Strategy game Jagged Alliance 3 launches later this week, and when it does it will launch with a character using an ableist slur to describe a differently abled friend.
The character, Headshot Hue, hangs out in a bar in one of the game’s early areas and uses it to describe his former mercenary colleague, Lurch, who runs one of the in-game bars. If asked “what’s wrong with Lurch”, Hue will explain that Lurch too was the victim of the same event which left Headshot Hue shot in the head – hence the nickname – and then describes him with the slur.
Afterward, the character mentions the transgressive language by saying “I say it with love, he’s my partner, he’s my boy. It just makes it easier to use one of those old words when I gotta remind him he ain’t pissed in a while.” Screenshots of the conversation are below but do contain bigoted language.
The game is developed by Haemimont Games, best known for titles like the recent Stranded: Alien Dawn, the sublime Surviving Mars, and Tropico 3, 4, and 5. When asked to comment on the studio’s inclusion of a slur, Haemimont Games declined to comment.
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My feelings on this are pretty nuanced. I’m reminded of a conversation I had with a narrative designer who said that writers should be free to write about bigoted characters. If you watch your HBO show of choice, you’ll see slurs tossed around all over the place, even. However, in this case, many of the characters, being outwardly hateful, are either portrayed as backward or meet sticky ends.
In this case, Hue tells you this about Lurch before roping you in on a quest where you rob him, with your last interaction with the quest-giver being when you personally buy the stolen goods from him. None of your characters call him out for his behaviour, and as far as I’ve played through the campaign (50 hours or so), he’s still just kicking around at the bar without comeuppance. While that’s not the magic trigger that would make using a slur okay, it is examined by the game would definitely give me more faith that it wasn’t put in there as a punchline.
In a game that’s largely about embracing action movie excess, the line feels like a total tone shift, and a slap in the face. While there’s no indication that the team is looking to use the word to be harmful, it’s a slur that has been weaponised against people around the world.
We can and should be better than this, and it seems like it wouldn’t be a huge step to have used something less offensive in this case.