'Slave Tetris' Is Not the Way to Teach About Slavery

'Slave Tetris' Is Not the Way to Teach About Slavery

"Playing History: Slave Trade" is a tasteless attempt to get kids to learn history.

Published September 4, 2015

Imagine an "educational game" where you had to smuggle box cutters onto a commercial airliner and slit the throats of passengers and crew members in order to gain control of the aircraft. Sounds disgusting, right?

Now imagine an "educational game" where you had to shoot your way through a suburban elementary school with an assault rifle and a handgun until you had killed at least two dozen students and staff. Also disgusting.

Or perhaps you could visualize an "educational game" where you had to use your math and physics training to load as many Jews as possible onto a 1940s railroad car headed to a Nazi concentration camp. Still disgusting.

If we can all agree that tasteless "educational games" about the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting or the Holocaust don't belong in the classroom, shouldn't we also be able to see the inhumanity in a so-called "educational game" about the Atlantic slave trade?

Nevertheless, the CEO of a Danish company that manufactures a game called "Playing History: Slave Trade," defended his slave video game this week and attacked critics as "shallow, judgmental, erratic and personal."

Simon Egefeldt, the CEO of Serious Games Interactive, claims the point is "to disgust people" so they understand the inhumanity of the slave trade. If so, that's a noble intention, but it requires far more direct education and sophistication than a video game for impressionable young students.

Instead, the slave trade game includes a controversial component that's being described as "Slave Tetris," based on the hugely popular 1980s puzzle video game. The objective is to fit as many contorted Black slave bodies as you can into the cargo hull of a slave ship. That's disgusting, and the company only removed it after protests and complaints.

If we want to disgust people, why not create a video game where students have to slaughter Native Americans or drop an atomic bomb on innocent civilians in Japanese cities? Those are real historical events that we don't trivialize with "educational" video games.

If we want school kids to understand the cruelty of slavery and its effects today, you don't need to create a video game of cute little animated darkies with big bulging white eyes to do so. Instead, just show them the photographs of the real Black bodies that were scarred from countless brutal whippings from their masters. Make them listen to the words of the racist slaveholders who quoted the Bible to justify their indefensible bigotry. Or show them the images of the smiling white families with their children watching gleefully as real Black women and men were burned, lynched and hanged from trees.

I imagine that some of the other historical games manufactured by the company may serve a legitimate educational purpose, and I don't believe any topic is off limits for discussion with age-appropriate school children. But given the history of slavery, and the enduring legacy of the vestiges that remain today, any European game maker who would create a demeaning video game about the African-American slave trade would be wise to consult with actual knowledgeable African-American experts.

They would tell him not to do it.

Keith Boykin is a New York Times best-selling author and former White House aide to President Clinton. He attended Harvard Law School with President Barack Obama and currently serves as a TV political commentator. He writes commentary for BET.com each week.

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

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(Photo: AP Photo)

Written by Keith Boykin

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