Playing History 2: The Slave Trade is a game that seeks to teach children about the slave trade. I have not played it, and thus can’t comment on the game’s quality, though a viewing of the game revealed, beyond the appearance of a “Slave Tetris” minigame, the presence of an anthropomorphic mouse who gives you gadgets, such as goggles that can see through time. If I were to play it now, which I would like to do, it wouldn’t be the same game that inspired outrage, since “slave Tetris” was removed. I can only comment on how it looks and the developer’s reaction to criticism, and will not comment on the game’s quality or how it plays. This isn’t a Guardian article about Terry Pratchett, after all.
Oddly, there was little outcry in the developer’s native Denmark. They ascribed this to some cultural differences in the United States. Perhaps it’s that Americans are oversensitive – or that Denmark eliminated slavery over 50 years before the US, without a civil war; that Denmark is 88% Danish while the United States is only 63% non-Hispanic white; or that slavery and the Civil War is still contentious and some states continued to fly the Confederate flag until this year; or that the textbooks recently approved by the state of Texas, and used nationwide for various financial reasons, whitewash slavery; that many still try to pretend that the Civil War was over “State’s Rights” (their right to do…what, exactly?); or it’s just that those damn Americans are just so sensitive about this for some weird reason.
The issue isn’t that they tried to teach about slavery. The issue is, from someone who hasn’t played it, is that it looks like the Slavers of Monkey Island. The issue is that there’s a mouse in a hat and a wacky sea dragon in the background of that abstract slavery mini-game. There’s a profound mismatch between how the game looks and what it’s about.
If you want to show us the inhumane conditions of slave ships, show us the inhumane conditions of slave ships. Not in an abstract minigame, next to a smiling Sea Serpent – take us inside the ships. Show us what they’re about. Place us in the perspective of one of the slaves being crammed in there and not the person cramming them in. Show us the horrors.
If we have to play as the slave ship’s crew, then don’t have the bent bodies and horrors of the process be Tetris pieces. Show us the slaves as people, and make us cram them in there as people. Not as an L-block that’s next to a grinning Nessie. Make us feel complicit, make us feel guilty about what we’ve done.
There possibly was a drive to “sanitize” it for kids. If you can’t commit to showing the horrors of slavery, and want to make it kid-friendly, then you should probably consider if this an appropriate topic, because you gain nothing by giving kids a false, sanitized version of slavery.
My viewing of the game made me think that it’s also weirdly patronizing. After Slave Tetris, the mouse returns to say that the conditions on ships were inhumane and says it was “certainly not nice”. Well, it was more than “not nice”, it was horrific. Kids deserve more than to be talked down to by a cartoon animal who pops up to remind them that slavery was very naughty.
The developer explained their rationale and it’s…something.
Below I try to summarize the different points
1). You cannot make a game about sensitive subjects. Slave trade is too serious a topic, and should not be done in a ‘fun medium’ like games. This is similar to people saying you cannot make visual novels of difficult subjects or movies like Schindler’s List because movies are entertainment medium.
Right. But Schindler’s List wasn’t a zany animated epic that taught about the Holocaust via an abstract musical number about Jewish people taking showers. It was a serious movie that showed us the horrors of the Holocaust, unfiltered. It didn’t try to sanitize it or place distance between us and the subject matter.
3). Slave tetris is a mockery and insensitive. I definitely agree it is insensitive and gruesome. It has to be like this to show what was done to load slave ships. People treated human beings as pieces that just had to fitting into the cargo.
But it ISN’T gruesome. It’s sugar-coated. The twisted bodies of slaves are abstract game pieces. There’s a damn cartoon mouse next to the Slave Tetris. A cartoon mouse!
The developer seems incapable of understanding why anyone objected to Slave Tetris or their game. Instead of considering if their game’s tone was wrong, or if this was a bad way to educate about slavery, they just think people are angry because they dared to make a game about this topic. Sure, some people may think slavery is an improper subject for a game, but the criticism I saw was largely saying “I think this was a bad way to teach about this” and not “you should NEVER have tried to do this”.
6). I have not included the random – you are a racist, disgusting, crazy comments, if you can’t see how crazy you are I can’t explain you etc. Lots of people just following like sheep because something on the surface looks wrong.
These dumb fucks, judging my game off of things in it!
People are so eager to just jump on a wagon. I think the situation we have where people behave this way is far more worrying than any game that could ever be made. We are going towards a closed society, where sensitive and controversial subjects are not welcome in public because it causes an outcry focusing on motives and persons rather than the subject which stops any open debate.
This Slave Tetris defense/Donald Trump campaign speech says we’re entering a closed society, where sensitive and controversial subjects just can’t be discussed at all. And that’s why a movie about slavery, 12 Years a Slave, earned $187 million and 3 Oscars, including Best Picture, in 2013 – because you just can’t discuss these subjects nowadays without being shut down by the all-powerful Social Justice Warriors. It isn’t possible that I handled this subject badly, it’s just that I live in a society where you can’t discuss these topics at all. Or you’ll be awarded with money and prizes for discussing it. It’s almost like how you go about making your point matters or something.
Political correctness has gone mad, you know, because people said critical things about my video game and I chose voluntarily to change it. People are too busy discussing “why you made a game” and “is this game good” not worshiping my genius for making this game, which they just didn’t “get”, obviously. So it goes.