So I finally got around to playing Swords and Soldiers. I picked it up as part of some indie bundle sale (it might still be going on, I legitimately can’t remember which sale and I can’t be bothered to google it.)
Before I get into it, I really like the game. It can be punishingly difficult if you don’t understand how to “solve” the puzzle that comprises some of the levels, but for the most part it is a medium-difficulty romp. The basic idea is that there are two castles on either side of a long 2d battlefield. Resources are collected, units are built, and they run into one another. There are also spells that can be used to sway the battle one way or the other. The gameplay never really gets any more complicated than that, and there is sufficient depth that I stuck with the game through a few hours to complete all three campaigns. This blog does a good job of explaining the mechanics, if you want something more in-depth. That is the game proper in broad strokes, and everything else is aesthetics.
Sadly, the game gets pretty goddamn weird on that level.
You see, there are three playable factions in the game: Vikings, Aztecs, and Chinese. Each of these factions has their own strange goal in the world, and their faction story revolves around making sure that goal is resolved. The Vikings want barbecue. The Aztecs want to win a prize. The Chinese, ruled by a child emperor, want toys and other fun things.
The Vikings are portrayed as big talking beards. There’s nothing really there other than a desire to eat meat and party. It is funny, not offensive, and definitely doesn’t play on any problematic history of the Vikings. The Aztecs might be a little more edgy, being that they are willing to sacrifice their units up for more power in the short-term. But that’s playing on stereotypes from hundreds of years ago, and more importantly, there’s no real harm in the representations. There are no living Aztecs who could possibly be impacted by bad representations of Aztec practices of human sacrifice. Just like the Vikings, there’s a safety in what the gamemakers give us in the Aztec faction.
We hit a wall with the Chinese faction. I don’t have better words than this: I think the representations of Chinese in Swords and Soldiers are racist. I’m not sure how much proof I have to do here, but I will do a little.
First, look at this article, and watch the short video that introduces the magician unit. Yep, that’s him saying “Herrow.” That’s great comedy. (I am being sarcastic.)
Second, look at the rocket-firing unit. Just fucking look at it. Then look at the next image, which is a propaganda poster against the Japanese from WW2. See any similarities in the way that they portray Asians?
I understand that the game is over the top and is intended to be funny. What I don’t understand is why representations of Asians that were used to fuel a fervor against the “yellow peril” still have some traction today. And I also don’t understand why the artists, designers, and directors of the game didn’t understand that these depictions of people are racist. These are caricatures, yes, but they are caricatures with very specific histories that continue to effect Asians today. Holy shit, just read American Born Chinese.
Read this Steam thread to feel depressed about the whole thing–the OP in the thread is complaining, quite rightly, about the fact that the Chinese are referred to as “Chinamen” a couple times during Swords and Soldiers. At best, s/he is ignored; at worst, shouted down. The developers of the game come in at the beginning and offer a non-apology
None of it is meant to be offensive. If it comes across as insulting, then we apologize for that. Offending people was definitely not our goal. In general, everything in the game is extremely over the top and ridiculous, none of it is intended to be taken seriously.
I don’t know what point I’m trying to make here. We need to be aware that the things we make carry weight, maybe.
Also: Africa appears to be a barren desert continent in this game.