In the puzzle game Scribblenauts for the Nintendo DS, you type in names of items that appear on screen and help you complete levels. Among the tens of thousands of possibilities is one that’s more than a little unnerving: type in the antiquated racial slur “sambo” and up pops a watermelon, another racist Vaudevillian symbol.
Joystiq spoke to Jeremiah Slaczka, creative director of 5th Cell, which developed the game:
Slaczka explained to Joystiq that “sambo” is used in the game as an alternate term for “fig leaf gourd,” an ingredient in the Ecuadorian dish fanesca. “Sambo” is the local term for the gourd. As for the watermelon-like appearance? “We reuse art,” he said. “Fig leaf gourd looks a lot like a watermelon. It’s just an alternative name in a giant list of tens of thousands of names.”
Wikipedia has Slaczka’s back. But it’s alarming that the art Scribblenauts uses for “sambo” is the same as that of “watermelon,” and odd that an obscure Ecuadorian ingredient would be one of the non-cognate Spanish words to make the list. What do you think, Consumerists? Is 5th Cell on the level or covering up for an in-bad-taste inside joke?
5TH Cell: Scribblenauts’ scandalous-looking ‘sambo’ item is a misunderstanding [Joystiq]