During character creation in Ubisoft’s new comedy RPG, South Park: The Fractured But Whole, the difficulty slider changes based off your skin color.
“Don’t worry, this doesn’t affect combat. Just every other aspect of your whole life,” quips Cartman. According to Aoife Wilson and Chris Bratt at Eurogamer.net, the developers said that the difficulty only concerns the amount of money you receive and the way other characters speak to you in the game.
While choosing the gender for the character, you’re able to choose Male, Female, or Other, and whether you’re cisgender or transgender. South Park manages to stick the landing on this one, mostly mocking how the Stick of Truth (the first game in this South Park RPG series) forced the player to play as a boy.
The race thing however, opens up a larger conversation – which is using the functionality of a game to comment on a social aspect of it.
Using identity this way interrupts one of the main ways gaming uses identity, which is the chance to explore or experience media centered on someone who looks like them. Now this opportunity is being channeled into the game’s social commentary. This is glaring because a) we don’t know if the game is thematically concerned with race in any kind of meaningful way and b) it doesn’t do the same with regards to gender, never mind sexual orientation or any other facet of identity that often faces similar systemic abuse that the game's use of race is acknowledging.
This is, if you asked me (you didn’t) a misstep with noble intention – something South Park has been muddling in for a little over a decade now, since the show became more explicitly ideological. What will ultimately determine how successful South Park’s decision on the difficulty slider is dependent on whether or not the game explores identity as a main idea, and even then, we’re still left in a tricky spot.
It’s cool that a game is trying though. Check out this video to see the character creation process.