Playing History 2—The Slave Trade is a 2013 educational game developed by Dutch company Serious Games that invites users to "Travel back to the 18th century and experience the horrors of the transatlantic slave trade." In the game, players take on the role of a young slave who is in the Middle Passage. The Serious Games website claims that the Playing History series has won awards for "best learning game in Europe."
The AV Club reports, though, that the game features a mini-game whose goal is to fit as many slaves as you can into the ship's hull, contorting their bodies "to fit inside irregular Tetris shapes, into the ship."
"The more you can fit, the higher your score." The mini-game has since been removed from Playing History 2 following an outcry.
For people unfamiliar with The Middle Passage, the phrase refers to the three-to-four month journey across the Atlantic where slaves were chained to the floor or stored on shelves, unable to move for very long stretches of time. The slaves were mixed up among ethnic lines so that communication—and therefore rebellion—was all but impossible. The slaves were kept in the cargo hold to prevent them from figuring out how to operate the ship in the event that a rebellion was mounted and succeeded. During the Transatlantic trip, the death rate was around 25% and the dead and dying were usually thrown overboard.
Truly, the stuff that great video games are made of.
The AV Club notes that the game's offensive Tetris-esque aspect was not noticed by the public at large until the game was made available on Steam, Valve's game sales platform.
The company "updated" the game on Monday, removing "Slave Tetris" because "it was perceived to be extremely insensitive by some people."
The company issued a statement on their Steam page that reads suspiciously like "sorry, not sorry" saying, "Apologies to people who were offended by us using game mechanics to underline the point of how inhumane slavery was."
The commenters at least sort of get it.
Other titles in the Playing History catalog include The Plague (which still has its Tetris-based mini-game) and Vikings. If you are looking for educational resources about the slave trade and the Middle Passage, meanwhile, PBS is a good place to start.
[h/t AV Club]
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