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Serious Games pulls controversial slave content from Steam

"Maybe we should hide the banana for a while," says CEO on Slave Tetris

At first glance the screenshot from Danish studio Serious Games Interactive's Playing History 2 - Slave Trade looks like a South Park parody, but is in fact from a mini-game that asks players to fit as many slaves as possible into a ship's hold, Tetris style.

Now, in response to media and social media attention, Serious Games has pulled the mini-game from Playing History 2 - Slave Trade.

The game was actually released in September 2013, but the developer decided to act after images of the "Slave Tetris" began to spread across social media and mainstream news outlets began to report on the story.

Worryingly Serious Games still seems a little baffled by the negative attention for the "educational" game, despite the clearly dehumanising nature of the gameplay, calling it unimportant and comparing it to a banana.

"Basicially, we removed the Tetris part because it distracted the discussion from what was important and was literally 15 secs out of two hour game," said Simon Egenfeldt-Nielsen, Serious Games CEO in a Steam discussion.

"I know I have the freedom of speech but if yelling banana means we cannot talk about the rest of fruits - well maybe we should hide the banana for a while"

Simon Egenfeldt-Nielsen

"In other words it wasn't as important for us as for a lot of people, so why not just remove it.. I know I have the freedom of speech but if yelling banana mean [sic] we cannot talk about the rest of fruits - well maybe we should hide the banana for a while."

In a longer post called "The rationale behind the game slave trade" Egenfeldt-Nielsen also tried to defend the game on a point by point basis, comparing Slave Tetris to Schindler's List. We've included the post in full below.

So a lot of people are appalled by the game. Some on a very superficial level and some on a deeper. The critique runs on a number of levels, and we may very well have overstepped some people's boundaries - that was not the intention, and sorry about that, but it is hard to tackle a sensitive subject. We have done this in the past with games about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, sweat shops in Bangladesh, modern slavery in Bolivia to mention but a few of the many games we have done.

Below I try to summarize the different points:

You cannot make a game about sensitive subjects. Slave trade is too serious a topic, and should not be done in a 'fun medium' like games. This is similar to people saying you cannot make visual novels of difficult subjects or movies like Schindler's List because movies are entertainment medium. You can express any idea through any medium.

You should not be able to play slave trade, where you act as a slave owner or slave trader. Actually you don't as such. In the game you are a slave on a slave ship stuck between a rock and a hard place. So as a slave you become pulled into some of these atrocities. You need to done what is said, help with getting slaves and load them.. until at the right time you can make your move.

Slave tetris is a mockery and insensitive. I definitely agree it is insensitive and gruesome. It has to be like this to show what was done to load slave ships. People treated human beings as pieces that just had to fitting into the cargo. The reactions people have to this game is something they will never forget, and they will remember just how inhumane slave trade was. If this is the case then we have accomplished what we set out to do. You may not like the way we do it, but I have seen enough school classes use this to know it has the intended effect - a lot people never think of slave trade as something that just happened in the past.

Some people enjoy playing with slaves, and we are a instrument for these. Honestly, play the game. If someone wants to help a slave escape or 2 hours, and then enjoy 15 secs of slave tetris I think I got a good chance of changing that person's perception of slavery.

"We are going towards a closed society, where sensitive and controversial subjects are not welcome in public"

Simon Egenfeldt-Nielsen

The game is racist in its depiction of people. All characters use the same visual style. The same style is used in the prequel Plague, so this is probably more a question of people own mindset than our. Indeed without making any claim to the same aesthetics Picasso was laid for hate as he made his grotesque paintings of people.

I have not included the random - you are a racist, disgusting, crazy comments, if you can't see how crazy you are I can't explain you etc. Lots of people just following like sheep because something on the surface looks wrong.

People are so eager to just jump on a wagon. I think the situation we have where people behave this way is far more worrying than any game that could ever be made. We are going towards a closed society, where sensitive and controversial subjects are not welcome in public because it causes an outcry focusing on motives and persons rather than the subject which stops any open debate.

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Rachel Weber

Senior Editor

Rachel Weber has been with GamesIndustry since 2011 and specialises in news-writing and investigative journalism. She has more than five years of consumer experience, having previously worked for Future Publishing in the UK.