Depicting Slavery in Video Games

A Detroit: Become Human still frame featuring Markus on the viewer’s left and North on the viewer’s right

Slavery is a nasty part of human history that many nations have had experience within some shape or form. Slavery is still very much going on today, but predominantly in the black market. In fact, the USA is a huge export and import country regarding slavery (both sexual and otherwise). Both men and women are enslaved in today’s world. But this article is going to specifically discuss some recent titles that have depicted “slavery” in their games.

Detroit: Become Human is perhaps one of the most prominent examples. The plot revolves around three androids that become essentially conscious of their circumstances and become “deviant”. While this game is breathtakingly beautiful, it has gotten some criticism with how it depicts the “slave” theme. While it does show both “positive” and “negative” portrayal (some androids are horribly abused by their owners, others are more like housemaids or nannies to human children), the game (to be frank, my opinion of course) has the stench of “white guy looking in through the window and making a game based solely on what he sees through said window”. Jesse Williams (the actor who portrays Markus) is a well-known figure in social movements specific to African Americans. Many fans make the argument that Jesse would not have involved himself with the project if he felt that this was just a superficial look on the complex themes found within the game.

Assassin’s Creed Odyssey gives you the option of playing as one of the siblings, Kassandra on viewer’s left or Alexios on viewer’s right

The other game I wanted to discuss in this was Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. While this game is also very beautifully made, and it’s frankly a fun action fighting game, it falls down hard when attempting to portray slaves in this game. The setting is ancient Greece, where Sparta and Athens were fighting. Slaves during this time period, for the most part, were treated less than dirt.

Were there amicable relationships between master and slave(s) that existed? Absolutely. It would be foolish to say these types of relationships didn’t exist. However, these are the vast minority of cases. Similar to America and how they treated their slaves, slaves 90–99% of the time got treated as cockroaches.

The game’s portrayal? Nope. It’s overall pretty rosey. A few critics of the game have also pointed out this glaring story element in the game. Some people are able to turn their brain off and just enjoy the game for what it is. However, from a historical perspective, this is just not right. In some cases, it’s dangerous to give this perspective as “this is what happened to most slaves in Ancient Greece”.

People rely on entertainment more often than naught to give them information about say historical events. That’s why a lot of people will want to watch historical fiction or a fun documentary about an event that happened in the past (as opposed to reading a book about it). These story writers for video games need to understand the seriousness that slavery was (and still is for those in those unfortunate life circumstances). Intense research needs to be done, documentaries need to be watched and historical documents read to give an accurate portrayal of these intense subjects.

Some creators feel wildly uncomfortable with these kinds of intense and traumatic themes. As a writer, I can tell you that this is okay to feel like this. If you don’t feel comfortable writing such material, that is okay and it is your personal limit as a writer. If you are commissioned to write this kind of subject matter (video game, book, movie, graphic novel, etc.), you need to pay proper respects to the communities of people who have gone through such events.

I’m a queer adopted healthcare worker who writers in their spare time. I have a MPH degree.