Muslim Massacre, Roach Toaster and Iji: Prejudice, Offense, Violence and Hope

One of the things that is too often lacking in Games Studies, and almost completely in popular writing about games, is comparison of work by different creators across the mosty obvious lines of "genre." In less than a month, Play this Thing has reviewed Tr00jg's turn-based strategy/puzzle game Roach Toaster, Remar's multiplot platformer Iji and Sigvatr's condemnation garnering Robotron-like Muslim Massacre as if these highly contemporary games were completely irrelevant to each other. (nota bene: in addition to being contemporary, these games are all single-programmer freeware)

I'm not condemning costik or the99th for this. Play this Thing exists to draw attention to interesting and worthy independent games, not to perform comparative analyis of them. Costik and the99th's dueling reviews of Muslim Massacre draw attention to this basic premise, as well as to the need for resources like Gameology, as the argument hinges on whether we should "play this thing." Either the game is derivative in gameplay and both immature and unforgivably offensive in content and therefore doesn't deserve our attention (costik's argument), or the game is a clever satire of prejudice and violence in games, not to mention a good play (as the 99th maintains).

Muslim Massacre has made the nightly news for two reasons, the first being its name. The other reason is because the premise of play, as explained by the carefully spliced voice of G.W. Bush in the game's intro, is a war on Islam and Muslims. I'm going to leave to one side whether it is a well-designed game or not. Minimally, it seems obvious that both costik and the99th are right. The game is patently offensive and in terrible taste. It is, at the same time, obviously satire. The satire, however, is monotonous and quickly wears thin, leaving one wondering what all the fuss was about.

I doubt that either Roach Toaster or Iji will draw any mainstream media attention, which is a shame, as either one says a lot more about our current political and cultural situation, as well as the issues of game design, than Sigvatr's game.

Costik's review of "Roach Toaster" treats the game as pure ludology - you place heavily-armed soldier-exterminators in order to wipe out roach populations, and each turn the roaches multiply and then your extermiators open fire. The graphics are incredibly simple, the animation minimal, and the strategy of gameplay fairly compelling. Only the more so because of these things, there is something profoundly disturbing about Roach Toaster. On the game's website, Tr00jg notes that the game was named after "a Powerpuff Girls episode... Dont (sic) ask."

The episode in question would be "Insect Inside," part of the series' first episode. In that episode, the Professor teaches the girls that "It's not right to harm an insect just because its yucky on the outside." But when a loser called "Roach Coach" rallies the city's cockroaches against people, the girls learn that "the Professor said not to harm an insect just because it?s yucky on the outside, but this one's yucky on the inside!" "Roach Coach" turns out to be a humanoid robot piloted by a cockroach.

More to the point, on the same page, Tr00jg says that "The concept came from watching a riot on TV. I had originally intended to develop a Riot Control game."

Riot Control. It bears noting that Tr00jg is, at least according to his facebook page, a white South African. Without accusing the game's creator of any intentional prejudice, let's take a second look at the game. "Roach Toaster" is a game in which "elite soldiers" (as they are described on Tr00jg's page), all of whom are white, bearing equipment including rifles, shotguns, riot shields, "repeaters" (machineguns) and grenades, have to wipe out the "roach" population in various people's homes (the homeowners all have Afrikaner names). The black, semi-anthropomorphic roaches multiply every turn and will quickly overrun the player if their population isn't controlled.

Roach Toaster has won awards (one South African, one International, according to the website), and I haven't been able to find any criticism of it in terms of its (implicit) racial and class politics. On some level, this is a game about white soldiers mowing down black South Africans in order to make the country safe for its Afrikaner elite (who still control almost all of the nation's wealth). The moral of the Power Puff Girls episode is that the biggest threat is the roach who pretends to be human makes the situation even more disturbing.

Perhaps the lack of visual gore has spared Roach Toaster from condemnation. Maybe its the placid pace of the game (it is turn based, unlike the frenetic Muslim Massacre). But it seems most likely that it is because the in-game opponents are "only roaches." After all, even Will Wright's cute and family-oriented Spore rewards players for nuking civilizations into submission and blowing up entire (inhabited) planets, but is only controversial because evolution (and social darwinism) is part of the game.

Genocide is so common in video games that it's hardly worth a note. Even when games intend to give players a chill (such as with nuclear war games like Introversion's Defcon), you still play out the disaster (or you don't play at all). Very few games actually deal with genocide or the consequences of violence, and most of those are clearly didactic.

Remar's Iji is more engaged with the present moment (and the past four years - the game's copyright is "2004-2008") than either Muslim Massacre or Roach Toaster. Iji's eponymous heroine wakes up from a coma after an alien invasion. After only a little gameplay, one discovers that the alien Tasen have used a WMD called an "alpha strike" on the Earth, killing most of the population. Your goal isn't to prevent this: it's part of the backstory. Despite this atrocity, Tasen are not generic videogame cannon fodder - instead, they are humanized as the game progresses, but most of that takes place only if the player chooses to read the various log files that Iji finds.

Iji's brother, Dan, is an unreliable authority figure, hidden somewhere in a control room and only present as a voice over a speaker. Iji, who has been involuntarily modified with Tasen nanotechnology by Dan and his allies, to decide how to procede.

The easiest thing to do is follow shooter/platformer convention and shoot everything that gets in your way. This makes the occupying forces fear and hate her, and starts to take a psychological toll on Iji. You can try to sneak around the Tasen, but that's more difficult, as the game offers few stealth powers and you gain experience for kills but not for avoidance. In the end, there's no way to keep your hands completely clean, but trying is easier on Iji and the increasingly sympathetic Tasen, who are being lied to by their leaders. When another alien race, the Komato, enter the picture, everything becomes more complex. First referred to as intergalactic police by Dan, the Komato seem to be bent on the genocide of the Tasen. Iji can discover things links between the Tasen, Komato and humankind, but new information doesn't directly lead to an end to hostilities.

In short, Iji is a platform shooter with complex politics. You are thrust into the position of a "freedom fighter" which is, from the Tasen perspective, a terrorist. Do you hope to convince them to leave Earth peacefully, or try to drive them out by force? Given a choice of foreign powers, do you try to ally with either, or do you count on their fight with each other to weaken them both? Do you trust Dan's summaries of the situation, or do you try to make sense of the conflicting accounts given in Tasen and Komato logs?

The game does not feature obvious narrative selection: there is no "trust Dan" button to click or "spare the Tasen" dialog box. Instead, the narrative forks depending on your in-game behavior: the means and the ends bother matter in Iji.

Iji is an entertaining platformer that, like its stylistic and spiritual predecessor, Another World is full of consequence. The political and moral issues of today are offered up in a poignant but not preachy form. A game in which you wonder if the alien grunt you shot two screens ago was the girl whose personal log you just read may not suit everyone, but, faced with Muslim Massacre and Roach Toaster, it gives me hope.

Excellent, the internet

Excellent, the internet ecology is suitably diverse! We play more of a hybrid between, say, Jay Is Games and this site, so I´m glad you took the ball further down the court. I agree with your analysis, Greg and I generally find things we like individually (I live in BsAs, he lives in NYC) and then put our takes on them. It wouldn´t have occured to me from looking at them that these games are ludologically more chilling than the intentionally provocative MM.

Personally, I think using historical settings or magical realism as an aesthetic helps highlight the social significance of a game´s dynamic, as opposed to sci-fi´s motley or obscure fantasy (though I love a well balanced absurdism).

Well played!

Nobody's going to read this two years later, but...

It's hilarious how any time the r-word is brought up, you get a bunch of (no doubt white) commenters who act as if you have just murdered a kitten. As if making an (IMO usually justified) accusation of racism is worse than actual racism. I'm so sorry that the Big Scary Internet Man called you a name, but I hope you understand it's a trivial fucking concern compared to people getting lynched or being denied their political and economic rights.

Even if Tof is "wrong" in calling Troojg a racist (something he never actually did, which just shows how thinskinned these commenters are...), so what? Do you get just as worked up about actual racism? I doubt it. No, instead you turn around and call Tof and zach the racist ones, as if being "racist" against white people is at all threatening or even possible. Hint--"racism" that does not come from a position of power and privilege does not matter at all and can not be said to be racism in the same vein as the Ku Klux Klan's terrorist activities of the late 19th/early 20th centuries.

It's irresponsible and stupid to assume that a given person is not racist until proven otherwise. This is not a court of law, we are not required to prove guilt. Our culture, our history, and our institutions are infused with latent prejudice of all kind, and this prejudice rubs off on even the most diehard antiracist. It makes far more sense, both ethically and pragmatically, to assume that someone (or some game) is racist until proven otherwise.

thanks

I appreciate the feedback - and Greg's post on Play this Thing.

I agree that settings that are more realistic bring the political, cultural and ethical issues to the fore - that's part of why the GTA games draw so much flack and World of Warcraft (which presumes an endless war and incurable racism) does not. We accept the war and hatred because its a genre convention.

I'll probably post again soon with more along that line.

Interesting...

Hi, I am the creator of Roach Toaster and I was quite astonished how you managed to deduce the apparent political and racial undertones! I find it exciting that someone went to great lengths to discover meaning where there isn't.

I would like to say that there was no statements of any kind I wanted to make with Roach Toaster when I designed it. :)

There are some errors I would to point out. The surnames used isn't typical Afrikaner surnames and that the distribution of wealth has shifted towards the black elite and middle class too.

Clarifications

Well, I knew something like this would happen when I decided to post this essay, so I can't say I'm surprised.

First, a point of clarification and apology: I take Troojg at his word that the names of the families with roach infestations in the game are not common Afrikaner surnames. The first family in the game is the Andersons, which is one of the most common Scandinavian surnames in forms including Anderson, Andersson, and Andersen (Afrikaans is part of the Scandinavian language group). Based on that and other names in-game that are anglicized forms of common Scandinavian surnames, I induced that they were Afrikaner names. My induction may have been presumptive and incorrect.

It is obvious that none of the families have Zulu, Xhosa or other native African names, but there is no reason why they would have to be, as there is no indication in Roach Toaster that it is set in South Africa.

I also want to thank Troojg for the polite tone of his comments: it is possible to have huge disagreements without becoming petty or degenerating into insults. As I said in the original essay, I am not accusing Troojg of intending to produce a controversial game – merely of having made a game that is controversial. I also want to make it clear that I am not accusing Troojg of subconscious racism: I don't presume to know his mind.

I am talking about the game, and its cultural context. As one of my critics below says “by your analysis, more that half of the games on the market are all [sic] symbols for something much more sinister.” I disagree only with the word “symbols.” I would say instead that most of the games on the market exhibit disturbing, sinister and morally reductive values as well as the prejudices common to society. In this they are like all other mass media: film, TV, weblogs, etc.

I have never been to South Africa, but if seems ludicrous that one would have to travel to a country before writing about a game developed there. My knowledge of South Africa does comes from conversations with people from South Africa, as well as from media, including Alternative Radio. I make no bones about my liberal perspective. There is more than ample evidence that the legacy of colonialism world-wide is still poisonous, however much some posters (self-identified as South African) may want to put the past behind them.

There are elements to South Africa's past and recent history that are relevant to my previous post, but South Africa is not unique: prejudice is everywhere, in the air and water as it were, and it does not take any effort or intent to reflect the dominant prejudices of one's culture. Quite the opposite: it takes effort to see one's own complicity in the ills of society.

I can only hope that this helps spur some discussion of the actual issues involved in these games and the murky and mostly untested waters of video game ethics in general, beyond the specific tangent of how much progress South Africa has made since the end of apartheid. If a game combining the themes of riot control and extermination had be made in a well-to-do white suburb of Detroit, or in Spanish Harlem (which is now largely populated by recent African emigres) it would be just as worthy of criticism and just as disturbing, if for slightly different reasons.

Seriously?

The only one that brings race into this is you Tof. Roaches my friend just happen to be brown and black, so what if all the characters are white? Ever try making a game on your own, it takes time to make more art assets think of a zillion and one names and code the thing.

So tr00jg obviously just uses what is familiar to him as to make things easier on himself. I'm sure he'd be more than happy to have a design team of 50 or more people work on his game, making it more revolutionary then the next half life 3 game. Unfortunately we don't always have those resources at hand.

Anyway this is way more attention than you deserve. I would suggest doing something more constructive with your time. I would give you suggestions but you might take that the wrong way and try to sue me for being a moron.

Yeah and if you're taking offense to me calling you a moron, deal with it. You pretty much called tr00jg a racist.

what a joke

i would just like to say: WHAT A JOKE!

firstly i feel that roach toaster is in no way racist. let's just think of it for a moment, the main game mechanic is a enemy force that is rapidly growing and the good guys who control this. that in itself is not racist, but the moment the enemies are cockroaches and the good guys 'white' men (let's face it, most game character are white anyways) then it's a symbol of apartheid. what lunacy!

secondly, by your analysis, more that half of the games on the market are all symbols for something much more sinister. what rubbish! no one wants to play a game in which his force is equal or bigger than the enemies, people like to take down huge enemies to feel some level of accomplishment, it's just a good idea for games to use. no one likes to pick on the little guy, be he evil or not.

i also wonder if you took the time to ask the author of roach toaster for a comment before you published. but that probably wasn't needed cause you know everything about his game. some people just like to pick fights and cause trouble...

Dismayed

Tr00jg's alleged racism aside, this blog post paints a very regressive picture of South Africans and serves as another example of how the Internet can spread reactionary and damaging stereotypes about groups of people.

I'm not sure who Tof is, but I'm going to take the plunge and assume that s/he's neither a South African, nor an authoritative source on South African politics. This statement alone:

"On some level, this is a game about white soldiers mowing down black South Africans in order to make the country safe for its Afrikaner elite (who still control almost all of the nation's wealth)."

indicates a knowledge base which still needs to play catch-up on at least 14 years of political change in the country.

Tof, I understand that your bank of South African information may have been limited by the media you've been exposed to (I wouldn't be so arrogant as to presume that the country warrants an ever-present global podium), but if you're going to write an academic game commentary such as this, do more research before you make sensationalist remarks like this. It makes for juicy journalism, but by linking the idea of a white South African to that of racist attitudes, you've successfully set the reader's image of the country back by a good 20 years.

There's a lot of games which could be similarly interpreted as "racist" at a much lesser stretch, and you've pounced on a pre-existing perception to not only get an interesting-sounding blog post, but potentially damage a budding young game developer's image in the community. For shame.

Goodness knows that a racist fuss is already kicked up about "white" and "black" magic in fantasy themes, but I think that the bar has just been raised by pointing to roaches.

Sigh

Sigh.

Looks like someone's adding more stupid to the internet. Good job Tof, you've successfully made yourself look like a complete tool.

Bravo, good sir, bravo!

Now if you'll excuse me, I need to hurry and jump onto my pet lion so I can deliver a message to my neighbor in the mud-hut to my left (which is very far away, across the wild Savannah). I'd send my black slave laborer, but you know, he's too busy being repressed by other white people.

:P.

Overanalysis much?

The first thing that popped into my mind while reading this was the intensive study on how Valve's Portal was not in fact a simple puzzle game, but a pro-feminist allegory, attributing Oedipal overtones to the oval portals used in the game, amongst other highly creative hypotheses. This kind of overanalysis is intellectually and academically stimulating, but not necessarily valid.

I find it fascinating that a game that uses themes that are common to internationally-produced retail games and are part of real life in countries around the world suddenly becomes an allegory for racism because of events that transpired in the creator's country before he was even capable of speech. As the others have already put forward, I would suggest that you expand your knowledge of the modern South African political and social climate before reading nonexistent meaning into an otherwise innocent game.

If the rest of the world still sees South Africa as this article implies it does, then they have a lot of catching up to do.

Well, hello

Hi Tr00jg, lolwut, liquid silver, Nandrew, Q-Man, and Gazza_N,

I hope you don't mind my replying in one comment to all of you, since you make many of the same points and (I'm guessing) all came by this site for the same reason or from the same source, whatever that may be.

You all make a number of strange assumptions about what a blog post should be, and what kinds of analysis are appropriate for videogames. If you look around this site, you'll see that what we like to do is dig deeply into what games mean, how they work (formally), and the kinds of ideas they convey. Maybe you think this is "overanalysis," but we don't think so. If you think it's a waste of time, you're welcome to spend your time elsewhere, but we're hardly alone in finding videogames interesting enough to try and think deeply about them. (Check the links in the blogroll, for example.) I'll leave that issue aside for now, though.

Now, about Roach Toaster, I have to confess first of all that I haven't yet gotten it running on my machine (I'm on Vista -- any hints [besides "uninstall Vista"]?), so my knowledge is not first hand. Still, the scenario that Tof describes, and from the description on the game website, I'm frankly surprised that you're so surprised, Tr00jg, that someone could interpret it this way. I mean, regardless of any parallels with actual racial violence or current politics in South Africa, the fact that you were inspired by a riot suggests that the conflict presented in the game derives its structure at some level from saying that one group of people in a riot are in some way similar to roaches. That's a pretty troubling metaphor, whatever race or class is involved, because it matches the age-old rhetoric of xenophobia and hatred.

Now, I'm trying to be careful here, because I don't mean to suggest that this was your intent, or that you have a latent desire to express these beliefs through game design. As far as I know, you're a regular guy who made an interesting game and who may have a bright future as a designer. What I think Tof is saying (and if so, I agree) is not that games which seem to present race or class-based conflict should be banned or ostracized or whatever just because they present racial conflict in a troubling way (and you're right, this could be [and has been] said of a large percentage of mainstream games). Instead, we should be understanding how all games present ludic scenarios that really are part of and reflective of real world scenarios, economies, cultural ecologies, etc. Videogames can be powerful communication tools, and we should try to understand how and why they communicate what they do. It's not about condemnation, but comprehension. Anyway, sometimes games communicate very well through negative examples (i.e. "arguing" that an action is immoral by making you do it in a game and then showing you the consequences), so that may be what your game does, as far as I know.

Also, many of you state that reading this conflict into the game is based on a misunderstanding of South African politics. It may be the case that Tof (and I as well) don't have as clear a picture of South Africa as you, but the conflict scenario of extermination-as-gameplay maps pretty well onto just about any race/class scenario I can think of. At any rate, could you please help correct my lack of knowledge about SA? I mean, I couldn't help noticing that you say Tof gets it wrong, but don't provide much by way of corrective alternative. So what can you tell me that helps me understand Roach Toaster in a different way?

While the idea of Roach

While the idea of Roach Toaster did come from seeing a riot and like I said, I don't believe it is as a result of the fact that I live in South Africa. The racial and political undertones is just ludicrous but the "riot" aspect might be valid in a global sense. ie It could've happened everywhere. The "riot" aspect might be indicative of something and could hold true in your studies.

I don't remember what the riot was about, nor who was involved, so saying that it leads to a racist issue simply because of where I come from is wrong.

I remember not wanting to continue with the riot control idea because I couldn't "cull" the rioters and moved on for the sake of game design to something more "friendly", like destroying the creatures we all love to hate.

The greatest reason why it could not have any apartheid links is because I didn't grow up in that era.

@Tof:

I'm surprised you find Roach Toaster controversial, although that wasn't its intention at all. I understand fully how it could've been deduced to your conclusion. It all adds up, but it is mere coincidence.

--

You guys dissect games in their culutural environment which in itself is pretty interesting. I just think you have to make sure of your facts (like asking the creator for his intention).

P.S. Zach, email me. I think I can provide a Vista version.

I think, if Tof and Zach

I think, if Tof and Zach were interested, that their misconceptions about racism could become the centre of a very interesting investigation.

Roach Toaster is a game about exterminators killing cockroaches. In South Africa very few people have ever had any contact with an exterminator, let alone felt the need to call one. The exterminator idea comes directly from the exposure they get in US TV sitcoms that air here. This is further supported by the militant nature of the exterminators themselves, another very Americanised television trope. Finally, the family names are yet another sitcom link: Andersons, Joneses, Smiths. These are western popular culture norms, not South African names at all.

Tr00jg even pulled his inspiration from a riot broadcast on international news. I know this because he's simply not old enough to have been around when South Africa experienced riots last.

I think that the final hook, the thing that "nails" the racism angle is the link drawn between rioters and roaches - which is then further strained to infer that clearly, these roaches are black people and because you're killing them, it's a racist game with undertones of white militant supremacy.

Bad form.

Having actual experience with racism in it's complete and ugly expression, South Africans know that most links "unearthed" in media are more often than not the product of the critic's own mental biases. We're skeptics of any and all claims of racism, requiring proof of intent and desire to create racial division by the creator before we get our lynch mobs going. Hence a journalist like Nandrew getting hot about the ethics of misrepresentation.

Had this been a South African piece of media, a public apology would have been made by now, exonerating Tr00jg of any attribution of racist undertones to his game. I think that a simple admission of poor research and a re-evaluation of the game might be in order, given the ludicrous nature of the manufactured bugs = blacks link.

C'mon here people. Zach, at least play the game. Tof, realise that you brought your own misconceptions into the game with you - along with a lack of homework ;)

Re: I think, if Tof and Zach

dislekcia wrote:
Roach Toaster is a game about exterminators killing cockroaches. In South Africa very few people have ever had any contact with an exterminator, let alone felt the need to call one. The exterminator idea comes directly from the exposure they get in US TV sitcoms that air here. This is further supported by the militant nature of the exterminators themselves, another very Americanised television trope. Finally, the family names are yet another sitcom link: Andersons, Joneses, Smiths.

Now, see, that's an interesting reading as well, and one that I'm perfectly comfortable with. In other words, it's a critique of American militarism (or machoism) or cultural imperialism of some sort? As such, it's kind of similar to how the99th reads Stallions in America, a game which (other than the title), is also kind of "blank" in terms of signifiers.

dislekcia wrote:
I think that the final hook, the thing that "nails" the racism angle is the link drawn between rioters and roaches - which is then further strained to infer that clearly, these roaches are black people and because you're killing them, it's a racist game with undertones of white militant supremacy.

If you're saying that I'm saying that because Tr00jg made the rioters out to be cockroaches, those must have been black rioters, then you are mistaken. I simply said that it would be troubling if anyone associated any group of people with the idea of that group or class of people being exterminated like cockroaches.

dislekcia wrote:
Having actual experience with racism in it's complete and ugly expression, South Africans know that most links "unearthed" in media are more often than not the product of the critic's own mental biases. We're skeptics of any and all claims of racism, requiring proof of intent and desire to create racial division by the creator before we get our lynch mobs going. Hence a journalist like Nandrew getting hot about the ethics of misrepresentation.

Thank you for your perspective on this. It's interesting, though, that you seem to assume bias first, since you "know" that most claims of racism are "manufactured." Tensions about race (and racism) are pretty dang high in America, too, incidentally (a lot of it exposed due to current election), so I'm well aware of the danger of throwing around the word.

dislekcia wrote:
Had this been a South African piece of media, a public apology would have been made by now, exonerating Tr00jg of any attribution of racist undertones to his game. I think that a simple admission of poor research and a re-evaluation of the game might be in order, given the ludicrous nature of the manufactured bugs = blacks link.

Again, I think you're putting us on a higher platform than we deserve (or at least, it's a different one). It would indeed be offensive and ludicrous to make the claim that bugs are always a representation of blacks -- that's not what anyone here has done. Rather, it's the act of extermination which, if applied allegorically to any real world conflict, parallels the kind of violence that many races and ethnic groups have been subject to throughout history.

dislekcia wrote:
C'mon here people. Zach, at least play the game.

I have now. Not a bad little turn-based strategy.

Re: I think, if Tof and Zach

Zach Whalen wrote:
Now, see, that's an interesting reading as well, and one that I'm perfectly comfortable with. In other words, it's a critique of American militarism (or machoism) or cultural imperialism of some sort? As such, it's kind of similar to how the99th reads Stallions in America, a game which (other than the title), is also kind of "blank" in terms of signifiers.

No, I'm simply pointing out that the only things the so-called racism is based on are completely external to the game itself: A post about finding interest in the patterns of movement and control in riots; And the fact that Tr00jg is South African.

Zach Whalen wrote:
If you're saying that I'm saying that because Tr00jg made the rioters out to be cockroaches, those must have been black rioters, then you are mistaken. I simply said that it would be troubling if anyone associated any group of people with the idea of that group or class of people being exterminated like cockroaches.

Again, Tr00jg did not make that association in the game. Roach Toaster is actually completely different to the proposed game about riot control, I remember the initial forum discussions about the idea... That said, even the riot control game would not have been racist in the same way that you've been attributing to RT. The link between rioters and roaches in the game is completely and totally created by you and Tof, Tof then goes further and implies a racial connotation.

I agree, it IS troubling that someone might want to exterminate a group of people like a bunch of cockroaches. I have no idea why you two keep doing it.

Zach Whalen wrote:
Thank you for your perspective on this. It's interesting, though, that you seem to assume bias first, since you "know" that most claims of racism are "manufactured." Tensions about race (and racism) are pretty dang high in America, too, incidentally (a lot of it exposed due to current election), so I'm well aware of the danger of throwing around the word.

Oddly enough, most South Africans I know that have spent time in the US believe that the US is far more racist than SA. Make of that what you will.

I do ask, however, what would you have thought of the game had it not come to your attention that Tr00jg was South African? What would the lack of the riot inspiration have caused? To be dead honest, I think you're nowhere near careful enough about crying racism: To me Tof's whole perspective was racially motivated as soon as he discovered Tr00jg's white South African origins.

Zach Whalen wrote:
Again, I think you're putting us on a higher platform than we deserve (or at least, it's a different one). It would indeed be offensive and ludicrous to make the claim that bugs are always a representation of blacks -- that's not what anyone here has done. Rather, it's the act of extermination which, if applied allegorically to any real world conflict, parallels the kind of violence that many races and ethnic groups have been subject to throughout history.

OR if one were to parallel the act of extermination to how exterminators exterminate unwanted animal or insect infestations, maybe it would become apparent that the only allegory present in the game is the militarisation of the exterminators and the one-upmanship of the neighbours.

I'm loath to bring personal experience into this, but having seen the silos of tens of thousands of skulls at just one of the killing fields of the Rwandan genocide, it appalls me that such heinous comparisons are being made with a game that fails to depict ANY of that sort of imagery or ideology in any way. The only link to racism here is what you thought a white South African would attempt to get across if they were a bitter Afrikaner with a vested interest to maintain.

That speaks far more of your own racism and ill-informed views than anything else. I find it reprehensible that you then try to hide behind this idea of "not being journalists" and think that somehow allows you to claim innocence and not be held responsible for poor research. A blog is not a forum. Readers approach both in very different ways. It would be very strange to expect a reader to always go through all the comments on a blog post (especially if they only skim the blog's front page) in search of the "real" story. At least edit the original post to show that the perspective on racism in RT has changed - as I hope it has after all this back and forth.

Re: I think, if Tof and Zach

dislekcia wrote:
No, I'm simply pointing out that the only things the so-called racism is based on are completely external to the game itself: A post about finding interest in the patterns of movement and control in riots; And the fact that Tr00jg is South African.

I think a game about crowd control and riots could be really interesting. Fluid dynamics, maybe, with social issues somehow involved. I vaguely remember hearing about an actual game like this, but I can't find it now. Anyone know what I'm talking about?

dislekcia wrote:
Again, Tr00jg did not make that association in the game. Roach Toaster is actually completely different to the proposed game about riot control, I remember the initial forum discussions about the idea...

Well, I wasn't part of that conversation, and the statement on the download page seems to make a pretty direct association: "-The concept came from watching a riot on TV. I had originally intended to develop a Riot Control game." Now, I suppose that the second sentence means that this is not exactly the game that was inspired by this riot, which makes sense. Anyway, let me reiterate that the point here in discussing these themes and whether or not they are represented within Roach Toaster (and I probably speak for Tof here, too) is not meant to suggest that Tr00jg himself is a racist. Especially when we look at overtly racist games, it's pretty obvious that that's something different entirely. It's completely transparent in its message. I will readily agree, in other words, that a symbolic depiction of a roach within a videogame is not sufficient evidence to equate that depiction with racism. That would be silly.

Similarly, if we look at what makes Border Patrol problematic, it's capacity to offend derives directly from its stereotypical portrayals of Mexicans. In terms of gameplay, it has the same formula of quite a lot of games: shoot everything that looks different from you (the game is distributed by white supremacists, so I think it's fair to assume that the player-perspective is that of an American). All the way back to Space Invaders, this has been a pretty common scenario in gaming. Conflict exists in real life, so it makes sense to question whether or not conflict as represented in videogames reflects on our best hopes or plays on our fears. I tried (clumsily, I'll admit) to address this question in a game of my own.

Quote:
I agree, it IS troubling that someone might want to exterminate a group of people like a bunch of cockroaches.

I'm glad we agree on that.

Quote:
I have no idea why you two keep doing it.

We are not. Neither, it seems, is Tr00jg.

Quote:
Oddly enough, most South Africans I know that have spent time in the US believe that the US is far more racist than SA. Make of that what you will.

I don't think there's any question that we all know racism exists and that it is a bad thing.

Quote:
I find it reprehensible that you then try to hide behind this idea of "not being journalists" and think that somehow allows you to claim innocence and not be held responsible for poor research. A blog is not a forum. Readers approach both in very different ways.

How can we "hide" behind something that was always true to begin with? You made an incorrect assumption. Yes, a blog is different than a forum, and both are different still from a news organization. So what?

Yes, yes, yes.

All this is just so much pretentious, pseudo-academic prevarication. Just man up and apologise for making a whole lot of - frankly - patently fatuous assumptions on a topic you're woefully uninformed about.

Yes?

Well, I think I've made my points pretty clearly. I'm sorry you misunderstand me.

Hiding

Having read the blog and comments I have to say that I agree with Azimuth more than with Zach. Although no representation was made as to whether or not this is a journalistic blog, the fact remains that even as individuals we have a responsibility to represent the facts honestly. This applies even more when we know that we are talking to a wide unknown audience. I believe that this blog has done Troojg a disservice by labelling his game as something it is not and that the refusal to at least acknowledge the mistake is more than a little childish.

Disservice

I'm sure no disservice was intended. Tof simply discussed his interpretation of the gameplay, and Tr00jg et al took exception to that, which they are welcome to do. Technically, Tr00jg is the first one here to use the term "racist."

At any rate, I'm inclined to agree that he probably did not intend to include racial overtones in the game, and frankly I may not have ever noticed such overtones on my own without Tof's explanation of his reading here in this essay. However, I think Tof does make a decent argument, just as others on this thread make the counter-argument. I'm satisfied, therefore, that anyone who finds this thread will see both sides presented and be able to decide for themselves.

Ultimately, I think there are some great points on both sides of this discussion, so I'm glad we've had this conversation.

Tof and Zach, Certainly

Tof and Zach,

Certainly analysis of games and their themes is an interesting endeavour. Like all media, games do reflect the society that produces them, that isn't in dispute. My "overanalysis" comment refers to what appears to me to be extreme leaps of logic in the arguments linking Roach Toaster and its inspirations to supposedly racist allegory. In my experience, racism is the knee-jerk response of ignorant people, and it seems unlikely that anyone like that would go so far to hide such elaborate links and references in their work. Evidently it didn't come across that way, and I do apologise for the lack of clarity.

As for your requests for clarification on current politics: South Africa has been ruled by black government since 1994. Schools are mixed-race, all children are subject to the same educational curricula, and people are not limited in their studies based on race as before. Black citizens, no longer constrained to certain areas and occupations, are rapidly rising to the middle and upper class. Sadly, there is still a great deal of poverty in the country as a result of the old segregation, but the government is making efforts to provide homes and utilities to these people using tax money. It should be noted that racism is highly frowned upon, and South Africans have become very conscious of it. This would explain the backlash you received - in our country, racism has a somewhat nastier stigma associated with it than might be common in your country/countries. Being accused of it is no small matter.

Concerns

{{{"Now, about Roach Toaster, I have to confess first of all that I haven't yet gotten it running on my machine (I'm on Vista -- any hints [besides "uninstall Vista"]?)"}}}

http://gmc.yoyogames.com/index.php?showtopic=308173

Roach Toaster was made with the Game Maker 6 tool, and as a result isn't compatible with Vista. Game Maker's creator released a little hack that allows Joe user to convert a GM6 exe to the Vista-compatible GM7 one. You should be able to find more info at the link.


{{{"I mean, I couldn't help noticing that you say Tof gets it wrong, but don't provide much by way of corrective alternative."}}}

:/

One would presume that the onus is on the reporter/blogger to look up the correct factual information. Moreover, if this is a veiled challenge of our own knowledge of South African politics, it's a weak one.

South Africa has been a democracy since 1994, when the majority was given the right to vote in a national election. As a result, a "black" government was brought into power (the African National Congress), effectively making the South African '94 elections one of history's rare non-violent revolutions.

The ANC has ruled since then. Any tension that you may hear of nowadays most likely revolves around xenophobia (an unfortunate problem which is nevertheless based on nationality, not skin colour) and a split in the ANC government due to internal issues which are, again, unrelated to race.

There's no Afrikaner elite power, and there's certainly no mowing down of black protesters. In fact, there's an entire generation of young South Africans who have lived exclusively in the post-apartheid era, and while there are still problems in existence they're not nearly as racially severe as that blog post implied.


{{{"You all make a number of strange assumptions about what a blog post should be, and what kinds of analysis are appropriate for videogames."}}}

I take exception to the idea that the retorts contain "strange assumptions" about what a blog post should be. People are talking about common journalistic ethics here, and even if you don't agree with fair representation in something like a blog, I find it hard to believe that the idea could be considered foreign or odd.

Read this blog post through again. The title speaks of prejudice and violence. Roach Toaster is then dissected, and readers are given a slanted view of the game focusing on racial undertones with no contrary points of view brought in. Furthermore, it ends by giving Iji a pat on the back by providing "hope" for indie game development when "faced with Muslim Massacre and Roach Toaster".

It's not a matter of depth. It's a matter of presenting a balanced view and not leading the readers in any direction. It's a media producer's responsibility.

I understand now that Tof's intentions were benign. But I urge him/her to be more careful in future.

Re:concerns

Nandrew wrote:
Roach Toaster was made with the Game Maker 6 tool, and as a result isn't compatible with Vista. Game Maker's creator released a little hack that allows Joe user to convert a GM6 exe to the Vista-compatible GM7 one. You should be able to find more info at the link.

Tr00jg sent me a Vista version. Thanks.

Nandrew wrote:
One would presume that the onus is on the reporter/blogger to look up the correct factual information.

Well, that's what I mean is a strange assumption -- the idea that Tof or I or anyone else who posts here are reporters in any meaningful sense. We're not. The "news" in our site's subtitle refers to information relevant to the game studies community -- i.e. working academics who study video games. So that's usually stuff like Calls for Papers and announcements about conferences. Not game industry stuff, usually.

Nandrew wrote:
Moreover, if this is a veiled challenge of our own knowledge of South African politics, it's a weak one.

It wasn't meant that way at all. Simply a request for more information. I apologize if my tone wasn't clear -- I really wasn't trying to be sarcastic. It simply is the case that I know very little about contemporary South African politics, and the information you've now provided helps correct my lack of knowledge.

Nandrew wrote:
I take exception to the idea that the retorts contain "strange assumptions" about what a blog post should be. People are talking about common journalistic ethics here, and even if you don't agree with fair representation in something like a blog, I find it hard to believe that the idea could be considered foreign or odd.

Well, there's that term "journalistic" again. That's really not our intent here, but I see how if you came in thinking that was the case, you'd be surprised to see strongly argued points of view. This is more like a public forum in which people post their ideas in the form of commentary. If you disagree with something, you're welcome to post a comment, as indeed you have already done.

Games and Ethics

I don't dispute that posters living in South Africa have greater knowledge of it than I do, but I feel a need to correct the misconception that my knowledge of race relations in that country was pulled out of a general cultural ignorance. One of my main sources was Dennis Brutus (I mentioned before that Alternative Radio is one of my news sources), who disagrees with the posters on many points, while agreeing on the general outline, including tensions between black South Africans with different 1st languages and the fact that raising the issue of racism without documented proof has become taboo.

I also want to remind everyone that I wasn't the one who introduced the word racism into the conversation: the kind of prejudice I am talking about is subtle and pervasive rather than overt and violent. In many ways it is unfortunate that my first post on the topic was about Roach Toaster, as my critique does and will extend to much of gaming as an alternative way of looking at games and ethics (as opposed to the present binary of “games are harmless fun” versus “video game violence leads to real violence”).

If you're interested in those issues, please look for my next essay (hopefully in about a week). If your only concern is how South Africa (or Troojg) is represented on this website, you don't need to worry, as neither will be discussed there.

Hidden Meanings

I seem to have come to this discussion a bit late, but nevertheless will throw in my two cents worth.

It's my personal belief that you can find (almost) any hidden agenda in (almost) anything, so I'm not surprised that you can find racism in Roach Toaster. Could the game not also be a complex metaphor for the difficulties faced by militant governments of controlling a rebellious population. This government not necessarily being South African or even American, the game could quite easily be about the Israel (Apartheid South Africa that you love so much had strong ties to Israel, it's not such a far step, especially if Tr00j is vehemently anti-Palestinian).

I also find it interesting that you take the fact that Tr00j is a white South African and draw the racist conclusion, I could just as easily take the fact that you are American and presume that you are racist and just accusing someone else of being a racist to make yourself feel better.

To your criticism of "genocidal games": are you surprised? People have feared differences since the dawn of humanity and we've only gotten better at it with time, why should games be immune from this?

I also agree with the people calling for an apology, even though this is the internet, you can't go around accusing people of being racist without sufficient justification.

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