I had a sudden and distressing realization while playing Freedom Cry, and I’m having a hard time figuring out exactly how I feel about it. My realization this: The more I played the game, the less I empathized with the slaves I was freeing.
At the start of the game, when I was dropped into Port Au Prince, I tried to save every slave that I saw. Escaped slaves, injured slaves, slave posts, everything. After my first couple of deaths, I ended up (literally) running into the first mission – freeing slaves on a plantation. When this task was done I was astonished – 40 slaves freed. My previous quests paled in comparison. And so I moved onto plantation raiding, and in doing so hit on slave ships. Somewhere in here I began to track upgrades, calculating what I needed to get the next machete, or the upgraded ship hull.
It struck me somewhere around the five hour mark – I was running past slave outposts, and actually avoiding the run away slaves, so that I could complete missions faster. And I was ignoring them because, ludically, these missions were not worth as much as others. My empathy had boiled away – I’d dehumanized the slaves.
This is, obviously, disquieting. And here’s where my problem comes in – I want to love the fact that the game gave me this experience. Freedom Cry gave me a visceral reaction, and left a gnawing pit of guilt in my stomach. I want to be able to tout this experience as an amazing achievement, a monumental work. But I have one problem; a little voice in the back of my head that is doubtful.
That little voice in my head is asking this question: So what if the game gave you an emotion? Does it matter that it did? I had a sudden revelation, but was I meant to? All of the games mechanics encourage the commodification of slaves – all of them. The game gave me the realization, but didn’t give me anything to do with it. Even if I understood what was happening, and saw the horror of my perspective, it didn’t change anything. I was still supposed to follow the main quest, upgrade my equipment, beat the boss. So did it matter?
What do you folks think? Did anyone else have the same experience? Do you think that that the game needed to provide a dialog with the player, or was it enough for it to just raise a question?