I knew something was wrong when I found myself doing doughnuts in a fully loaded slave ship off of Ivory Coast.
During the past week, an educational game aimed at elementary and middle school students titled "Playing History 2 — Slave Trade" has been the subject of online controversy over a brief segment that involved puzzle-stacking the bodies of cartoon slaves inside a ship.
This earned the game the nickname "Slave Tetris. Accusations of racism were leveled against Serious Games by Twitter users in the U. In response, the Danish company removed the "Tetris"-like segment though references to "stacking" slaves still existtweeting that "it was perceived to be extremely insensitive by some people.
Buy slave master: the game
But why was the slave-stacking mini-game originally included in "Playing History"? And is the rest of the game as bad as the "Slave Tetris" portion, which sounds like something racist Internet trolls would make? Is removing just one section of this game enough?
To find out, I decided to play the game from start to finish and try to make sense of what was conceived as a legitimate teaching tool. First, some background: In the game, you play as a young slave boy named Tim, who must help his master, a slave ship captain, buy slaves and transport them to the Americas.
Along the way, you discover that your sister is being sold as well. Instead of taking the guns and rebelling or freeing her immediately, you stuff her into a slave ship and sail her across the Atlantic.
Yes — you, a black slave, pilot the slave ship. To "win" this section, you are literally tasked with being a good slave driver. As time expires, your boat runs out of rations. So you need to steer the boat, avoid wind blasts that blow you off course, and collect items that replenish your food gauge.
But whether you make the trip successfully or not, you have the option of playing through the segment again — over and over.
I played ‘slave tetris’ so your kids don’t have to
This portion is all about the fun of scooting around on a boat as a ship captain. It reminded me of playing "The Oregon Trail" in the third grade on an old Apple IIe that we had in the back of the classroom at my elementary school. That game is supposed to teach you pioneer life on the frontier while leaving out the massacre of Native Americans. As a third-grader, all I wanted to do slage game to get to the hunting scene, where you get to shoot bears and squirrels. Except this time, you schlep around black people while collecting icons of cakes and wine — delicacies that the slaves below deck are certainly not eating.
Texas students disciplined after conducting online ‘slave trade’ game
Somehow, this part of the game has escaped media attention. Serious Games has had to answer for only the "Slave Tetris" portion.
According to a statement posted on the Steam forums from Serious Games Chief Executive Simon Egenfeldt-Nielsen, the slave-cramming mini-game was intended to be "insensitive and gruesome," in order to teach about slavery effectively. Would a young player be able to grasp the slage game of the slave trade, all while being rewarded for stacking brick slaves efficiently or expertly navigating a slave ship? I called her to ask if she would recommend a mini-game like "Slave Tetris" to teach kids, and before I could finish the question she interrupted me: "Slavery should not be fun.
Even if the classroom was all black, what kind of image is that, seeing yourself played with as a Tetris block? In a game that claims to portray horrors of the transatlantic slave trade, the slave owners in "Slave Trade" are pretty nice. If you complete a simple task for even the meanest white person, they are kinder to you. In fact, some of the rudest characters in the game are not white slavers but black slave characters, who sometimes refer to white characters as "white devils.
The most sympathetic character in the game is Doctor Eagleledge, a kind old white man whose job is to keep the crew and cargo of the slave ship healthy. Eagleledge offers to write to King George about the poor conditions of slave ships, but he never takes any real action himself. Instead, he offers distractions, telling your character that "the only way to forget the horrors is to think of something else, like poetry. Any young player who finishes "Slave Trade" will know what scurvy was, that some slaves died during the the trip from West Africa to the Americas, and how slage game that voyage took.
In an African village, your character gets into an argument with an African man who is angry at you for collaborating with the white slavers. It reduces slavery to a story of "bad people" on both sides doing bad things and ignores the structure of violence and racism that allowed slavery to happen. Another troubling part of this game is the point system. But if you lie to your master to help a slage game, you risk losing "Trust Points. The moral lesson seems to be: Bide your time, be polite, and endure — or in other words, be a good slave.
At the end, you help other slaves escape captivity. This is a "happy ending" and possibly what a young gamer might expect.
But it serves to lighten the mood in a game that is probably too light to begin with, considering that it already includes a comic-relief caricature named Susu, the spear-wielding, bare-chested African who cracks lines like Mr.
He also said that the game was not intended to be a stand-alone experience. Serious Games sent me a copy of supplementary print-out materials provided for teachers and students to use along with the game.
Texas high schoolers disciplined for 'slave-trading game' that auctioned off classmates based on race
To be fair, these materials would round out the learning experience considerably. Students are asked to not only answer factual questions about the triangular trade but more open-ended questions, such as "What kind of view of humanity is slave trading based on? Other educational games have tackled slavery as a theme, but they have fared better, at least in the eyes of critics.
The topic of slavery also turns up in fictional, story-based games. The game has not yet been released, but reviews are also positive: Gaming site Polygon called it " beautiful and heartbreaking. At the same time, the public bashing of "Slave Trade" — with online commenters pointing indignantly at the "Tetris"-styled portion or cracking jokes about it — is an all too easy way to publicly posture against overt racism.
It is unlikely that slage game game will ever be used in any U. But we are raising a generation of children in Texas where, inthe State Board of Education has in effect declared that slavery was just a side issue in the Civil War and where textbooks are not required even slage game mention Jim Crow or the Ku Klux Klan. Those kids will grow up to be parents, teachers, governors, or maybe even presidents.
Is a slave simulation game appropriate for classrooms?
Some of us seem to be comfortable condemning a foreign-made indie game that few will ever play. Even conservative sites like Breitbart have jumped on the train. But when our own public institutions attempt to whitewash our own history, we are a bit more hesitant with the criticism. That, to me, is dangerous.
Texas students disciplined over 'slave trade game'
My hope is that the uproar over this silly game will encourage us to question our own learning materials and keep the conversation going about how we teach our own history. Happy 30th, 'Super Mario Bros. Cinematic 'Until Dawn' sets its sights higher than typical horror fare.
He has taught media studies and Japanese and is writing a book about Japanese hip-hop. He has written for several outlets internationally on topics as diverse as Internet and youth culture, social justice and video games. He left The Times in All Sections.
I played ‘slave tetris’ so your kids don’t have to
About Us. B2B Publishing. Business Visionaries.
Hot Property. Times Events.
Times Store. Facebook Twitter Show more sharing options Share Close extra sharing options.
The antebellum era
By Dexter Thomas writer. If you try to go back to Africa, you fail. The most disturbing thing is that this is one of the most engaging and "fun" parts of the game. But other facts risk being misconstrued. Dexter Thomas. More From the Los Angeles Times.