The Danish game company Serious Games recently learned an important lesson: The best way to teach children about the horrors of the colonial-era slave trade is not by combining it with the tile-matching fun of Tetris.
Playing History 2 –The Slave Trade is a point-and-click adventure that puts players in the role of a young slave on the harrowing voyage across the Atlantic; a short segment of the game has the player deposit bodies, contorted to fit inside irregular Tetris shapes, into the ship. The more you can fit, the higher your score. Even strangers, players guide the figures into the cargo hold on a screen flanked by a mouse of Her Majesty’s Navy standing astride a serpentine dragon:
Playing History 2 –The Slave Trade has been available in relative obscurity since 2013. People became aware of the mini-game when the game landed on Steam, accompanied by a promotional sale. Two days later, it was gone:
Serious Games also issued an apology for the segment on its Steam page, writing: “Apologies to people who were offended by us using game mechanics to underline the point of how inhumane slavery was.” Is it possible to use video games to illuminate the brutality and injustice of the past? Certainly. Is it possible with a cheerful anthropomorphic mouse in an adorable little admiral costume tallying your score as you drop bodies into the hold of a ship? Probably not.