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Bugs Bunny, LeBron James, an Xbox game, and the unusual Indian connection

An Indian teen’s ideas for “Space Jam: A New Legacy – The Game” has won global recognition

When Narayan Karthikeyan got his hands on a copy of Space Jam: A New Legacy – The Game, the first thing he did was not to play the game but to check out the credits.

“It’s got my name on it!” he screamed.

Narayan is one of the two winners of a global competition that sought ideas for an Xbox arcade game based on Warner Bros. Pictures’ new film Space Jam: A New Legacy starring basketball champion and global icon LeBron James, Bugs Bunny, and the Tune Squad.

The 16-year-old 11th grader came across a call for entries in December 2020. In a moment of inspiration, he entered his ideas for the game directly on the competition website.

“I didn’t even save a copy of what I’d submitted,” he says.

Narayan’s entry was simple, lucid, and concise. In his 176-word note, he outlined the story of the game and the various power-ups that would help the player progress from one level to the next while achieving different objectives and winning bonus abilities along the way.

He never once thought his submission would win. So, when his father told him he was a winner, Narayan was over the moon. He says, “I was running all around the house, dancing with joy.”

Home for Narayan is Thiruvananthapuram near the southern tip of India. His father works as a junior engineer at the local airport and his mother is a physics teacher. He also has younger twin brothers.

a photo of three boys celebrating while playing an xbox game
Narayan Karthikeyan plays the Xbox game he helped ideate with his twin brothers at their home in Trivandrum, India

Though he’s still a teenager, Narayan is an old soul who loves all things retro.

“I’ve been a pop culture enthusiast and Bugs Bunny has always been one of my favorite characters,” he says, “I’m a big fan of the original Space Jam movie, which used to air a lot on television when I was growing up.”

He describes himself as a bookworm who studies economics and loves storytelling. He’s also a PC gamer who found himself playing some classic games from the early 2000s while being holed up at home during the pandemic.

“I’ve always loved seeing how characters in games and their storylines are built out. Some of the greatest stories are told in games,” he says.

His father Sreekumar K.G. supports his son’s interest in pop culture and gaming. “He does his studies and manages his time well,” Sreekumar says, “And he loves writing. When he was 7, he wrote a collection of short stories.”

Space Jam: A New Legacy – The Game” brings together a lot of his interests: arcade games, storytelling, and movies. But importantly, it brings to life Narayan’s ideas and vision.

“I met up with the Xbox team over a Teams call and we discussed how they’re going to incorporate my ideas into the game,” he says.

All the while he kept the project a secret. He says, “My friends who are Xbox subscribers didn’t know about it till they saw the trailer of the game. They couldn’t believe that I was part of it.”

Seeing his ideas come alive on screen has been a surreal experience. “When I first played the game, I was overwhelmed. I imagine it’s how a director must feel when they watch their movie on screen,” he says.

It’s also made him consider a career in gaming. “I’d love to be involved in creating stories and being part of the creative team that produces great games,” he says. “Winning this competition has been a big step in that direction.”

Aside from including his ideas in the game and his name in the official game credits, Narayan’s competition prizes included an Xbox One S console with his name on it, two wireless controllers and an annual subscription to Xbox Game Pass Ultimate. He also received an exclusive Space Jam: A New Legacy movie merchandise pack, VIP Nike Space Jam: A New Legacy kit, and signed memorabilia from LeBron James. Beyond the prizes Narayan gets to enjoy himself, he will also receive a hometown screening of the new film and a virtual coding workshop for Narayan and up to 50 participants from his local community.

To create the final game, Xbox and Warner Bros. blended the ideas of Narayan, the youth-competition winner, and Ricky, the adult-competition winner from the United States. Xbox and Warner Bros. were excited by the game mechanics that Narayan suggested, blended with Ricky’s idea of a classic “beat ’em up,” which combined for the perfect fun-for-the-whole-family arcade-style game

Space Jam: A New Legacy – The Game launched globally on July 1 exclusively to Xbox Game Pass Ultimate Perks for a limited time. The Space Jam: A New Legacy film is expected to come to India soon, so be sure to check your local theatre listings.

Abhishek Mande Bhot is an independent writer and editor covering news, lifestyle, and luxury for publications in India and the US.