Online and mobile slots are all about visuals and graphics, and they borrow symbols from all kinds of different places to convey all kinds of themes. However, a question that comes up from time to time, is what kind of symbols is it appropriate for slot developers to appropriate into their games, and where is the line in the sand?
After a recent controversy which saw Endorphina Games withdrawing a slot because of an uproar over its use of Maori symbols, we thought we’d take a quick look at the history of controversial symbols used in slots.
Maori Mobile Slot Symbolism
Although being an ancient culture, the Maori tradition is still alive and well in the South Pacific. When Endorphina Games released its new game – titled simply ‘Maori’ last week, it borrowed heavily from Maori imagery, with symbols and dances all borrowed from the culture of New Zealand’s native people.
The release of the game led to protest from Maori advocate groups who objected to the use of these symbols. These complaints led to the game being removed from circulation this week, amidst apologies from Endorphina. The argument made which ultimately led to Endorphina withdrawing the game was a surprisingly legal one, and not one based entirely in morals and ethics.
Although the exact complain worried about “the potential to lure vulnerable people to online gambling”, this concern was backed up by the fact that The Maori Public Health Agency, Hapai Te Hauora owns the intellectual property rights to the haka, which appears in the game when you win. Owning to this fact, it’s worth wondering why other seeming offensive games remain at large.
Other Examples Of Stolen Symbols
When thinking about other instances of games developers appropriating cultural symbols, the one most analogous to the Maori debacle is the Native American/First Peoples imagery which has appeared in hundreds of slots since the birth of gambling.
From Microgaming’s Mystic Dreams to NetEnt’s Glow, and from Playtech’s Shaman’s Dreams to NextGen’s Fire Hawk, it seems like every conceivable developer has made a Native American themed slot at some point or another. So where are all the Native people getting up in arms about these games? There are a number of possibilities.
Firstly, it could simply be that the issue is so far gone and widespread by now, that advocate groups don’t know where to begin targeting their complaints. It might also have to do with the fact that many Native tribes in the US make a lot of money from casinos on their reservations, meaning that they have already forfeited the moral high ground. Alternatively, it might simply be that there is no specific intellectual property being infringed upon, making it too hard to argue.
These are specific cultural groups within countries, though, what about when an entire nationality is targeted with culturally insensitive slots? I’m not even going to insult your intelligence by naming Irish themed slots – I’m sure you, like me, could reel off a dozen without blinking. What recourse do the Irish have against the degradation of their culture in the name of gambling entertainment?
It seems that if a trend of cultural appropriation is well enough established, or targets such broad a group that individuals don’t feel its sting too sharply, developers can pretty much get away with whatever they want.