There’s a temptation to say that popular interpretations of blaxploitation has even lost their racialized content, but there’s often a toothless trace. In Funk of Titans, after players beat a set of levels they face off in a rhythm-game dance off against white musicians. First, an “ancient pop” star who’s a cross between Lady Gaga and Medusa, then a leisure suited-Disco Cyclops (whose music genre is “rap” for some unknowable reason?), and finally “What if Eddie Van Halen was a Centaur.” In the climactic showdown, there’s a brief gesture toward the appropriative history of rock: “Please,” Perseus says, “Rock is just jazz without style!” The coding is clear: Jazz, like Funk, is black. Rock is white. But rock isn’t just white, right? It emerges from Jazz and other historically black music. And there are plenty of black rock artists. Like so many modern takes on blaxploitation, Funk of Titans wants to leverage the sexiness of racial conflict without getting its hands dirty, so to speak. There’s room for the righteous brother, but no place for him to explain that “the genre you think is ‘yours’ was built on the back of un- and underpaid black musicians.”
And, it feels, there’s little place for the rest of the deep variety of blaxploitation, either. Those films were about black folks being on screen together, doing any number of things besides Funk-Fu. Black protagonists sleeping with black lovers and laughing with black best friends. Sometimes they were action films and sometimes they were comedies. Sometimes they were period pieces, even! Like you said: the films are inextricably tied to the context of its time, and they certainly have problematic tropes of their own right. But if we must have blaxploitation games (and “New Blaxploitation” works at all), it should reflect the wide array of possibilities in the genre AND our contemporary contexts. Lord knows we still got the need for black folks on our screens.
The fascinating thing about all of this to me is that Funk of Titans understands “blackness” as an aesthetic skin devoid of lived and embodied content. I interpret the developer’s reasoning here as a partial understanding of how genre works, seeing it as merely a layer to be added to a substrate of a game type as opposed to a vital part of the connective tissue of the game. Greece becomes interchangeable with any setting; the blaxsploitation hero becomes a type among many.
The Twitter bot method of game creation.