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03 March, 2014

Gaming's 12 Years a Slave is Coming

If you hadn’t heard, 12 Years a Slave – a movie about a free black man’s capture in 1841, his sale into slavery and his 12-year fight for the right to live – just picked up the best picture gong at the Academy Awards. In his acceptance speech, director Steve McQueen made reference to the 22 million people globally that remain enslaved. It’s a stunning figure. It’s a disgrace.

Slavery is never going to be an easy topic to tackle when telling a story, but it’s one McQueen has handled powerfully in 12 Years a Slave. Can a video game also act to tell such an emotionally impactful tale and raise awareness about the continuing issue of slavery?

Late last year, I stumbled on an early trailer for a game called Thralled, being made by Portuguese developer Miguel Oliveira. It’s set in 18th century Brazil, and tackles the issue of that era’s horrid slave trade through the eyes of a Congolese mother who is kidnapped, has her baby stolen from her and is forced to work in the sugar fields. Intrigued, I reached out to the developer and asked to hear more about why and how he was going to tackle this subject. So powerful were his motives and his approach, I turned that chat into the cover story for Issue 1 of Grab It Magazine.

You can purchase Issue 1 from the App Store here, with this extensive interview with Miguel Oliveira joining four other exclusive features, 14 interviews, 22 in-depth reviews and plenty more - you won’t regret the purchase. 

Here is a snippet of what Oliveira spoke to me about, which I think will reveal why this is a game you need to know more about. And it's a reminder that gaming has great power, even more so than other media outlets, to deliver important, eye-opening insights in the form of entertainment.

There’s a need to talk about slavery and its victims; a need to talk about it not just as history, but as something with which we still live with today. The legacy of slavery lingers in our society - social phenomena such as racism, which is very much preeminent today, is a product of systems of oppression such as slavery and colonialism. The Jim Crow laws and apartheid. Slavery as an institution is very much alive and well, too, with about 30 million people enslaved around the world today. Interest for and understanding of this topic is crucial, and our wish is to discuss it.

The decision on the setting came as a natural consequence of the theme - the Portuguese and Brazil are of enormous relevance to discussions about the transatlantic slave trade. Portugal pioneered this human trafficking effort upon the colonisation of Brazil and the beginning of commercial relations with the Kingdom of the Kongo. It was the nation under which the majority of Africans were enslaved in that era - 30 to 50% of all victims (about six million by some estimates) of the transatlantic slave trade were brought to the ports of Brazil….

I wouldn't say [gaming] is the best medium to tell this kind of story per se, but we do consider it the best medium to tell this particular story - Thralled's story - and to create the impact we are trying to create. It is the best medium specifically because of its interactivity and its potential to create a heightened sense of intimacy; because it is interactive, it has the potential to emotionally and intellectually engage audiences in a very distinct manner, and as such, it has the potential to truly immerse people in the subject and create a sense of empathy that is achievable only through direct involvement.  

Read the full interview in Issue 1 of Grab It Indie Games Magazine.

Other articles you might be interested in:
    - Top 10 iOS Games of February
    - 50 Best iOS Indie Games of 2013
    - If iPad Games Were Movies - Out There
    - Ken Levine Jumped Off a Sinking Ship

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