I decided to move this to a separate post, partially because this is a mess of “this little thing is weird and uncomfortable” adding up to “well, this is unpleasant.”
You see, Wizardry VI has the option to have your characters not be white. In 1990, in a D&D style game, that’s pretty impressive. Off the top of my head, I can’t think of any Western RPG that let you do that. Japanese RPGs, mind you, weren’t and aren’t much better in that respect. But, I should give credit to the game for allowing you to have a mix of male and female characters, and for a range of skin tones (taking into account the limitations of EGA graphics.)
However, one of the factions in the game is the Amazulu tribe. They are depicted as a group of women wielding cliche Zulu shields, topless, a green bikini bottom, and some fringed leg bangles. For a taste in the nudity and a picture of one of them, here’s a link to CRPG Addict’s account of playing through the game. Click with care if you are at work.
Let me lay out the general issues, and then I can stumble over the “hey, this is weird.”
- Topless women in the game are white mermaids, pale blue fairies, and the Amazulu women.
- Amazulu women dress in cliche “native” gear and wield Zulu shields.
- Amazulu women are mostly found in a jungle covered pyramid. Upon seeing them, and the murals in the pyramid, the party repeatedly comments that it shows brown people doing things, they see brown people in the distance, or they are approached by brown people. This is the game’s phrasing.
- The pyramid has Egyptian style motifs, and in a Indiana Jones style trap laden center, you can fight mummies. The boss fight in the area is a Pharaoh named Amen Tut Butt.
- At the top of the pyramid is a volcano. The queen of the Amazulu tribe is worried that they must sacrifice someone to the god in the volcano. You must appease her with a worthless item as a gift, and not mention why you want to fight the “god” in the volcano. If you kill her, you get a bone necklace.
- After this section, you go to the River Styx. There is a Amazulu woman who is in charge of a storage warehouse. A Caterpillar, in the Alice in Wonderland sense, sits in a swamp nearby. He is depicted as a very high programmer or mathematician. The Caterpillar wants his hookah, but he has forgotten his claim number for the warehouse. When you find it, and give it to the Amazulu woman, she leaves, and later attacks you. The numbers are 38-23-36, and you could easily guess this is a woman’s measurements joke.
If this is meant simply to be a “people who aren’t white are in the game, deal with it,” then why dress the women with cliche Zulu shields and racist tribe sacrificing people to a volcano shenanigans? Why does every single frame save for one show their breasts when they’re animated?
Why, if your characters can be not white, do they repeatedly reference, note, and act like the state of being “brown” is unusual? (Having something be “not the default” is an insidious and nasty thing that can pop up when writing about things. See: writing women where all their plot points center around being a woman, writing GLBTQA people where all plot points center on them being GLBTQA, or, in this case, people of color where all the plot points are about their skin color.)
If it’s simply a fun romp through the amazing trappings of a pyramid, why is the boss called Amen Tut Butt like some sixth grader grasping at the first naughty word they could think of? (Boss is also has an annoying AI routine where if you kill all the enemies with him, he’ll cast a spell that will leave you about three turns to kill him. To add to the frustration in the area.)
Why have a creepily colonialist “give trash to the natives to appease them” thing? (And yes, there’s a mean move where you can have baubles and trinkets in your inventory. Give them to her, and she charges you 3,000 gold for the insult.)
Why have the Caterpillar sequence at all? At the end, he forces some mushrooms on you. These shrink you to get past a later problem, but you already have an item which will allow you to avoid it, and that means you don’t lose the Amazulu lady’s shop or have to harass her. You have no way of knowing that you can avoid that sequence. (Stop at any point in the sequence, and you will have between one to three items in your limited inventory that you can never drop.)
I guess the main annoyance with this is that you hit the nudity when you hit the pyramid, and then this mess of sudden difficulty, mean gameplay decisions, and a semi-easily navigated area. The mines, prior to the pyramid, are a mapping nightmare, but comparatively okay once you get used to them. And then suddenly, you get gratuitous nudity, weird racist tropes, sudden difficulty spikes, and so on.
I want to hash through the “ARGH” in all of this first, because what’s the point of saying what I like about Wizardry VI when this is lurking in the corner like a toot in an elevator?
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