Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

How not to learn about the slave trade

PAXsims researcher Christian Palmer spotted this particular gem: Playing History 2: Slave Trade, an apparently serious game by the Danish company Serious Games Interactive. In it you get to play the exciting role of a black cabin boy on a European slave ship. Fun, fun, fun!

The video trailer is truly cringeworthy.

Among the amusing game puzzles is a sort of “slave Tetris” where you try to pack slaves into the cargo hold.


You’ll find a video play-through on YouTube here (slave Tetris at around the 29:00 mark).

I would like to think this is all some cunning piece of performance art akin to Train, meant to satirize both trivializing atrocity and the idiotic fringe of the educational game market—but apparently not. Indeed, it is for sale at the moment in the Steam store:

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?

As an article in Takepart notes, the game has provoked quite a bit of understandable outrage. The developers have removed the “slave Tetris” part of the game, but otherwise continue to market it. I look forward to their cutesy game of the Holocaust, or some similar mass atrocity.

3 responses to “How not to learn about the slave trade

  1. Rex Brynen 08/09/2015 at 4:33 am

    I think you’re absolutely right, Sean, that one can explore some pretty awful topics using games, whether to analyze or teach about them. Indeed, I regularly use a game to explore the challenges of mass atrocity prevention. That being said, making the slave trade look like a fun, cutesy children’s cartoon is probably not the way to go.

  2. Sean McCormick 07/09/2015 at 7:11 pm

    As an educator (and a wargamer), I take issue with the notion presented in that Takepart article that some subjects are inappropriate for gaming or modeling. If there is value to playing a model of the Eastern Front (and I think there is, though most wargames have been troublingly quiet on the political aspects of that war), then I think you can create a model of the slave trade that is instructive. Slave Tetris is obviously not that model, but again, I do take issue with the assumption that it’s a topic that should be excluded from the active treatment you get with a model.

  3. brtrain 04/09/2015 at 1:10 am

    Blackface is still considered quite funny in Danish popular culture:
    Cringeworthy indeed.

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