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Race Relations and Children's Games

Oh my god. Shannon was just showing me the lovely wooden pieces for a game he's supposed to review. It's called "Kids of Catan", and it's a dumbed-down version of the Settlers of Catan game, intended for pre-school kids. Whatever.

So anyway, Shannon's showing me all these big block-style carved wooden pieces (houses, trees, haystacks, etc.), including the player pieces, which are shaped like people/kids. So, there's a white kid, a yellow kid, a red kid, and a blue kid. And they go around this circle, collecting resources and hauling stuff (bricks, hay, and wood) around with them until they get the most stuff and they win.

BUT ... and now here we get to the kicker ... there is another human-shaped piece in the game. THE BLACK GUY. This black man-shaped piece sits in one location on the board, lying in wait for hapless kids to happen by so that he can ... yes, you guessed it ... STEAL THEIR STUFF!

Shannon didn't seem to see the dark and horrible humor in this when he was explaining the game mechanics to me, until I interrupted him and said, "Wait a minute. So ... the black guy steals stuff from the other players in the game? And this is a game for little kids to teach them ... what? Get as much stuff as you can, but beware of black guys, 'cause they'll rob you?" I was simply aghast. And yet I couldn't stop laughing at how inconceivably horrible it was.

Shannon insists that, since the game was created in Germany, the racial overtones that might seem obvious in the U.S. were most likely not even considered. Still, I've gotta maintain that it's an EXTREMELY unfortunate design element in the game, especially as it's being marketed in the U.S.

If I had kids, I wouldn't want them playing Kids of Catan. Bleh.



( 9 comments — Leave a comment )
Nov. 11th, 2003 11:16 pm (UTC)
Well... I see where you are coming from, but black is generally associated with evil..

I think the best way for the game company to colour it's pieces would have been to make all of them random rainbow non-skin tone colours. Like purple. And green.


Nov. 11th, 2003 11:55 pm (UTC)
Have you ever noticed that black isn't a skin colour, but brown is?

Other things to not let kids watch - Star Wars, because the bad guy is as black as you can get.
Nov. 12th, 2003 01:21 am (UTC)
I have indeed noticed that. I have also noticed that people are not white, usually. Unless they're dead. Even then they're kinda grey.
Nov. 12th, 2003 06:12 am (UTC)
Get as much stuff as you can, but beware of black guys, 'cause they'll rob you?"

Don't forget the other lesson -- "Black guys just sit around doing nothing -- YOU do all the work."
Nov. 12th, 2003 08:54 am (UTC)
While I understand what you're saying, the Knight in the full game is also black (get it, the black knight? *snorfle*) - and there are no other people shaped pieces in that game. They're probably just continuing with the stylings of the previous game.
Nov. 12th, 2003 11:12 am (UTC)
Yeah, Shannon and I discussed that fact, because I understand that stylistic motivation. I just think that when they decided to make the abstract pieces into human shapes, the color black took on a different meaning than they most likely intended, especially given that piece's function in the game (robbery).

If I were a game designer, I would have tried to find a different way to represent this part of the game. Maybe made the piece something black but not human. Or just put a picture of marauding bandits at one point on the board, something like that. There are lots of less racially connotative options.
Nov. 12th, 2003 09:09 am (UTC)
Wow, the picture of the game is pretty damning. I'm a bit surprised that got past them.
Nov. 12th, 2003 09:36 am (UTC)
I rarely say this so flatly, but Shannon is Just Wrong.

Racist Jews use "die schwarze," (the black one) to refer to dark-skinned people in Yiddish, and "schwarz" means black in German, so it's not a big jump to see that black is a racist word in Germany. (I speak more Yiddish than German.) "Black" in Europe doesn't mean "of African descent," but it does mean "of lesser genetic heritage." In England, it's generally used to refer to people from the subcontinent; Indians and Pakistanis. In continental Europe, such as Germany, the connotations are much the same.

Nov. 12th, 2003 05:01 pm (UTC)
I totally agree with you.. that seems rather reprehensible indeed.

( 9 comments — Leave a comment )

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