Slavery: The Game is a Hoax – But Still Worth Discussing

Above is the trailer circulating for a game based on slavery – but it appears that this is fake, despite all the attention it’s been attracting.

As Jessica Conditt explains in her post for Joystiq:

These are lined up at the bottom of the site, right next to the overwhelming sense of relief we felt when we realized neither 360 nor PS3 release AO titles. Further, the ESRB doesn’t list a rating for anything called Slavery the Game and the proposed developer, Javelin Reds Gaming, doesn’t exist. One YouTube version of the trailer credits The Creative Assembly with making Slavery the Game, but it isn’t mentioned anywhere on The Creative Assembly’s site. We’ve contacted The Creative Assembly for clarification.

A lot of people are rightfully horrified at a game predicated on the slave trade from the slave master’s perspective – specifically glorifying the dehumanizing nature of slavery for cheap amusement. However, even though the game is fake, I hesitate to fully condemn the premise, probably because of one of my other favorite games: Age of Empires: The Conquerers.

A game can do anything we program it to do – and AoE:TC allowed me to rewrite history, by allowing the people of Tenochtitlan to defeat the Conquistadors.

AoE:TC is a civilization based game, one that bases the action on real historical events and allows players to recreate key battles in play. Along the way, you also essentially create a civilization from scratch and learn to defend your base. Now, in the wrong hands, it’s very easy for these games to revert to a standard colonialist/racist/imperialist view of history, as the fake slavery game did. The presentation of history there was very one sided – the game proposed no premise to question what was happening historically. The competition was solely from slavemaster to slavemaster, and the playability was set to revolve around violence toward enslaved people. And, to me as a player, totally boring. It’s the expected narrative story line – slave master rules pliable and silent masses of enslaved people. We’ve heard that narrative before, ad nauseam.

All the fun is in the subversion.

In AOE: TC, each civilization has it’s strong points and weak points. Depending on region and practice, some places have calvary units and some do not. Some have gunpowder technology, some do not. Some have advanced naval capabilities, some do not. So quite a bit of the fun in the game is figuring out in what circumstances your civilization would be successful at resisting invasion or conquering other nations. It was also a valuable lesson into history. For me, the fun of playing both the Spanish campaign and the Tenochtitlan campaign was hearing about the history and the need from both sides. When you play the Spanish campaign, the Conquistadors explain their goals, why they are doing it, and who they need to kill to get this done. You help them grow their army – and in some ways, watch history play out in a series of betrayals, accidents, and strategic alliances. (Or, as Jared Diamond called it, Guns, Germs, and Steel.) Then, you can flip the narrative – you play as the Tenochtitlan, and realize the vital need to resist invasion, to outsmart the Spanish, to understand their new technology and defeat it. Now, it’s been years since I’ve played – I can’t recall how historically accurate the campaigns actually are, and I can’t remember if there were other problematic elements in the game play. But, playing multiple sides of the same historical conflict gives you a tremendous amount of perspective – and I daresay, much more perspective than the average historical textbook.

Now, I haven’t kept up with how history is taught to K-12 students since I graduated high school in 2001. But back then, I remember history being a long line of domination and defeat, with the occasional black history facts thrown in to spice things up. (Crispus Attucks was the first martyr in the Revolutionary War! Black Dude Dies First: Historical Edition!) The only attempt to showcase a different view was my Modern World History class, taken in 11th grade, which would occasionally include a quick paragraph on the Igbo resisting slavery. But for the most part, Europeans came, saw, and conquered, and that’s the way it was. I had received some info that things weren’t quite that simple early in life – but it took accessing a lot more materials as an adult to realize that history is often a complicated mash as opposed to the linear narrative that we are taught.

Great civilization games not only explore history as it happened, but also the way it could have been. If Slavery: The Game was realized as it exists in the clip, it would be an epic fail. But if someone felt like working with the nuances and complications of the practice, it could also turn into something amazing. Many African American history museums have a permanent installation on slavery as part of the story of blacks in America. Most recently, when I visited the Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, I checked out their “And Still We Rise” exhibit. We started in an exhibit dedicated to the African continent, then walked through a recreation of a slave ship designed to explain the rigors (and horrors) of The Middle Passage. I couldn’t help wondering how we could create a game from this experience, something that is interactive on a different scale. What stories would we follow? Where do we start? What are the motivations of European slave traders and African slave traders? What types of betrayals occurred? How do we program to show the difficulty of surviving the middle passage? How does a person other someone else so completely as to sell them? How does one stoke the fires of an uprising? Could we play as a policy maker debating the merits of abolition? Of entry and escape? Is the main character Harriet Tubman or John Brown or Fredrick Douglass Game or Nat Turner?

Octavia Butler did an amazing retelling in Wild Seed; video games have the power to do the same thing. So this silly video may not have any redeeming qualities – but in the right hands, this could easily turn into something amazing.

  • http://www.lefteyelooking.wordpress.com ishtari

    It’s a Dutch campaign to bring awareness to the Netherland’s role in the slave trade and also the rest of Europe.  Here’s two links to the site:  http://www.slaverythegame.com/

    and the other link where they discuss it and the tv series they’ve produced about modern slavery and human trafficking:

    http://www.perspagina.nl/de-slavernij/trailer-slavery-a-the-game-is-viral-to-raise-awareness-for-slavery/

  • Kat

    It’s not a “hoax”, it’s a viral campaign to get people interested in fighting against present day slavery and reflecting on American, British etc history of slavery. I think this should be added to the post.  

    • Anonymous

      Sure, you have a source for it? At the time the post was written, Joystiq had taken steps to debunk, but there is no mention of it being linked to any other campaign.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/John-Smith/100000555242151 John Smith

    Even if this is just one big giant “Troll”,  it looks like it could be fun-  kind of a sim/dopewars combination.  Hope some brave publisher picks this up.

  • http://twitter.com/MalikPanama Malik

    Hm, I was actually more interested in seeing a finished product to gauge the coverage, how many people would have liked the game ‘ironically’, reading previews, reading reviews, etc.