Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Underground Railroad - What hapened to the Video Game Controversy?

Kotaku reports that a new video game about the American Underground Railroad is being funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities and will be made by Norfolk University history professor Cassandra Newby-Alexander. AS Kotaku reports:

The player will be forced to make decisions - which path to take; who to trust - and not every decision will be the right one. The player, in the role on an escaped slave, can potentially be captured or even killed, but Newby-Alexander assures, "Even wrong choices in the game will lead to learning." In fact, while the game is aimed at middle and high school students, the plan is to make it challenging enough that success isn't always a foregone conclusion. "I don't want to dumb-down the game."

Now hang on minute! That sounds suspiciously like another game that was created over a decade ago by MECC called Freedom! released in 1993. In the game, you play a slave trying to use the Underground Railroad to escape to freedom. MECC at the time of Freedom!'s release was well known at the time for Oregan Trail which simulated the life of a settler trying to reach Oregan. Unfortunately, Freedom! was pulled from the market because some parents sued MECC over it.

An old computer magazine called Compute! (as transcripted by Atari Magazines) writes about why the game was pulled. The two main objections was the the

slaves' uneducated, dialect-heavy speaking manner presented the wrong impression of African-Americans to a predominately white student body.


that that Freedom! reduced slavery to game and ""Nintendoized" a traumatic and difficult period".

This seems like another good example of misunderstanding the computer game media. In the first place, African slaves really did speak with such an accent back in those days so that feeds into the historical accuracy. Mark Twain himself attempted to convey this accent in books like Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. Would parents have them speak with a modern American accent?

It seems a shame that MECC, which at that point was already well known for crafting well thought out games at that point, was attacked for creating such a game. Indeed, I believe the parents did more harm than help by forcing MECC to pull the game from the market.

Coming back to the present new game being created, I hope that this new game will live up to MECC's high quality edutainment standards. In my opinion one of the first things that Professor Newby-Alexander should do is to help make Freedom! available once more! Maybe this time, the parents will keep quiet and not sue them like they did MECC.

No comments:

Post a Comment