Growing up in the South certainly has its advantages: sweet tea, friendly people everywhere, and all sorts of fried goodness. Entering a restaurant or any other service-industry establishment, it’s not abnormal to hear cordial greetings: “How are y’all doing? Good to see you!”. No wonder Condé Nast has placed six Southern cities on their 2015 Top Ten Friendliest Cities in the US. Coupled with a remarkable literary history, the South is certainly not the hillbilly, incest-friendly nesting ground that you and your friends like to joke about.

However, the South does have a dark past when it comes to racism. From the Civil War through Jim Crow laws to Governor George Wallace, the idea that people are worth more or less based on the color of their skin has invaded many minds like a virus. When I was a teenager, a few students at my high school would drive around in a truck carrying the Confederate flag with the words “Heritage not Hate” etched into the embroidery. Once, as the truck went by and the kids did their best to holler their best rebel yell, I screamed, “Your heritage IS hate!”. Although we’ve come so far since even 20 years ago, the spectre of racism still haunts the hills and hollers of my childhood.

Indie games have always proven to be the most successful and innovative ways to carry stories and ideas. What AAA titles wouldn’t dare to tackle, indie video games take head on: the art of dying (To the Moon), losing a child to terminal illness (That Dragon, Cancer), and immigration (Papers, Please). Indie games have helped the medium to move past the “run ‘n gun” stereotype and push it to the mainstream of pop culture. Sure, there are still your Doom remakes and your new GTAs. But it says a lot about gaming culture that the New York Times has devoted entire pieces to analyzing the newest indie titles.

Sometimes, however, indie games go bad. Really bad. For example, Ethnic Cleansing, a 2002 first person shooter created by white supremacist group National Alliance, acts as a checklist for everything decent people find abhorrent: racist caricatures? Yep. White power soundtrack with a call for “nigga, nigga, go, go?” You bet. Conspiracy theory involving a Zionist plot to take over the world? Of course. The game certainly doesn’t pull its punches with regards to its agenda.

According to the opening sequence, you are either a KKK member or a neo-Nazi tasked with killing the head of the Zionist conspiracy, former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon, carrying a rocket launcher and yelling at you through a broken audio file. Throughout the “game”, you shoot very racist stereotypes of African-Americans and Latinos with your only weapon, a slow firing rifle. Black males wear thug apparel and make monkey noises when they die, while the Latino characters wear big sombreros and yell out “I take a siesta now” when they get shot. When you enter the second of just two levels in this game, your only enemies are Jewish men who shout “Oy vey” and Sharon, who carries a rocket launcher and acts suspiciously like Mecha-Hitler from Wolfenstein 3D.

This title was meant to encourage young, white millennials to recognize the race war that was to come and to prepare themselves for that dark day. While I don’t think this had the intended effect (most Youtube videos about this game focus on the laughly bad design and programming), it does help us to pause and understand what place such a game has in our larger gaming community. How does this “fit” within our subculture?

image2Ethnic Cleansing is an extreme example of what happens when we let our biases influence our storytelling in gaming. Developers are free, and should be free, to tell whatever stories that they find compelling and want to share with their audience. We are often prone to listen in an echo chamber and fall prey to confirmation bias. We need to hear stories from LGBTQ, Christian, Black, Muslim, and refugee perspectives. To ignore the fact that other points of view exist destroys our ability to coexist with one another, even when we disagree.

That being said, those within the gaming community have the freedom to reject certain narratives as out of bounds. We should not be afraid to say (with our mouths or our money) that certain ideas are not welcome and should be rejected. However, we should not seek to suppress these alternative gaming narratives by force (asking Steam/GOG/Sony/Microsoft to remove or ban them). They should be free to exist just as the gaming community should be free to simply not play them.

Ethnic Cleaning is a terrible game. It promotes violence against minorities. It confuses conspiracy with reality. And it’s just a crappy game to play. However awful it is on all accounts, gamers should still be free to play it in order to understand its worldview. We should not fight titles such as this with threats or violence, but by offering a compelling worldview that shines through in the stories that we tell through games.

About The Author

When he's not working, Daniel can be found in his native habitat: playing video games with his wife, dog, and cat. A Southern ex-pat, he is currently missing sweet tea and Cracker Barrel. Follow him on Twitter @motleydaniel.

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