The Unfortunate History Behind Kanye West’s ‘Donda’ Video Game

Image Credit: Unsplash License: Axel Antas Bergkvist

Rory Galvin takes a look into Kanye West’s cancelled video game project.

Kanye West is known to be an outrageous figure, and he does things specifically to gain one of the most precious commodities today - our attention. When you look at Ye beyond his music, you can clearly see that he tries to put his fingers in everything: with his successes in fashion and music, to his failed TV pilots and presidential bid. So, is it really surprising that he tried to make a video game about his late mother?

That’s right. Years before the ‘Donda’ album, Kanye was hosting a massive listening party to his new project at the time ‘The Life of Pablo’. Here, in between songs, he almost nonchalantly announces what he’s been working on: “Oh, yeah. I worked on a video game and I wanted to show y’all.” The trailer that plays is nothing short of beautiful, with awe-inspiring images of what looks to be Donda West flying through the clouds, accompanied by a tear-jerking cover of ‘Only One,’ another song by West. The game shares its title with said song.

That was it however; a well-put together animation, a title and the words “Coming Soon.” It’s not uncommon to see a trailer like this, half of shows like E3 have the same shtick, but an enigmatic figure such as Kanye is going to draw eyes no matter what. He described the game as “... my mom travelling through the gates of heaven,” and left it at that. Any more details were left unsaid.

Only One - The Game was in development from Encyclopedia Pictura, a film and animation studio based in Los Angeles. The game would have been this first kind of project for them (the closest thing they’ve done before was web design.) So, while it may seem like a strange decision from West to hire a team like this, they seemed to be one of the remaining options in a sea of no’s. Kanye says himself what kind of experiences he had trying to pitch the game in the same listening event: “I would go out and meet with everybody in San Fran and they’ll diss the f*ck out of me… they’ll be like f*ck you.” 

It’s not just nameless studios that declined, Reggie Fils-Aimé, the former Nintendo of America president, has his own Kanye story. They first met at E3 and later talked business in a meeting that Kim Kardashian also attended. This was where Kanye would have pitched his ‘Only One’ game with the hopes of a Nintendo partnership. Reggie called the whole thing “interesting” and admired Kanye for “... [his] passion for the video game space…” as well as calling him “...a creator.” 

During the ‘Saint Pablo’ tour, West would regularly arrive on stage late, behave erratically, and have rants with no meaning. In the end, only 41 shows out of 63 were performed. These manic episodes are ultimately what caused Encyclopedia Pictura to distance themselves from West - they state it themselves on their website: “...following the events of November 2016, we parted from the project.” There is allegedly a completed version of the game, but Kanye wanted to increase the scope, so it was never released. 

there is a completed version of the game, but Kanye wanted to increase the scope, so it was never released.

In retrospect, cancelling a game due to bad optics gained from mental health issues doesn’t seem like a good look, but at the time, Kanye was making headlines for the wrong reasons because of what he said in a manic state. Will the early version of ‘Only One - The Game’ ever be released? Probably not, but when you think about a man like Kanye West, it leaves no doubt that he’ll try to do something similar in the future. After all, Kanye loves to create, “like Kanye loves Kanye.”