Just recently during the Playstation 5 reveal event we got a look at the game Little Devil Inside made by the small studio Neostream. The trailer showed among other things one of the characters going on adventures in various locations and getting into all sorts of trouble. In one of those locations our (assumed) protagonist was being chased down by dark skinned, tribal looking people wearing large masks and using blowguns. This has resulted in a bit of a blowback on social media accusing the devs of racial stereotyping - specifically that these indigenous looking people were the aggressors and that you, as the white Indiana Jones type, were pillaging their lands and obviously that they looked like native Africans.
Now Neostream have posted a message on their Facebook stating in short that they had no intention of actively mimicking any one culture and were trying to make "guardian" like characters that wore masks and looked kind of wild - but since they don't want to offend anyone they will change the design.
Here is the message in full taken from their Facebook page:
"Dear all,In answer to a series of inquries made in the last 24 hours regarding certain character deign revealed in the PlayStation PS5 Reveal Event showcase trailer yesterday, the LDI team wish to make the following announcement.
Racist stereotypes of any kind were absolutely not intended, we were not aware of the stereotypical connotations and wish to apologize to anyone who may have been offended by the character design.
In addition, no one (not just limited to team members) has ever commented or hinted on the character designs. However, these characters have not been revealed publicly elsewhere prior to the event.
The design intention was to create characters who are protectors/guardians of a particular mystic region in the world of Little Devil Inside. We were not producing character designs referenced on any real African and/or Afro-American human tribes.
The focus was on creating colorful masks and our designers were researching masks from all various cultures. As characters in the game, they move in groups and use blow darts that paralyze when hit. We wished to add character to the mask design and give it life to it - something like the little Kakamora characters in Disney's Moana.
However, regardless of our intentions, if any people were offended in any way, we sincerely apologize.
We will be making the following fixes to the current characters but if it ends up not being suitable to the game as a whole, we may change the design entirely.
1. Remove the Dreadlocks.
2. Change the bold lips.
3. Change skin tone.
4. Tweak the dart blower so it looks less like a joint.
On a minor note, this is our first game title and we are still quite naive in many areas.
As always, we thank you all for your support!"
Of course arguments fell on both sides of the matter. Plenty of people thought this is a great show of understanding and owning up to an honest mistake stemming from cultural ignorance. Others think it's a case of the internet mob bullying developers into changing their games. Personally I'm somewhat split down the middle on this issue. Of course I think it's terrific that they showed a lot of humility and simply decided to change the characters in order to not offend anyone. If you don't have to then why not? Thats a great move for everyone involved. That said, from what little digging I did this is a small team comprised of 12 people and the whole game is a Kickstarter backed project. They're from South Korea so when they say they had no idea this might be offensive to anyone I'm pretty sure they are being genuine. I do feel a certain way about a tiny team like this having to go back and re-do character designs because the internet yelled at them. I'm just not sure I can actually gauge how offensive or politically incorrect these original designs were - I can obviously see the tribal similarities but at what point is it offensive? I suppose at any? Interestingly enough I was recently listening to Waypoint go over this Sony presentation and when this game came up one of the very first things Austin Walker brought up was vaguely remembering an old trailer of this game showing "tribal" antagonists chasing the hero on wild animals and how thats troubling imagery. If this was something that above all else stuck in Austins mind after all this time then obviously there is something there.
What do you guys think of this whole thing? Is the internet getting a little nuts or is this a great showing of how a developer can better their game through Social Media feedback? It's obviously not a binary situation of wrong or right, and the end result is a net positive, but does this set an unhealthy precedent and expectations of developers? Most recently the Sonic movie was drastically changed last minute due to a massively negative reaction to the character design, and similarly the product was better for it but a lot of conversation was had about the human cost those changes required.