Is ‘Enslaved’ video game racially insensitive?

OPINION - The video game fan in me may choose to play 'Enslaved', but the black man that I am can't overlook the thinly veiled racial undertones...

Luther Vandross was outed as gay after his death.

You’re a prisoner on a flying futuristic slave ship. Shirtless with scars over your olive skin, you are confined to your dirty quarters at all times. Groggy from the drugs that are used to keep you docile, you awaken to find your room door completely unhinged. While roaming the vessel, you realize all your fellow prisoners are either missing or dead.

The flying prison is preparing to crash-land into the ground below. After weighing out your options you choose make your leap of faith in to the air, not knowing if you will survive. By the grace of God you live and to your surprise, you aren’t the only one. A blue-eyed, red headed woman by the name of Trip is there with you. While unconscious, she has your head fitted with a slave medal headband and will kill you if you do not help her achieve her selfish goals. She requests to know your name. You say you don’t have given a name, but to those who do know you, you are called Monkey.

This is not an upcoming movie trailer. This is not an excerpt from a slave diary. This is the opening scene of a videogame. Welcome to the world of Enslaved: Odyssey to the West.

Let’s be clear I’m not saying Enslaved isn’t a quality game. Enslaved has amazing graphics, realistic natural sounds and a great combat system developed by Ninja Theory. I’m saying Enslaved is a culturally irresponsible game. Based in the not-so-distant future, you play as a slave. A slave named Monkey.

The protagonist is not decisively black (Monkey is more of a tan complexion), but does it matter? The premise alone raises enough eyebrows to warrant a serious debate. I went on to a few video game message boards to see if I was alone in my discomfort. Unsurprisingly, I was not. Walking in the shoes of the oppressed has been done before but not quite like this. The video game fan in me may choose to play Enslaved, but the black man that I am can’t overlook the thinly veiled racial undertones.

I wonder if this game would be on the shelves if the main character’s skin were a few shades darker. Monkey is a big hulking brute who uses his fists (and a stick) to bash away his foes that have automatic guns to bring him down. His main role in the adventure is to keep his ‘partner’ alive only when his physical presence is needed. This kind of relationship of reminds me more of the Driving Miss Daisy variety than Lethal Weapon. Your reward for assisting Trip is that you get to live and you have your freedom papers and nothing else.

Video games and controversy have gone hand in hand for years. The Grand Theft Auto series has been considered too violent and misogynistic because you are allowed (and rewarded) to rob, kill, and buy prostitutes in a virtual city. The popular Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare franchise, a shooting game based on major war conflicts, has been called offensive and insensitive for having enemy terrorists that are predominately of Middle Eastern descent. Nevertheless, video game fans have always said that the artistry outweighs the controversy.

Enslaved is nowhere near as violent as either of these games but a flag should be raised when discussing its story. I believe video games should be held to the standards that movies and television shows are. In our current political and cultural climate, a title like Enslaved shouldn’t even exist.

Enslaved is a game that provides great action and escapism, but the subject matter that Ninja Theory draws from isn’t original. In my opinion, having a slave essentially fight for his basic rights to humanity as the plot of your story is more hurtful than inspirational. Like with all forms of media, it’s ultimately your choice to buy into it or tune it out.

Just be mindful in what you choose to spend your sixty dollars on.