Modern society can be surprisingly squeamish, and the subjects that we are uncomfortable with continue to be equally astonishing. To beat a long-dead horse, the Grand Theft Auto series (in)famously features the ability to rape and kill prostitutes among a laundry list of other possible crimes, and despite the widespread criticism it initially received for including this function, continues to do so. Ultimately, the choice to exploit this feature of the game is for the player to make, though some other choices, (ie. killing people and stealing cars) are essential to the game-play. After all, the game is not called The Optimist Club: Promoting Social Justice.
In a sound critique of Sid Meier’s Colonization, Trevor Owens points out that the game avoids including slave trade in its economic structure, which he suggests was left out to avoid offending players.1 Similar to how the point of Grand Theft Auto is to steal cars, Owens makes the argument that a game called Colonization needs to include slavery, which was an integral part of the economic structure of the colonization process as per triangular trade. Slaves were shipped to North America from Africa in exchange for guns, and then would be used as the labour force to produce raw materials. Those raw materials were then sent to Europe in exchange for manufactured goods – including guns – and the cycle continued.
Slavery is an inherently offensive thing. Nevertheless, as a society we cannot afford to overlook it in our media, which includes our games. Our society’s collective memory, as Maurice Halbwachs describes it, does not include events and details which are not relevant to the present.2 When applied to society’s historical consciousness, this means that aspects of history which are omitted from publicly accessible representations – as slavery was in Colonization – essentially die out of popular memory. When creating games with history in mind, in order to preserve the ‘truth’ of the events, sometimes that will mean including the ugly details. Including the unfortunate truths – even in game-play – does not mean game makers need to glorify the tragedies of history. It is, if anything, more respectful because by increasing the level of realism it at least recognizes a tragedy occurred in the first place.
- Trevor Owens, 2010, ‘Sid Meiers Colonization: Is it offensive enough?’ Play the Past. http://www.playthepast.org/?p=278 [↩]
- Maurice Halbwachs, 1992. On Collective Memory. Ed. Lewis A. Coser. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. pp 32. [↩]
- Comments off
- Posted under Week Two - Historical Consciousness