Valve’s upcoming collectible card game Artifact, announced for release on November 28, is built upon the foundation of Dota 2 lore, but it also stands on its own. It’s not Dota: The Card Game, but Artifact: The Dota Card Game, as discussed in our interview with Richard Garfield and other developers. Garfield is also the creator of Magic: The Gathering. In both Artifact and Magic, cards are split into distinct groups defined by colors. In the case of Artifact, cards come in red, green, blue, and black.
In anticipation for the release, Valve developers have been revealing some of the Artifact cards on the game’s official Twitter account. On September 26, the following card was shared:
This card packs a big punch immediately and then keeps on punching. When you play Crack the Whip, it triggers once right after it’s played. If you play an Untested Grunt next to the whipped hero it will trigger again, and the Grunt will receive the bonus. pic.twitter.com/qXflFpdOZb
— Artifact (@PlayArtifact) September 26, 2018
The card was called “Crack the Whip” and its ability was “Modify a black hero with ‘After you play a black card, give this hero and its allied neighbors +2 Attack this round.'” – Obviously, a ‘black hero’ refers to the card color within its design scheme of color groups, but in conjunction with a title such as “Crack the Whip,” the sociohistorical associations with the slavery of African-Americans are all but inevitable.
A mild Twitterstorm soon followed, with some followers pointing out the unfortunate wording and pairing, and many others reacting with several memes and gifs. While there was no direct response to the comments and news articles that followed, yesterday Valve added another tweet to the thread announcing that the card in question had been renamed to “Coordinated Assault.” There is no mention whether the card art would also be changed.
It would be bad faith to assume that this was a case of insidious racism. A better way to explain the incident would be that game designers and developers often develop a kind of tunnel vision where design terms and notions seem to supersede whatever connotations may be contained in the words they use. Importantly here, as mentioned above, black is one of the colors in the game and has a key mechanical identity and is an identification factor of cards. As such, designers lose sight of the real world and their thinking becomes mechanical to the point that an honest mistake like this could happen. In any case, the swift and understated change to the card was the best way to handle the incident.
Are you looking forward to Artifact? What are your favorite cards so far? Let us know in the comments below.