Editor's note: News sources are now reporting that the video fro "Slavery: The Game" is a promotion for a Dutch documentary series about slavery. -- Julie
I am puzzled and somewhat distraught. Through a friend's Facebook post, I learned of a website for a supposed video game that may be real but is more than likely bogus. It's called "Slavery the Game." While its website requires that you enter an age to verify you're old enough to see the horror behind the first page, the same video you see at that website is available for view on YouTube to anyone, and this offensive "game" threatens to go live in Spring 2012.
When I first saw the website video, a lead ball dropped in my stomach. Clearly the "game" is about the middle passage, the transatlantic slave trade of Africans to the Americas. I wondered, Could this be real? Could this ever be a major-market virtual reality game? (Here I could comment on the whole plantation/slave trade tourism that flourishes in the American South, a big money maker right here in Louisiana, and that some people seem to fantasize through them about the "good ole days" of antebellum living, but I don't have time for that right now.)
Next, evaluating the video's rhetoric, I wondered if this advertisement for the "game" were some kind of political statement. If so, it gets a big fat fail from me the same way the "Hit the Bitch" campaign did. Fail. Fail, fail, fail!
I even tried to discern if the narrator's voice was that of a man of African-Diaspora descent. (Yes, you can sometimes tell ethnicity without visuals.) It sounds like it could be, but I'm not sure, and that the creator's ethnicity is cloaked led me also to ponder, "What if a black creator is behind this product? Would that change the purpose of the game's creation?"
The Escapist has also pondered who is behind this game. The writer suggests that it may be bogus, some kind of publicity stunt. According to his research:
... neither this game, nor the people making it seem to exist anywhere outside of that single web page.
The description on the YouTube clip up there claims the game is the work of UK-based Total War creators The Creative Assembly, but the game appears nowhere on that firm's site.
Javelin Reds Gaming, the title's supposed creator, doesn't exist as far as we can tell. The phone number listed on the site leads to a Google Voice inbox (with a Kentucky area code) and "firstname.lastname@example.org" appears to be a nonfunctional email address.
We even went so far as to plug "Javelin Reds" into an internet anagram generator, but as you can plainly see, the results offer little in the way of illumination.
I looked up slaverythegame.com on WhoIs and learned that the domain is registered through GoDaddy.com using its privacy proxy service. Seeing how secretive this creator or creators are, I'm inclined to believe that it's a malicious hoax unleashed on a fragile world by a person or people who have not yet grasped the ineffectiveness of ambiguity in marketing and messaging or the damage a mixed-message may do. It could also just as easily have been done by a bright but immature designer who still lives with his mom.
That's the problem with problematic creative products produced by anonymous artist: They're anonymous. Anonymous is a non-entity with no definable ethos/ethical character. And if you know nothing of a creator's character, his or her core beliefs, then you are unable to give him or her the benefit of the doubt, if what that creator produces or says can be perceived as malicious. You see the "art," and if it looks like an ugly vampire duck out to kill and maim, then it's an ugly vampire duck out to kill and maim.
In the case of this "game," the concept is so horrifying -- the idea that people would take pleasure from reliving and playing at slavery -- and such alternative entertainment has the potential to do so much social damage should it be real, that I think it's a natural first instinct to think this "game" can't possibly be a sincere attempt to deliver a gaming product. Indeed, when my adult daughter, a gamer, saw the video, she gasped in disbelief, and immediately declared "It's a hoax." She then tried to shake off her disgust by analyzing the video, and she said that you can tell the advertisement is a hoax by all the logos for major game companies at the bottom. She thinks it's "an exercise in hyperbole."
But others have suggested that it could be some crazy-azz way to try to sell such a game to a company, a company that I think would have to have some kind of crazier-azz corporate death wish.
After I first posted on this video with its threatened game premiere at my blog, I conversed on Twitter with @DrGoddess, an American and Africana Studies scholar. Considering the use of the clause "exploit them" in the video's script, she, too, speculated that it could have been a misguided attempt by a black person (or ally) to call attention to the inhumane system of American-style slavery. However, she gave it a failing grade as well. If it were created for the purpose of indicting slavery, then "It doesn't serve its intended purpose AT. ALL," she tweeted.
Continuing the conversation at My Brown-Eyed View, where Ms. Lady Deborah blogged about the video with untempered passion, I added that if the video were created for the purpose of indicting slavery, then it was as misguided as the infamous picture of then-potential-FLOTUS Michelle Obama posted by a Daily Kos blogger in 2008. Professor Kim Pearson wrote about the Photoshopped image then, Michelle Obama depicted as KKK victim ... by a supporter?"
I would also add to the list that New Yorker cover that even opponents of then-presidential-candidate Obama agreed was inflammatory. BlogHer's Lisa Stone blogged about that controversy when the story broke. Like the Daily Kos blogger, the New Yorker artist intended to protest the way the Obamas were being treated.
Ms. Lady Deborah does not think the intent of the video is ambiguous at all, and she says adamantly that it doesn't matter to her whether the video is part of a hoax or not:
There is a lot of speculation about the real existence of this game. People are dubbing it a hoax. Even if it is just that -- a hoax, I find myself feeling very angry about the message that the creator of the video is sending out.
It is no secret that America's story as a slaveholding nation is a touchy subject with African Americans. Whoever put the video together is clearly stating that the pain and horror of America's enslavement industry means to us as a group of people is irrelevant. It is exploitable for those who are daring enough to play the game based on an era of true human misery and mistreatment in these United States.
Even if the enslaved Africans can rebel during the game, it does not override the imagery and the mentality that created the model for contemporary human trafficking. If the damn game is never released in the public sector, the fact still remains that someone is sending out a message about the glory days of America. When capital gains were acquired at the expense of other nations and their indigenous people.
I still believe that the question of whether the video is a hoax is a reasonable one as well as the questions that naturally follow the speculation: What would it mean if the game is real and a success? What would such a success say about America and where this nation is headed?
In addition, the use of the company logos in the video presents an intriguing issue for activists who may want the video and the "Slavery: The Game" website down. Can its creator use those companies' logos without permission? Of course, if the creator is pressured to remove the logos, he/she will probably just edit the video and put it up again without the logos. Oh, where are the Super Hero Stuxnet hackers when you need them? Don't we have any of those who want to fight racist propaganda and hate speech? (I speak of hackers with tongue in cheek. I do not condone website vandalism.)
Anyway, until we know who's behind this offensive "game," we won't know if the creator was genuinely motivated to attack racism and slavery or to glorify it. In the meantime, has this video's creator done more damage than good for the world community by publishing this video to the Web? What is his/her game?
But another consideration, hoax or not, we do know that the video is public and anyone can watch it, even impressionable youth, our children.
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