ASU Professor Discusses Criticism Over Slavery Computer Game

Published: Thursday, October 12, 2017 - 3:35pm
Updated: Thursday, October 12, 2017 - 4:00pm

Teaching difficult subjects, like slavery, is a tough but important assignment for teachers. And making sure it’s done thoughtfully and sensitively is a crucial part of that.

The Arizona Republic reported earlier this week that Emerson Elementary School in Phoenix and Phoenix Elementary School District #1 are being criticized for using an online game called “Mission US: Flight to Freedom.

The game allows users to play that they are an enslaved 14-year-old girl who is trying to escape from her enslavers on a Kentucky plantation.

Now, the district blocked the game after hearing concerns about it from parents. But, the criticism has largely been that turning slavery into a game is not appropriate, because it makes light of the tragedy that was slavery. 

To talk more about this controversy and the criticisms of the game, I spoke with Neal Lester. He’s a professor of English at ASU and specializes in African-American literary and cultural studies. And I started by asking him to explain why he thinks a simulation on this subject isn’t a good idea.

We reached out to the Phoenix Elementary School District #1 for comment.

A district spokesperson told us they are grateful community members came forward about this and that they agree the use of this game to teach slavery is not appropriate. They also said they are planning to begin strategic planning soon, including integrating equity, cultural competency and restorative justice into their professional development.

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