Because We Can't Have Nice Things: Scribblenauts Racism! Breaking!

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Ca1amity

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Ugh.. So some blog decided to mess around with the Scribblenauts dictionary and...

I was messing around with the game today, trying to produce intangible elements (love, art, etc). I tried samba, but accidentally mistyped it as sambs. The game popped up it’s helpful “Did You Mean…?” dialog.

The first option was Sambo.
Well, using "Sambo" ends up creating a watermellon. Dude freaks out and lets J-----q (are we not allowed to use that name here still?) know. They smell a click-generating story and fire off a little piece titled 5TH Cell: Scribblenauts' scandalous-looking 'sambo' item is a misunderstanding wherein we learn that "sambo" can be a racist term (I already knew this personally but thats irrelevant) but can also mean, and is used primarily in game to substitute, "fig leaf gourd" a major component of a common Ecuadorian dish.

Were that the end...
Alas, enter Kotaku and yet another BREAKING! story.

The big K goes much less subtle with their piece and thus my rage is born
Racial Term in DS' Scribblenauts?

From where I'm sitting, Ashcraft and Totilo have put together a completely sensationalist piece for the hell of it (well, for the traffic). Obviously Kotaku wants to drive traffic to their site and nothing (besides review scores mabye) drives traffic like controversy.
A desire for business isnt a bad thing in and of itself, but its the trite and offensive way they've decided to do it that grinds my gears.

We'll overlook the article title entirely, you need a good buy line to get the clicks.
They proceed, after a 1-line introduction to Scribblenaut's core game mechanic, to this
So what happens when you write "sambo"?

You get a watermelon.

The word "sambo" is in the 22,802 wordlist we posted previously, between "sambhar" and "samboussa". Other racial terms (not just for African-Americans, but all ethnic groups) turned up nothing.
There is no lead in explaining the historically racist usage of the term in America, no discussion of alternate usage or even how this term was discovered in game. All that is saved for later in the article - instead the two hit the reader with a conclusion in the first paragraph "this is a racist term, period, and there better damn well be an explanation for it!"

The rest of the article is filled with 5th Cell's explanation for why the term is in the game (fig leaves) and why it spawns a watermellon (they look alike). Theres a quote from the creative director where he says he didnt even know about the racist connotations until Kotaku explained it to him.

Then we get a Kotaku American culture history lesson about the term Sambo and about racist imagery in the 19th and 20th centuries. All of it ends with this choice line:

Both "sambo" and the image of a watermelon carry the baggage of the American experience regarding racism. There is a connection between them. A long, painful and oppressive one... And now that connection, deliberately or not, appears to have entered the world of Nintendo's DS.
Fuck.

First and most obviously, that connection has entered "the world of Nintendo's DS" thanks to Ashcraft and Totilo themselves. Their somber musings over the plight of the black man in America vis a vi videogaming is, for me anyway, disgusting in its self serving nature. Am I the only one that finds this more "offensive" than the actual issue theyre supposedly covering?

Secondly, and more to the discussion end of things, the majority of this piece is spent explaining a uniquely American appropriation of a word (one that has passed out of common verbiage) and why, because it offended in America, it is offensive.
As a non-American, I have a real difficulty with pieces that purport to 'expose' or 'educate' on these matters universally when they are doing so from an American focused perspective.

Obviously this isnt the first time (see: "clearly no one black worked on this game") and we all do it from time to time. But, I'm wondering how we can purport to enjoy an international hobby, have global developers and a (generally speaking) multicultural take on things and then get caught up in American hand-wringing worrying over offense, or even worse, people digging around to find something offensive.

Why arent more developers able to say "No, here in Japan no one considered your nations particular history with slavery when making our zombie game. We just made a zombie game. Play it, discuss it from every angle, but dont try to paint us for what comes out of it" or "Yes, the song does use quotes from the Quran - it does so with respect and in aide of creating a beautiful sound. We stand behind our developers choice."
Why do we as consumers allow this petty shit to continue? Is there even anything we can do about it?
Finally, while I am not a member of the "lol games journalism" camp by any means - I think writers in the field do themselves a disservice writing like this, but how can they get past it? These are the big ticket stories that get the mainstream coverage they need and paradoxically move them towards "legitimacy".

All I know is, personally speaking, I'm done with Kotaku for a while.
Please to discuss?

EDIT: They dont deserve the clicks, its true.
 

yamo

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Dec 24, 2007
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Racist people will find racist stuff, the rest of us will just enjoy the game.
 

Roto13

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I hate Kotaku. So, so much.

And I never heard the term before this thread either.
 
Looking for racism when it's not there. Why would you type in sambo in the first place, are you racist? looks like you are trying to start shit...

That's meant for the writers of the article. Anyway, from a certain site:

"It turns out that sambo is a term for a 'figleaf gourd', which just so happens to look like this."



Cliffnotes of this: STFU!
 

iamcool388

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I've never heard of this sambo word, or it's racial connotation.

Maybe it's cuz I'm from India. *don't care shrug*
 

sonicmj1

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If the racial slur is used in its proper context, it doesn't refer to a watermelon. So it isn't being used in that way.

Kotaku once again turns a non-story into a story.
 

jrricky

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Feb 12, 2007
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Oh God, why was a thread made for this? As I said in the official thread:

Why bring up such things where not necessary?...to ruin the reputation of the company and/or the game? Also who in this generation will actually know or care about this word at all (to literally find offense from it)? Haven't we moved passed such things already? I mean the country will always have racists (and the racist history) but we (new gen) are better than that now...
Let it die please...
 

Jonnyram

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I still have my Little Black Sambo book from when I was a kid. I don't see the harm really and I'm happy to read it to my kids every now and then.
 

pakkit

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birdman said:
Virginia. You'd think I would've already heard it by now.
I'm from Virginia, too. Are you in the southern areas? Maybe they ignore "Little Black Sambo" in the schooling there.

Jonnyram said:
I still have my Little Black Sambo book from when I was a kid. I don't see the harm really and I'm happy to read it to my kids every now and then.
...

You don't see the harm in familiarizing your children with racial stereotypes?
 

OnPoint

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It's really not that big a deal. I've heard the term, but never would have thought to put it in. It has, however, taught me what a sambo actually is. I learned something today. Thanks Kotaku!
 

Jonnyram

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pakkit said:
...

You don't see the harm in familiarizing your children with racial stereotypes?
It's a harmless story. There are no racial overtones in it whatsoever. Were the name not later used as a slur, noone would give a shit.
 

sonicmj1

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OnPoint said:
It's really not that big a deal. I've heard the term, but never would have thought to put it in. It has, however, taught me what a sambo actually is. I learned something today. Thanks Kotaku!
I also did not know that a sambo could refer to a fig leaf gourd. Now I do.

Knowledge is power.
 
D

Deleted member 1235

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I can already imagine the monster in charge of the scribblenauts dictionary, cackling to himself as he dons his KKK hood before slipping in this innocent term into the game, knowing that one day, the dimmest of people will notice and misinterpret this and then take up the call and once again, black people will be oppressed.

Very clever indeed
 

alistairw

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Pathetic. Kotaku ought to know better than this, but I suppose after years of crap like this I ought to know better than to expect ethical and fair coverage from a site that clearly doesn't give a shit about being either ethical or fair.
 

daycru

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MidnightScott said:
Looking for racism when it's not there. Why would you type in sambo in the first place, are you racist? looks like you are trying to start shit...

That's meant for the writers of the article. Anyway, from a certain site:

"It turns out that sambo is a term for a 'figleaf gourd', which just so happens to look like this."



Cliffnotes of this: STFU!
Another embarrassing performance from the blogosphere.
 

pakkit

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Jonnyram said:
It's a harmless story. There are no racial overtones in it whatsoever. Were the name not later used as a slur, noone would give a shit.
I know the story. There is more than text in children's books.
 
catfish said:
I can already imagine the monster in charge of the scribblenauts dictionary, cackling to himself as he dons his KKK hood before slipping in this innocent term into the game, knowing that one day, the dimmest of people will notice and misinterpret this and then take up the call and once again, black people will be oppressed.

Very clever indeed
:lol
 

Jonnyram

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pakkit said:
I know the story. There is more than text in children's books.
But all I am reading is the text in children's books. Jesus.
And if you want to talk about racial stereotypes, try raising a couple of white kids in Japan. Don't give me your judgemental shit.
 

Night_Trekker

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catfish said:
I can already imagine the monster in charge of the scribblenauts dictionary, cackling to himself as he dons his KKK hood before slipping in this innocent term into the game, knowing that one day, the dimmest of people will notice and misinterpret this and then take up the call and once again, black people will be oppressed.

Very clever indeed
But someone's feelings were hurt!

Ugh...
 

JDSN

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And now that connection, deliberately or not, appears to have entered the world of Nintendo's DS.

This is disgusting, what an offense to a developer that set out to do something great.
 

antispin

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I hate to sound naive here -- not from the US and first time I heard this word -- but what's the watermelon connect here? Is watermelon another stereotype associated with a particular group of people?
 

Haly

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I know of the term "sambo" from the novel Invisible Man, and I didn't even know it had racial connotations until I looked it up.

Fucking retarded.
 

Comic

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I had no idea it was a racial term. My faith in the ability for people to be offended by anything remains.
 
Mar 17, 2006
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Obvious in this case Sambo was relating to the vegetable, and not any racism behind it. The bloggers decided it was somehow racist. I understand the history behind the word, but in this case its no way offensive.
 

dimb

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antispin said:
I hate to sound naive here -- not from the US and first time I heard this word -- but what's the watermelon connect here? Is watermelon another stereotype associated with a particular group of people?
In America it's common knowledge that black people only eat watermelon and fried chicken.

Also they are all dangerous thugs who are too lazy to get real jobs.
 

fernoca

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Can't wait for the other racism arguments like:
  • Main character = White
  • Write 'God' = White God

But hey, more exposure to the game....we all know how the that racist Capcom game on which you controlled a white-bulk man whose only mission was to kill black people in Africa, suffered because of that too.

Dance In My Blood said:
In America it's common knowledge that black people only eat watermelon and fried chicken.
Don't forget the grape juice!
 

Night_Trekker

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gamerecks said:
Obvious in this case Sambo was relating to the vegetable, and not any racism behind it. The bloggers decided it was somehow racist. I understand the history behind the word, but in this case its no way offensive.
But new, "progressive" definitions of "racist" inform us that something can be "racist" even if there's no bigotry behind it!

Political correctness is out of fucking control in this country.
 
May 21, 2009
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JDSN said:
And now that connection, deliberately or not, appears to have entered the world of Nintendo's DS.

This is disgusting, what an offense to a developer that set out to do something great.
Yep when I read that part I got pissed also. Makes you sick.. I'm sure this Brian Ashcraft guy is real proud of himself.
 

legend166

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Can someone explain the black people like watermelon stereotype? I don't understand that at all.
 

Zzoram

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I have no idea why Kotaku isn't banned but Joystq is, considering that Kotaku is by far the worse of the two.
 
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