Danish Gaming Company Accused of Making Racist "Slave Trade" Game

August 31st 2015

Alex Mierjeski

A Danish game developer drew the ire of the Twitterverse over the weekend, when a two-year-old game they made called History 2: Slave Trade resurfaced. Among other things, the game allowed the player to play "Slave Tetris" in the hull of a ship.

In the game, part of a European award-winning educational series created by Serious Games Interactive, the player (Target audience: 11-14 year olds) "witnesses the horrors of the trans-Atlantic slave trade firsthand ... working as [a] young slave steward on a ship crossing crossing the Atlantic," as a trailer explains.


Reactions on social media criticized the apparent nonchalant approach the game takes to handle the ugliest aspects of the colonial era slave trade—the "Tetris" portion, which appears to let the player creatively stack Cubist-like bodies of slaves in the ship's hold, stands out as particularly offensive.

In response to the outcry, the company's CEO took to Twitter to defend the game's educational aspiration, saying that some aspects taken out of context overshadowed "the bigger educational message."

"People don't want game developers to deal with slave trade," Simon Egenfeldt-Nielsen, CEO of Serious Games Interactive told ATTN: in an email. "You are set in historical times to experience how it was, and as a slave have to escape ... I still think things are taken out of context, but yes we should have seen how some people would react knowing the internet is what it is," he wrote.

"In hindsight 'Slave Tetris' is probably too insensitive towards some groups especially in the U.S. it seems," Egenfeld-Nielsen said.

Following the reaction on social media, Serious Games removed the "Slave Tetris" portion of the game from both the actual game and the marketing for it, saying it was "perceived to be extremely insensitive by some people." Over the weekend, the game was also listed for purchase with a 25 percent discount, though its user reviews were "mixed."

The company posted a statement to their website addressing the reaction.

"The game and trailer has been updated. Slave Tetris has been removed as it was perceived to be extremely insensitive by some people. This overshadowed the educational goal of the game. Apologies to people who was [sic] offended by us using game mechanics to underline the point of how inhumane slavery was. The goal was to enlighten and educate people - not to get sidetracked discussing a small 15 secs [sic] part of the game."

Serious Games has other games seemingly in the same vein as Slave Trade, including one in which users source Taliban threats to schools in Afghanistan, play a journalist solving a murder at the U.S.-Mexican border, investigate child soldiers in Uganda, and play a co-owner of a Bangladeshi child sweat shop.

"My biggest regret is that you apparently can't make games about serious and difficult topics without being jumped for all kind[s] of secret agendas, and you definitely can't make it as [a] white stupid Dane—this seems to be the consensus," Egenfeldt-Nielsen added.