Scribblenauts Caught Being Accidentally Racist

| 17 Sep 2009 19:08
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Somewhere in the thousands of words in Scribblenauts' massive dictionary, there is one that, whether developer 5th Cell intended it or not, comes off as more than a little racist.

The word in question is "sambo," which is, yes, a particularly lethal form of martial arts practiced in Russia, but also a racial slur for black people with quite a history. Go ahead, it's in your copy of Scribblenauts, too (if you're in the States, that is). Type the word in, and what you get seems particularly inappropriate considering the connotations of the word: a watermelon.

Yikes. This couldn't have been on purpose, right? Developer 5th Cell doesn't have some sort of horrible hidden message they're sending here, right? Of course not. According to creative director Jeremiah Slaczka, the whole thing's just an unfortunate accident brought on by his team's ridiculous commitment to cramming every single word in the world into Scribblenauts.

Apparently, as Slaczka told Joystiq, "sambo" in the game functions as an alternative term for the phrase "fig leaf gourd," which is used in an Ecuadorian dish called fanesca. In Ecuador, the word for "fig leaf gourd" is sambo. So the team was just trying to make it an absolute possibility that somebody in Ecuador or with a knowledge of Ecuadorian cuisine would be able to flex their knowledge in the most authentic way in this game.

Fig leaf gourds do look like watermelons, which would account for the appearance. Indeed, the object that shows up when you summon a watermelon in Scribblenauts is the same one that shows up when you summon sambo. It's the same art. "We reuse art," Slaczka said. "Fig leaf gourd looks a lot like a watermelon. It's just an alternative name in a giant list of tens of thousands of names."

Slaczka, who said he didn't even know what "sambo" meant as a slur until now, went on to explain that his company is far from racist by citing the fact that many of the characters in Scribblenauts and previous 5th Cell games are black. That's kind of a flimsy defense, and an unnecessary one. This just seems like a random and unfortunate accident. Someone probably should have red flagged this during development, but when you're dealing with 22,000 words or whatever, I suppose it could get hard to spot the trouble ones.

And yeah, somebody already did a riff on the Kanye West meme with this. So just don't even fire up MS Paint guys.

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Thread necromancy is necromantic...

Ugh. I'm really tired of people finding racism under every motherfucking rock.

Look, if there's a game that is released that makes me play as a slaver in 1750's England, stealing African's away from their homeland, THEN I'll cry racism. This? This is not racist.

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What about Golliwogs?

http://www.gollycorner.co.uk/

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Here's one made by Steiff, a snip at $450.

Not having played this yet myself (but have seen plenty of gameplay) I was REALLY expecting to click here and have a link to a vid depicting a monkey beating god for his chicken

Susan Arendt:

j0z:

Viruzzo:
Excuse my naivete, but how is a watermelon tied to afroamerican people?

It is said that blacks LOVE watermelons. And I am sure that many do, but so does a lot of white people.
OT- This is just stupid, I have never heard of that word before, and probably nor have most people. Something is only racist if the intent behind it is racist

Google "Little Black Sambo." I assure you, this is a well-known term in the States.

your kidding, Im in tx one of the stupid states and Ive never heard even of the word let alone some racist meaning too it

Keane Ng:
Slaczka, who said he didn't even know what "sambo" meant as a slur until now, went on to explain that his company is far from racist by citing the fact that many of the characters in Scribblenauts and previous 5th Cell games are black. That's kind of a flimsy defense, and an unnecessary one.

That's almost like saying "I have black friends" right after making a racist joke...

Eldamar:
ok, stuff like this upsets me. Just because something might appear to be racist, unless there's actual hatred behind it, its not racist. He had no idea that it was a slur, so to me, thats not racist. It boils down to: he didn't put it in the game as racist, so it isn't.

Pretty much this as well. With 22,000 words in this game I could see how one or two might have slipped through.

I live in the United States and I have NEVER heard it used before now.

I didn't really understand the problem? Watermelon? Slur? Sambo? Wtf?

Dude lay the fuck off. "Ooooh, it has "sambo" in it, it's racist!!1!!!1one
I hate over sensitive political correct people. Ohh noo, it's a game in comic style that plays on stereotypes. BURN IT! /irony

wait wait wait hold on a sec I SAID STOP THE F****** BUS!!!! how is the word sambo racist?

You think that's bad, you spawn a rapper and he eats all of those 'watermelons'. Give the rapper a gun and he shoots you. And he keeps falling asleep. Seriously, those can't all be accidents. xD

sneak_copter:

Mray3460:
I prefer the term "racially insensitive" to "accidentally racist," it's more refined and more descriptive of the situation and actions.

Yeah, but does it still count as racially insensitive if the guy didn't know it was even tied to race in the first place?

Already responded to a post like this:

Mray3460:

Keane Ng:

Mray3460:
I prefer the term "racially insensitive" to "accidentally racist," it's more refined and more descriptive of the situation and actions.

But they're not being insensitive. That would imply that they should have known better, that they should be sensitive but, perhaps by choice, weren't. The fact is that they just didn't know in the first place, that it was all just an accident.

I don't think there were "actions" to speak of in this situation at all. No actions were taken - in fact that's the problem, is that it was all just a bad coincidence and nobody at 5th Cell was trying to make this happen. I'm sure there are plenty of people who are racially sensitive at 5th Cell - Slaczka's quotes certainly attest to the fact that he is (at least after the fact) - so I feel like calling the game "racially insensitive" is giving it a harder time than it warrants.

The phrase "racially insensitive" certainly sounds a lot more official, but I don't think it's necessarily more descriptive here.

In my mind, "insensitive" was synonymous with "ignorant" in this context. The reason why I applied the term like this was that it WAS an accident.

As I always understood it:

"Racially Insensitive"=An accidental racial stereotype or image is used out of ignorance of the offensive connotations of a word/phrase/image, or a word/phrase/image is used in a bad context without knowledge/thought of alternate meanings/interpretations of the word/phrase/image (Example: After I watched an episode of the twilight zone when I was 14, an African American friend was messing around with me, I jokingly threatened that if he didn't "be nice to me" I'd "Make (him) go in the cornfield." He took it as "Make you go out in the field." He called me out on it, I was confused and explained that it was a reference to the twilight zone, I got an "Oh" and an explanation of what he'd understood it as, he apologized and so did I).

"Racism"=A stereotype or other offensive image/word is used on purpose, with active intent to do harm (Insulting someone using a racial slur, saying/writing/posting/wearing deliberate, racist things like "I hate Niggers," "Hymies are the Devil," "Crackers got no Culture," etc.) Because it's deliberate, "accidental" racism is impossible.

Also, by no means did I or do I think that they should have known better, I didn't even know what "sambo" meant until I read this article, but it's still racial insensitivity, not accidental racism.

Susan Arendt:

j0z:

Viruzzo:
Excuse my naivete, but how is a watermelon tied to afroamerican people?

It is said that blacks LOVE watermelons. And I am sure that many do, but so does a lot of white people.
OT- This is just stupid, I have never heard of that word before, and probably nor have most people. Something is only racist if the intent behind it is racist

Google "Little Black Sambo." I assure you, this is a well-known term in the States.

I used to love that book as a kid (back when I was entirely ignorant of the concept of racism and offensive stereotypes).

Kollega:
For information of those who will actually read it (that is,4-5 people),"sambo" in russian is an acronym of "self-defense without weapons",and was originally designed for law enforcement purposes.

In Swedish sambo is one of the parties of a cohabitation or samboförhållande and can be any shade or colour.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cohabitation.

Also, my sister hates watermelons, just a fact for you people who says that everybody loves them.

Mray3460:
I prefer the term "racially insensitive" to "accidentally racist," it's more refined and more descriptive of the situation and actions.

Yeah, but does it still count as racially insensitive if the guy didn't know it was even tied to race in the first place?

It's not a stereotype. We do. But so does everyone else on earth so I see no problem.

silasbufu:
now i think games take so much to be made because they have to nitpick absolutely everything to make sure not to offend someone who is a little too uptight.

I read the whole article and I still don't get how a watermelon being summoned by the word "sambo" is racist. I think it's just exaggerated.

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