styles) and a city. Users tap left or right to swat hands attempting to touch the avatar’s hair. If you’re slow to swat, you might have to repeat one of the game’s four levels.
The Cut talked to Pixel about the game, and she explained Hair Nah’s uncomfortable genesis, how she enlisted her co-workers to help, and the lesson she hopes everyone learns.
Are you surprised how quickly the game gained popularity?
I knew it was going to go viral. I won’t be coy about that. This game’s dope; I’m dope. I just didn’t know it was going to go viral on Twitter. I thought it was going to go viral on Facebook because I have a following there. When I posted it [on Facebook] it was kind of like womp, womp. No one was playing it. A friend told me to post it on Twitter, but I had like 200 followers. I did it anyway. DeRay is the one who made it go off [with a retweet].
How long did it take to create Hair Nah?
Ten months. I was doing it during work. My job was super supportive, but I still had to do other work assignments. Sometimes I’d spend an hour on it, sometimes I’d spend 16 hours in one day. I’m not even going to lie, there were hella all-nighters.
What drove you to develop the game?
People touching my hair has been an issue since I moved to Portland. I hadn’t experienced it in any other cities, and I’ve lived in Kentucky, Atlanta, New York, and Chicago. I remember for the first six months in Portland I was pissed. Every time I would step outside, people would think they own me and would try to touch me. I was not used to that type of entitlement and ignorance, so I was mad. I would see a white person on the sidewalk and cross the street. I was trying to explain to my boss about how people were trying to touch my hair, and I was like: “What if we made a game where you could swat hands? That would be a funny game!” He was like: “Oh my god, you should make it!” The minute I got the okay, we went in.
It sounds like your co-workers, who are predominantly non-black, understood the importance of this issue.
They supported me, but they didn’t get it until I taught them. When I first got here, my job had an issue with touching my hair. It got to the point where I had to make people uncomfortable. There was this one time with a lady who works here, she’s quirky, and she was walking toward me and I could see her reaching, so I literally starting yelling: “don’t touch … ” and then she did it! After that, people started messaging me about how they were sorry about touching my hair in the past. People know me enough to know that I’m not a vindictive person, but when I have a problem, it’s a problem. They learned through that.
Who is this game ultimately for?
The game is for everyone, but at the core it’s for black women. I am a black women and I want to make something for us because there are a lot of things that aren’t for us. We don’t get to see ourselves playing. We don’t get to see ourselves in a fun light. A lot of things that are wrapped around us are usually upsetting. I’m just like, can we have something where we joke? I wanted to make something for us that felt otherworldly, even though it’s based in reality. I really wanted the art of this to feel beautiful. For her [the game avatar’s] skin to pop, I popped the background. But I also want white women to play this game and say: “Oh my god, I have done this my whole life and and I shall not do this again.”
What was your thought process when you designed the game’s avatars?
I tried to make the main character multiple black women, to the point where she looked like all black women. She has Teyana Taylor features, Meagan Good, your cousin next door lips; all the features that I love about us. For the hairstyles I did the classic fro, the bantu knots, and the big chop where you chop off all your hair. I was trying to make it relatable so you could feel empowered by finally being able to say “no” to people invading your personal space.
What famous person would you love to see playing the game?
Solange. You can’t make the “don’t touch my hair anthem” and then not play Hair Nah. Please, let this get to her, so I can have just have a sprinkle of her magic.
This interview has been edited and condensed.