'Slave Trade' Video Game Sparks Backlash

By Sheryl Estrada


We live in a world where an “educational” video game that depicts the 18th-century slave trade included a mini game, “Slave Tetris,” in which one had to stack Black slaves in a ship to win points, like Tetris the puzzle video game from the ’80s.

Serious Games Interactive launched “Playing History 2: Slave Trade“in 2013 to teach children ages 11 to 14 about slavery and the Middle Passage. For the majority of the game, the user is a young slave steward named Putij, working on a ship that crosses the Atlantic Ocean.

The website states:

You are a former slave employed on a slave ship en route from Europe to Africa. In Africa, your sister [is] caught, and you should try to free her and escape. During the boat journey you will learn about the triangular trade, slaves conditions and Europeans role.

At the end of August, when “Playing History 2” was released on Steam, an online distribution platform for video games, it quickly caught the public’s attention and Twitter users in the U.S. expressed outrage.

Due to the backlash, Serious Games Interactive, which is a video game developer based in Copenhagen, Denmark, removed the “Slave Tetris” portion of the game last week and banned the following trailer:

The company issued the following statement onSteam:

Slave Tetris has been removed as it was perceived to be extremely insensitive by some people. This overshadowed the educational goal of the game. Apologies to people who was offended by us using game mechanics to underline the point of how inhumane slavery was. The goal was to enlighten and educate people not to get sidetracked discussing a small 15 secs part of the game.

The CEO of Serious Games Simon Egenfeldt-Nielsen wrote in aSteam online forumresponses to criticisms such asSlave Tetris is a mockery. “I definitely agree it is insensitive and gruesome,” he wrote. “It has to be like this to show what was done to load slave ships.The reactions people have to this game is something they will never forget, and they will remember just how inhumane slave trade was.”

He also toldThinkProgressthat, to his knowledge, the game is not being used in U.S. schools and his company “didn’t set out to make a racist or inflammatory game” about slavery. He said cultural differences between Europe and the U.S. is the cause of the outrage over the game.The company, which has received awards in Europe for the game, has also created games about sweatshops in Bangladesh, for example.

[Playing History 2: Slave Trade] is a game that is used by around 10 percent of Danish schools, and in general has been seen as doing a lot of things right Maybe there is just a lot of culturally differences in what you can discuss and express and maybe just maybe there are larger issues at stake here then whether slave tetris was bad taste or not and maybe as a lot of the tweeters say a stupid white dane like me don’t know anything, and shouldn’t be allowed to say a single word about the story of African-Americans. What do I know … We just tried to make a game to teach about what we thought was an important topic.

In other words, Egenfeldt-Nielsen believes the message of the product, which remains available, has been lost in translation. However, complex historical racist atrocities such as slavery cannot be translated into scenes with electronic characters. “Playing History 2: Slave Trade” not only diminishes the subject matter, but has the potential to visually perpetuate stereotypes and bigotry, while also preventing children from developing the emotional intelligence needed to understand the effects of slavery.

As we live in a technological society, game-based learning is on the rise as an education tool for children. What do you think aboutgame-based learning for complex U.S. history such as slavery

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