The Blocks Didn’t Line Up
September 22nd, 2016 – An online game from Danish video company Serious Games once included a segment many referred to as “Slave Tetris” in their game “Playing History – Slave Trade.” Unlike “Oregon Trail,” a classic educational game of the past, players didn’t die of dysentery, but they did place as many different sized blocks filled with emaciated black slaves into the hold of the ship as they can.
The game has been around since 2013 garnering popularity in Europe but when it was added to the online game store Stream in August 2015, the controversy took off. CEO Simon Egenfeldt-Nielsen wrote his PhD thesis on the educational use of computer games, and the description of the game says it aims at having users witness the horrors of slave trade.
“Travel back in time and witness the horrors of slave trade firsthand. You will be working as young slave steward on a ship crossing the Atlantic. You are to serve the captain and be his eyes and ears. What do you do, when you realize that your own sister has been captured by the slave traders?”
That line of thinking wasn’t perceived and people took to Twitter to oppose what they saw as a reprehensible, dehumanizing game.
@SeriousGamesInt This game is reprehensible. If you don’t understand why, then hire someone who gets how truly hurtful & tone deaf it is.
— Lisa Hendrix (@LisaHendrix) August 29, 2015
@SeriousGamesInt This game is offensive and makes light of a terrible part of history that blacks still have not recovered from.
— Roxanne Chante’ (@ctelleen) August 30, 2015
Nielsen pointed out that this segment of the game only lasted 15 seconds and was intended to disgust people in an attempt to help them understand how inhumane slave trade was. However, the public outcry pushed the company to pull the segment.
“The game and trailer has been updated. Slave Tetris has been removed as it was perceived to be extremely insensitive by some people. This overshadowed the educational goal of the game,” their statement read. “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.”
Nielsen also followed up by quipping on Twitter: “Contemplating what our next game will be…. something that can’t possible hurt anybodies feelings… maybe just do a good old plan shooter.”