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Slavery for Gamers?

Posted by Francie Latour  September 7, 2011 11:05 PM

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Last month on the black online magazine The Root, media critic Nsenga Burton wrote a piece called "It's A Great Time To Be A Racist." She opened it with a line that many a person of color who follows politics has probably found themselves thinking lately: "Racists have officially lost their minds."

In the past few months, we've had: Glenn Beck griping that the term 'African-American' was invented to muzzle white people and make blacks feel like Superman; Michele Bachmann waxing nostalgic about the good old days of slavery, when black children had stable two-parent households and founding fathers tried like heck to end the system of bondage they themselves practiced; the enigma that is Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain calling out Rep. Maxine Waters as a plantation boss; and of course, President Obama -- otherwise known or depicted as a baby chimp, "your boy," "tar baby," and a few other graphic epithets that can't be repeated here.

So when a slickly produced trailer popped up in my inbox this week teasing a video game based on the Trans-Atlantic slave trade -- Slavery: The Game -- I will admit, I freaked. "Wow, I guess it is a great time to be a racist," I said out loud, to no one in particular. By the time I clicked the YouTube link, Slavery: The Game had already logged 250,000 hits. It's now topped 400,000.

I didn't need a Cornel West rhapsody to tell me that Slavery: The Game was about to knock The Help right into online oblivion, the next guaranteed, slam-dunk race controversy. The outrage was immediate and universal, although in some corners you could almost hear bloggers salivating at the shelf-life something this offensive and explosive could have.

Then, before we even got the chance to hear Bachmann weigh in (or possibly urge her supporters to pre-order), the whole thing started to crumble. It turned out the maker of the game, Javelin Reds, didn't exist. Gamers quickly poked holes in the advertised 18+ rating, saying the Entertainment Software Rating Board hadn't rated the game at all. And wouldn't you know it, by last night reports were confirming that the viral video was in fact a viral video -- by a Dutch public television station trying to promote a documentary series on the Netherlands' involvement in the slave trade. Despite posting their ticking bomb of a trailer on You Tube, the series producers said they figured it would mainly be seen by a Dutch audience; they didn't anticipate it would get so much play in the US, where "the topic of slavery has had much more attention." Well, yeah.

I still kind of hope Bachmann, fellow Republican candidate and slavery revisionist Rick Santorum, and their followers get to see the trailer, controversy or not. The well-meaning Dutch were clearly going for over-the-top commentary, but this video actually contains instructive nuggets some people running for president seem to have forgotten (or maybe never knew). "Make a tremendous fortune. Buy slaves. Discipline them. Exploit them. Become the most powerful slave trader."

And if all else fails, the sinister, thundering drumroll should help clue you in to the fact that it wasn't exactly fun times.

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
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About the author

Francie Latour writes about race, gender, ethnicity, and cultural identity. She’s written about everything from working-mom guilt to black Barbies as a contributor to The Boston Globe, where she worked for 11 years as an investigative reporter and features writer. More »

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