Furious debate has sprung up around the Kickstarted game This Is The Police, a crime management simulation game from developers Weappy.
Released on the 2nd August, This Is The Police puts you in the shoes of Freeburg police chief Jack Boyd. Boyd is being forced to retire by the corrupt Mayor of the fictional town, and he’s decided that before he goes, he wants to make himself a sizeable nest egg. On a police salary, though, that’s almost impossible. Instead, Boyd has to balance his police life with helping the mafia and answering to the Mayor’s increasingly impossible demands in the 180 days he has left on the force.
On the face of it, the game is a fascinating look at all the plates a police chief has to spin in order to do their job. Every day, you’re asked to pick out your best officers to fight the crime that pops up in the city. Make the wrong move, and you could lose them in a shootout or other disaster. Critics have praised the game for making gamers think in real time, putting the pressure on to make the right decision.
The debate has sprung up around some of the scenarios that crop up when you’re playing the game. The one that has really caught the media’s attention is the ‘Fire All Black Cops’ scenario.
‘A racist gang has recently been making trouble in the city’ it reads. ‘The recently sent a message to a local radio station, promising to kill all the black doctors, firemen, and police… You’ll have to fire all your black employees over the next two days, due to mounting racial tensions’.
As you can imagine, thanks to the recent Black Lives Matter movement in response to the killings of black people by the police, this has not gone down well. Critics have berated Weappy for not approaching the matter of racially motivated violence in a more nuanced way. It’s true that the player should be able to approach this more thoughtfully, rather than facing a ‘fire everyone’ or ‘dead black police’ binary choice.
Weappy did address this issue on their website in an open letter. They stated that they made This Is Not The Police with no particular country or recent events in mind, and that their game is not a political one. As Kotaku point out though, by including such political hot topics, their game is political by default.
Of course, many of the events that inspired Black Lives Matter happened while construction of the game was already underway, so it’s not likely that they were a massive influence. Additionally, the game is set somewhere in the 80’s, so it’s not directly referencing the state of the world in 2016. However, the developers clearly wanted to make some kind of point about these issues.
Arguably, gaming isn’t yet at the point where we can talk about such sensitive topics in games. This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t try, but it’s a fine line between sparking a debate and causing a row over the topic at hand. It’s not clear what This Is The Police is trying to say, but hopefully we’ll see thoughtful debate in games soon.