Writers from John Scalzi to author Shannon Sullivan have called white life an “easy way” compared to the treatment people of color receive. The upcoming RPG South Park: the broken but whole takes that concept and integrates it directly into the gameplay, increasing the difficulty for characters created as their chosen skin tone darkens.
Eurogamer was one of the first to notice and announce the feature. At a recent preview event, the site captured images with difficulty levels ranging from “easy” for a light-skinned character to “very hard” for the darkest-skinned option. “Don’t worry, this won’t affect the combat,” says character Eric Cartman as you operate the slider. “Just every other aspect of your whole life.”
As the developers explained to Eurogamer, the difficulty “affects the amount of money you receive and the way other characters talk to you over the course of the game.” That takes the concept beyond a throwaway joke about the character creator and becomes an integral part of the way the game unfolds.
While many games involve some sort of soft meta mocking for playing in Easy Mode, Broken but whole is the first we know of putting such a fine racial point on it. However, there are many objections to this particular piece of in-game commentary. As Evan Narcisse from IO9 put it in a tweet“Using black people’s burdened experiences as a wannabe-edgy punchline just isn’t funny.” Others have pointed out how the feature essentially forces black players who want a matching in-game avatar into a more difficult gaming experience.
Eurogamer also discovered that It’s broken but whole also offers the possibility to play as a boy, girl or ‘other’ and it allows characters to identify as cisgender or transgender. This is a big change from the cisgender male only character options in the 2014 predecessor The stick of truth. Choosing a different option in the sequel leads to some humorous meta-discussions about reconnecting characters over a phone call between the character’s parents and school counselor Mr. Mackey.
South Park has a long history of inserting social commentary on racial and gender issues into the show, a tradition that has often sparked controversy. South Park: The Stick of Truth continued that tradition, with a lot of “sexual, violent, vulgar, racial and scatological content” to be censored abroad, as Sam Machkovech noted in our review.