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Slave Simulation, An Edtech Game for Classrooms

Yesterday, I was shocked to open my email from Common Sense Media’s Graphite to find a recommendation and review for the game, Mission US: Flight to Freedom as a recommended piece of technology to “celebrate black history month and beyond” (It has since been removed).  Flight to Freedom is a role playing game in which users step into the character of Lucy, a 14 year old slave, as she attempts to run away to the north to escape slavery.

Flight to Freedom is a simulation of slavery meant to give students an interactive look into history. It features everything the “edtech” buzzword community loves…role playing, badges, student choice and reevaluation of failure. The problem here is that IT’S ABOUT SLAVERY…one of the darkest times in American history that STILL holds deep wounds…irresponsibly presented as a “too easy fix” on the part of the slaves themselves through decision making. Yes, Lucy…you’ll get a beating and it’s not because you are a slave who is owned by an evil slave owner…but because you chose the wrong path…thus, consequences.

The game is full of these moments. At one point, Lucy finds herself trying to find “the papers” proving that her “uncle” is free and in doing so encounters a random white man. She has a choice to tell him the truth that she’s trying to help her uncle or lie and stay quiet. It doesn’t take a genius to know that in those days, there was no good choice either way. Playing it safe, I chose to stay quiet. I was rewarded with…

IMG_1561

Yes, he prefers “quiet negroes” and in case I needed it…there is sound…plenty of “authentic sound”.

Eventually Lucy is captured and carted off to be auctioned where we got to hear this description…”Niggress for $800″

Yes…Niggress

I honestly can’t even give this atrocity of a poor decision a thought beyond…Why?

  • Why did the creators of this game find it necessary to create?
  • Why put children through “decision making” as a slave?
  • Why would any person think that slave simulation is a necessary component of curriculum?
  • Why did no one question this prior to now?
  • How does a game about slave simulation get funded even when a game similar to it resulted in a lawsuit by black parents?
  • Why and how did the black researchers participate in this? Do you really believe that this was the way to honor our people and the best way for children to learn about slavery, the underground railroad and the countless numbers of people who died while trying to become free? Let’s reflect on the fact that this is a tiny snapshot of history but one that certainly deserved more thought than this.

If you want to create a role playing game about history…fine…do it…but choose moments in history that are not about the rape, beating, degradation, mutilation and murder of a people. Do we really need to step into those shoes anymore than we have already?

Let me be clear in saying that learning about this time in history is necessary but doing so in a role playing game is not appropriate.

If your idea of “celebrating” the contributions of Black people during the month of February is a lesson in slavery…you are the one that needs a lesson in history and the countless contributions that we not only have made but are still making.

Our enslavement is not and should not be your lesson on resilience and grit.

In the Words of Sabrina Stevens @TeacherSabrina (shared with her permission)

1) Simulation is almost impossible to do ethically, which is why so many people end up being fired for missteps in this area 
2) Enslavement happens between two peoples, it doesn’t just happen to one. Talking about black people being enslaved without adequately discussing the economic motivations of the slave holders and the centrality of slavery to America’s founding/ the origins of capitalism is erroneous and problematic.
It reinforces the idea that black people are somehow innately “slave-ish” versus illuminating the fact that white slave owners did this for a reason, and that the society benefiting from this brutality created elaborate legal, social and moral codes to justify it, including stereotypes that remain with us to this very day.
You can’t understand oppression by rehashing/pitying the experience of the oppressed; only by also unpacking the motivations and actions of the oppressor.
You can’t “celebrate” a people by constantly discussing up the worst thing that ever happened to them in an incomplete and misleading fashion, while absolving the people responsible for it of their guilt.

Comments 24

  1. Pingback: Response: Slave Simulation “Game” | Sarah da Teechur

  2. Thank you for this article and for alerting the edtech community to this epic fail. I agree with Sabrina, attempts to create simulations or even role playing around these issues requires serious forethought and extensive communication with those affected.

    In the meantime, if the goal is to give students (or adults) some idea of what the life of a slave was like, trying reading Toni Morrison’s Beloved.

  3. Thank you so much for exploring and writing about this software. If I, a white woman, feel like I need a shower after reading your article, I can only begin to imagine how infuriating that must have been. It’s not right you should have had to spend your time, effort, and mental and emotional energy that way, but I thank you for making the world a better place for all of our students and children… again!

    I am going to send an email to my district’s equity team to alert them to this situation. I’d like to hope no one in our district is using it, but it would be good to be sure, and I can also hope that they could join me in letting Mission US know this is unacceptable.

    1. I think many of kinesthetic, and lower readers need simulation games to keep them engaged. I agree it does have to be done with some background information, but I also get 3-5 students in classes every year exclaiming what would do if they lived then. Sugar coating does not help kids or get them read for the adult world we want to change and live in.

  4. I think many of kinesthetic, and lower readers need simulation games to keep them engaged. I agree it does have to be done with some background information, but I also get 3-5 students in classes every year exclaiming what would do if they lived then. Sugar coating does not help kids or get them read for the adult world we want to change and live in.

    1. I think many of kinesthetic, and lower readers need simulation games to keep them engaged. I agree it does have to be done with some background information, but I also get 3-5 students in classes every year exclaiming what would do if they lived then. Sugar coating does not help kids or get them read for the adult world we want to change and live in.

  5. This is shocking in itself that this game got produced and distributed to begin with, and that NO ONE stopped to think that there could be any social or cultural problems with it. Worse, that Graphite, whose sole job is to provide a filter for educators to choose edtech, failed to see as well AND promoted it. To mix metaphors, which monkeys are running the store?

  6. I have not seen the “game” so I really can’t pass judgement. The writer is probably accurate about the game specific issues. However, I don’t agree with some of the premises in the argument. I don’t see a problem with students having to be faced with the same decision making problems that enslaved African children had to make. The researchers most likely had little input in how their work would be used in the product. I’m not sure that they deserve the criticism. Again, not having the benefit of reviewing the product, it probably is filled with problems that can only be addressed through the student working very closely with a knowledgable and skilled teacher to facilitate the simulation to achieve its intended goal. My final thought is that it is possible with today’s technology to create an educational tool that effectively simulates the experiences of enslaved Africans. However, this does not seem to be it 🙁

    1. Post
      Author

      Let’s be clear…There should never exist a product that “effectively simulates” the experiences of slavery. “Enslaved African children”…Yes, the researchers absolutely deserve every ounce of criticism for their part in this.

      1. Each time I read about this I am struck with one of your bullet points:

        Why did no one question this prior to now?

        And as I read through some of the comments here, I wonder – why are people defending the idea of an appropriate game about slavery?

        There will never be a time and a place for games about human atrocity.

    2. “My final thought is that it is possible with today’s technology to create an educational tool that effectively simulates the experiences of enslaved Africans.”

      I honestly think you should pause, reread that sentence, and think about it long and hard.

  7. Pingback: Elementary, My Dear, or Far From It | History is Hard

  8. There is no “right” way to simulate slavery and all its brutality. Are you going to simulate the rape of 10 year old girls? How about the castration of prepubescent boys? Will you simulate the be-heading of Master’s new born “mulatto” by his jealous wife? Will you discuss how slavery was essential to our country’s economy and no choice the slave made had any real implication in his/her freedom, except maybe suicide? The reality of slavery is not kid’s play, nor is it content for a game. It’s too convoluted and entangled to role play for adults or children.

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  15. “if you want to create a role playing game about history…fine…do it…but choose moments in history that are not about the rape, beating, degradation, mutilation and murder of a people.”

    This sounds to me as censorship. If you want to write a book about history fine, but choose moments in history that are not about the rape, beating… etc. so whe wouldn’t have The Grapes of Wrath or Les Miserables.

    History is full of blood, abuse and horrible things, and to hide them and forbide art to talk about them is not the way. Create happy games about a happy world that never existed won’t change history – in my honest opinion -.

    On the other hand, very good article and debate.

    1. No one’s saying don’t write about history, or create movies or theatrical productions. I’m saying don’t turn the pain of my ancestors into a game.

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