A recent article published by Kotaku has leveled criticism at the game Journey to the Savage Planet due to the use of the word ‘savage’ in the title, taking offense due to historical instances of the word being used derogatorily towards certain races.
Journey to the Savage Planet is the first game from Typhoon, a newly formed studio founded by former members of the Far Cry 4 and Assassin’s Creed development teams. The game is a colorful first-person adventure game that tasks the player with exploring and researching the titular “Savage Planet” to determine whether or not it can host a human population. The game has been generally well received, with Kotaku even praising the game’s “wacky humor and colors, short length and focus on adventure and exploration” and stated that it was “a blast playing it.”
On January 29th, in spite of the praise previously given to the game, Kotaku published an article titled “Journey To The Savage Planet Is Fun, But Please Stop Using That Word.” In the piece, which opens with a short summary and review of the game, writer Paul Tamayo voices his offense at the use of the word “savage,” explaining that “the word savage has a long history being used to justify violent behavior by colonizers.”
“Anyway, Journey to the Savage Planet is flawed but still fun, and this is definitely all I have to say about it. Bye.
Just kidding. I’ll be real with you. My eyes rolled right the f*** out of my head when I read the title of this game at its reveal at the 2018 Game Awards. I know I sound like a wet blanket, but just… hear me out. The word savage has a long history being used to justify violent behavior by colonizers.
That history didn’t start with Journey to the Savage Planet. This ain’t new.”
Tamayo proceeds to attempt to rationalize his projection of complex historical political and social narratives onto an unrelated video game by pointing to the word’s “weighty history” and claiming said history is “racist as f—“:
“Put the dictionary down. Hands where I can see ‘em. Is the word savage inherently offensive? Technically, no. But the word “savage” has a weighty history. And look, a lot of that history is racist as f***.
Here’s the Cliff’s Notes on how that played out in the world: In order to justify the destructive effects of colonization, it was crucial for the United States to paint Native people as primitive savages roaming the wild:
‘The tribes of Indians inhabiting this country were fierce savages…to leave them in possession of their country was to leave the country a wilderness.’ —Chief Justice John Marshall”
Referring to Kotaku’s past preview of Journey to the Savage Planet, in which Kotaku asked Typhoon about the “implications of using the word savage,” Tamayo admits that he does not believe Typhoon “intentionally brushing off the history of the word” but notes that he is unable to personally make the separation between the word’s definition and it’s historical usage:
“Back in March of 2019, Kotaku asked Typhoon Studios about the inclusion of the word “savage” in their title. They responded with:
‘Our use of the word ‘savage’ is an adjective to describe this vibrant, mysterious and comedic world and is not, in any way, used as a noun directed at a group of individuals or creatures in our game. We hope players will enjoy this upbeat space adventure when we launch early next year and look forward to continuing on our path to create positive and inclusive gaming experiences for all players.’
You know what? I believe them. I don’t think they’re intentionally brushing off the history of the word. In this game, you’re not killing and herding off aliens into camps or anything. But every time the game refers to me as a “pioneer” or a “colonizer,” it’s hard for me to just vibe with this as a purely “hardy har har” harmless joke. I’m still overpowering the life on this planet in the hopes that I can scavenge enough goodies in the name of exploration and advancement.”
Tamayo then states that an “emotional purchase” referred to by Typhoon’s Alex Hutchinson “hits a little differently when history paints some of us as savages.”
Typhoon Studios co-founder and creative director Alex Hutchinson detailed how he viewed the game as an “emotional purchase” when he discussed his approach to the game with Game Informer:
“For me, these days it’s not just that you have a specific idea for the game you want to make. It’s more that you have design principles that you want to maintain. We sell something that you basically buy on emotion. It’s not solving a need for you. It’s not curing an illness. And it’s not a business decision like ‘oh I need this everyday, but you made it cheaper.’ We are a pure emotional purchase. So we have to have something that has a strong flavor and is different to what’s out there and try and hit an emotional beat with people. On the design side for me, I want exploration and systemic exploration to be a feature so to enable the player as much as possible to tell their own stories and goof with the stuff that we built.”
Tamayo would comment on this writing and then indicate he also has issues with Columbus Day.
“I’m not asking for Journey to the Savage Planet to have some super poignant message at every turn, but according to Hutchinson, the game is meant to have a “tone of sort of early science-fiction of hopefulness.” But it’s worth asking whose hope it is we’re talking about.
Man, some of my favorite games are all about colonizing something in one way or another. I’ll admit it. I love exploration-focused games. But like a lot of folks out there, I can have fun with a genre I love and be critical of it. Wild concept, I know.
I’m not going to die because of the title of this game or its story’s lack of conviction. Like I said, this ain’t new. I even thought the game was pretty fun!
But that “emotional purchase” Hutchinson talks about hits a little differently when history paints some of us as savages—Columbus Day is still a national holiday.”
He concludes by calling the title of the game a “mistake.”
“There are way bigger problems out there right now, but do me a favor, Typhoon Studios: Pick up two for your mistake.”
YouTuber YellowFlash would weigh in on Tamayo’s comments saying, “This is nothing new for Kotaku, where they use their game review as some kind of political platform.”