The upcoming South Park video game is taking difficulty levels to a whole new tier by incorporating it into the player character’s skin tone.
In most video games, sex and gender do not affect gameplay in the slightest, and appearances — such as skin tone — are purely aesthetic. This isn’t the case with “The Fractured But Whole.”
In what appears to be a hilarious take on the progressive belief that dark-complexioned people go through life that much harder than their fairer-skinned counterparts, players who opt to play the game at harder difficulty levels will have darker skinned characters.
Race and gender issues have always been part and parcel of South Park’s scripts on the popular TV show. The previous video game, “South Park: The Stick of Truth,” delved into the topic — if only a little — by referencing TV episodes.
The upcoming game, “South Park: The Fractured But Whole” (an obvious play on words), casts the show’s colorful host of characters as superheroes and supervillains, riffing on Marvel’s “Avengers” movies and its embrace of identity politics.
A Let’s Play video by Eurogamer published this week highlighted the game’s take on sex and gender by exploring its powerful character creator, which enables players to alter their experience based on their choices — more so than ever before.
South Park mascot and resident sociopath Eric Cartman explains that your choices will have an impact.
“Don’t worry, this doesn’t affect combat,” Cartman says. “Just every other aspect of your whole life.”
Following this, your character will eventually have the option to choose your gender and receive another set of options that will affect the rest of the game. It will take a few missions before you get there, but once you do, you’ll be given the option to play as a male or female — although characters will remark that they confused you for a boy at first.
You can also choose to be a transgender character, if you prefer.
These early interactions will affect how other characters interact with you moving forward, determining the quantity of your rewards upon completing adventures. For example, playing on hard difficulty (as a dark-complexioned character) will cause you to receive less loot.
The inclusion of the new “feature” hasn’t gone unnoticed. Progressives on Kotaku were quick to express their outrage at the development, with writer Laura Kate Dale expressing the belief that white players would play it on easy mode, and everyone else on harder difficulty levels.
“Explicitly tying race to difficulty also means that any players of colour face a lousy choice. People tend towards choosing avatars that vaguely represent them,” she wrote.
Kotaku quoted another writer, Tanya DePass, who had an opposite understanding of the feature and took it at face value. “Having left South Park ages ago because of their racism, homophobia, transphobia and other failures at being good comedy, I have little hope that this gesture will do anything but create fodder for those who already hate equality to condemn those who they previously considered heroes,” she said. “This move is far too little and way too late.”
It’ll be curious to see how the game, which releases in 2018, addresses the myth of the gender pay gap.