Earlier this week, redditor BourgeoisBanana posted these images of his latest venture in The Sims 3, the accurate reconstruction of a tropical slave plantation. The images show virtual gentry and virtual slaves carrying out the daily activities typical of a plantation, the slaves picking crops, the owners doing perhaps what they do best, nothing. BourgeoisBanana’s post has since sparked nearly 2,000 comments, ranging from similar stories of architectural endeavors of questionable intent: the creation of pyramids complete with starving children, and the construction of holocaust concentration camps, to simple praise of the accuracy of the project, one commenter saying “That one mixed child in the slave family... nice attention to detail.”
Rarely, however would a commenter bring up the conflict inherent in BourgeoisBanana’s original post “When I get bored in The Sims I start doing terrible things.” This homage to a dark era of American history long past is presented by its creator as off color and unsavory. While one could not argue that there is a certain level of sadism in “playing” plantation owner, is there any more than the other less than noble possibilities that the game, wittingly or not, presents players with (my personal favorite being the combination of a fireworks kit and a room without doors)?
Why then would one, perhaps less cynical than the common Reddit poster, view this creation as particularly terrible? Could it be in the nature of the medium that we find fault, not the content itself? The Sims franchise has since its inception put complete control in the hands of the players, affording them both omniscience, and omnipotence. Is it in our own control over the situation, and our choosing to subject these simulated lifeforms to one of the worst fates a human can be dealt where we find our guilt? The simulation of a plantation does seem to fall outside the bounds of the ESRB’s rating of “Comic Mischief” to which we might ascribe denying a swimmer a ladder to exit the pool.
In an interview with PC Gamer, BourgeoisBanana stated “I’m a large history and architecture buff, and The Sims is a great outlet for both of those, despite getting a lot of flak for being a ‘casual’ game... Being British, the colonial era is of particular interest of mine, and after seeing Django Unchained, the idea sort of came to me. I had the day off, so I thought, ‘Why not?’” BourgeoisBanana’s creation could not come at a more topical time, as movies such as Tarantino’s Django Unchained, and Speilberg’s Lincoln have both been getting media attention for their distinctly different portrayals of slave life in colonial America.
BourgeoisBanana’s intentions seems to lay within the context of intellectual curiosity. With the project’s origins in the fields of history and archeology, it then falls on how the simulation is carried out once completed that calls to question the nature of the piece. The simulation could be allowed to run, un-interrupted by creator’s hand, or there could be active control in the world that has been created, and if this is the case, is it wrong to “play slaves,” or is this just an accurate historical representation, not to be classified as taboo. The question lies in the intent, and ultimately we must look within ourselves to decide how to view creations such as this. As is integral to The Sims franchise at large, the tools are all there, and it is in the power of the player to decide what to do with them.