Seeking funding for a game on Kickstarter has quickly been accepted as the most common way for small indie teams to drum up the capitol needed to create their games. Irony Interactive is the latest in the quest to obtain funding for their game Slave Driver for the Windows PC.
Slave Driver is a retro themed RTS that is seeking $15,000 in funding by September 12, 2014. The “old school RTS” states that the gamer will be able to name their own paramilitaristic, interstellar mining corporation while strip-mining the galaxy and destroying anything that gets in your path. Like any RTS, the game will have a base of operations from which to launch your company’s campaign to dominate the galaxy in the 9 planet single player scenario.
Slave Driver will feature an aesthetic similar to the original Command & Conquer series from EA but with a rather sadistic twist. The “X-Factor” to the game is that instead of nameless minions or peons, the basic unit the gamer will use to build their bases and armies will be called “slaves.”
According to a screenshot from the game, you will “use slaves to gather minerals, harvest oil and build structures essential to your operations.” These slaves will be overseen by “slave drivers” to varying degrees of harshness. The gamer will be able to whip the slaves to make them work harder, however the more you beat the slave, the more likely they are to die. From the efforts of the slave units, other units can be produced at the bases such as snipers, cyborgs, tanks and even zombies.
Very few things can illicit emotional responses from people across the internet as slavery. As a practice, slavery has been around for thousands of years. The last country to outlaw slavery was the Islamic Republic of Mauritania in 1981 though it is still reported that almost 20% of the population is enslaved with female mutilation, child and human trafficking. Despite the laws against it, slavery is still a major problem across the globe today.
Against such a stark reality, other games have tried to effectively make the plight known of modern slavery and trafficking in addition to tackling the slavery of the United States. One of the most recognizable games that was set during the peak of colonial expansion into the New World was Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation which debuted on the PlayStation Vita before receiving an HD release as Assassin’s Creed: Liberation dropping the “III” association on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. Set in New Orleans, the player was given control over a young woman named Aveline de Grandpré, the child of a French merchant and an African mother under a plaçage marriage.
Other notable games which have addressed the emotions of the slave trade during the Civil War era include Thralled, an iOS scroller with puzzle elements that focused on a Brazilian runaway slave named Isaura with baby in tow. Since many gamers will never know the potential horrors that come with being slaves to abusive and vile masters, the developers opted to use the bond between mother and child being pursued by a darkness which is a more easily recognized bond between player and game. The results, according to Polygon were tear jerking.
In the fall of 2011, a video was produced with the intention of viral exposure that promoted a fictional game called “Slavery – The Game.” You can watch the original YouTube video here, but be warned it will likely be extremely offensive to you . . . which was the point. As a project from the Dutch public broadcaster NTR, the idea was to bring awareness of both the past and present consequences of slavery.
Where does Irony Interactive fit into this with its Kickstarter game, Slave Driver? Going strictly by the language on the Kickstarter page, there is nothing here that addresses the obviously touchy, if not controversial, mechanic of whipping slaves to death as a means of base building in an RTS game.
The aspect of using slaves is not addressed until half way down the page where the mechanics of the game are being described. Slaves are detailed as a simple work unit that will perform the basic tasks more quickly more you whip them. If you whip them too hard however, they will likely die. The “hashness” is one of the variables the player will have to manage in the labor camps in order to balance productivity.
This is all covered in exactly two sentences. The remainder of the page is dedicated to describing the retro art style, the overall game mechanics and pitching to the gamer’s inner sound track of “Everybody Wants To Rule The World.” Under the “Risks and Challenges” section of the Kickstarter page for Slave Driver the biggest challenge isn’t to strike a balance of using slaves as a narrative device in communicating the brutality of chattel slavery, but rather the difficulty of multiplayer.
The game certainly looks and feels like an old school real time strategy game, but the use of slaves as a work unit is a questionable choice at best, downright offensive at worst. While there is no law that says a game must have a poignant narrative or mechanic that makes the gamer think about the real world, the associations are still made in the mind of the player. And associations for the sake of a game mechanic seems to be in pretty poor taste.