I was originally going to post this as part of my Melanin Monday segment, but, WordPress decided that my original post was a bit too radical and saw fit to DELETE EVERYTHING I WROTE! But, thankfully despite that I was able to salvage most of it with the help of WP’s nifty ‘History’ feature, so, it wasn’t a total loss…
I want to first clarify that this is not a review, but a critique of Cyanide Tea’s decision to create a game that featured characters of color, specifically Black and brown skinned characters, as slaves in a game that allows the player to romance said slaves. Let me say that again, THIS IS NOT A REVIEW OF Taarradhin! I will write a proper review some time in the near future, but this post, is most certainly not a review, so if you are expecting a review, come back later. For everyone else, the opinions reflected in this post are my own, so, if you are uncomfortable with discussions of race or slavery, you might want to check out one of my other game reviews or discussion pieces…
Before I start this rant, I want to give you guys a bit of background about Taarradhin.
Taarradhin is a Pay-What-You-Want original English language visual novel (OELVN) from Cyanide Tea (Lorelei and Auro-Cyanide). The game was created for NaNoReNo 2014 and features two potential love interests (GxG and GxB) with five endings. It’s a rather short game taking between 30 mins to an hour to complete.
A seven-year drought plagues the entire region surrounding the country of Nishtif, leading people to wonder if their goddess Scheknt has abandoned them. In contrast, young noblewoman Neqtia has lived a comfortable life insulated from hardship and suffering. One of the poorer surrounding countries, Djedi, sends their usual tribute of natural resources and livestock to Nishtif in exchange for the larger country’s aid and protection. Rumors that two attractive slaves are among the cargo intrigue Neqtia. What lies in store for her after the slaves are brought to live at her family estate…?
I want to stress that as a Black woman, I am not a fan of media that depict people of color, especially Black and brown skinned individuals as slaves. I will admit that some media does a great job of tastefully depicting the enslavement of people of color, a statement I make knowing full well the long standing social, political, and cultural impact slavery has had on the lives of said people and the global community. So, when I heard that Cyanide Tea had made a game that not only featured Black characters, but, Black slaves, lets just say I was not overly excited about the game… in fact I was willing to forgo playing the game altogether. Don’t get me wrong, I love Cyanide Tea and their games while short cover a wide range of topics and have a diverse cast of well developed characters, but a game about slaves was a hard sell for even a hardcore Cyanide Tea fan like myself…
But, the gaming group I’m in selected it as our game of the month, a little while back, so I put on my big girl pants and downloaded the game… I played it, started a review, and left said review sitting in my drafts for over a year, because after finishing the game I didn’t feel like I was capable of describing just how I felt about this game… I’m still not sure I’m ready, but, I’m tired of seeing it in my drafts, so I’m going to just bang this rant out and the subsequent review and just wash my hands of the whole sordid affair.
Taarradhin is a game with a cast that is made up of primarily Black and brown characters, which is great… Yay, representation. But… HALF OF THEM ARE SLAVES?! Let me say that again. This game features a primarily Black cast and the majority of the characters are SLAVES… excuse me?! This is problematic for a number of reasons, the first being that the romanceable characters are slaves, which in and of itself brings up the issue of CONSENT, as typically slaves, by their very definition are not capable of giving consent or descent when it comes to the whims of their masters.
But, my biggest issue is with the fact that this is a dating sim that whether it be intentional or otherwise, romanticizes the relationship between a mistress and her slaves. This is not the kind of relationship one should aspire to have due to the historical ramifications of slavery and the abuse of power that many slave owners exacted on their slaves. Slave owners would use their slaves for their own satisfaction and then discard them without any regard for their well-being, so forgive me if I am not overly enthusiastic about a game that tries to sell me on the whole, it’s romantic for a slave owner to have a romantic relationship with her slaves premise… because it’s not romantic…
Also, before anyone brings up the fact that the mistress, Netiqa, is woman of color, as if that somehow makes this type of premise okay, I would like to kindly ask you to sit down in the corner of shame, because I will have none of that here.
The fact that Netiqa is a woman of color just pisses me off more, because it was like the developers were saying, “Hey, it’s okay because look, they’re all Black, so it’s fine…” *intense side eye* Then the cherry on top of this problematic delight is the fact that the slave characters, are described as being usually beautiful, dare I say exotic. Say what now? We gonna fetishize slaves now?! Black men and women have been the subject of hypersexualization for years and has been used as a method of dehuminizing men and women of color in order to justify transgressions perpetrated against them by their oppressers. So imagine my surprise when every five seconds some character or another is remarking upon the beauty of the main slave love interests. Perhaps, if this was a social commentary that would be one thing, but this is a dating sim, with mythical ethereal slave characters that you can romance… Do you guys see why I might have a problem with this game?
I’m just disappointed, because as a whole, Taarradhin isn’t a bad game, far from it, I just have a hard time rectifying the developer’s choice to use slavery to deliver their narrative with the actual message of the game. The choice to use slaves as a means to highlight the power disparity between the nobility and the lower class and how that disparity has far reaching ramifications on the social order of a fictional society is rather unique for a “romance” visual novel… however, as a Black woman, I can’t help but cringe when faced with the prospect of romancing slaves… no thank you… Of course, I understand that the fact that the characters that we do see are Black and brown skinned simply because of the setting of the game is in some ambiguously, African/Middle Eastern country, brownie points for doing what Hollywood refuses to do. And, no, I am not trying to pretend like slavery wasn’t a common practice for the colonial powers of “old” and many indigenous cultures across the globe. Slavery happened, and it is still happening today, it’s something that we as a race, the human race, will never fully wash our hands of, but seeing it in a romance game is a bit too much for my taste.
I want to hear from you guys… Are there any games or media that you’ve consumed that featured problematic subject matter? How did they make you feel? Were they used as a means of adding to the narrative or where they just a gimmick? Have any of you played Taarradhin? What did you think about it? Drop a line down in the comments section, strike up a discussion, and as always, THANKS FOR READING!!