I'll be honest. When I first booted up Shaq Fu: A Legend Reborn, I wasn't exactly expecting any kind of hard-hitting narrative. I figured it would be another mindless beat 'em up game based around the popular basketball player. Almost immediately did I discover that it would be an absolute treasure trove of crass and insensitive content.
When a game is based on an existing intellectual property, you expect it to carry the same style and flow of whatever content it's based on. I expect a Spongebob game to be squeaky clean and good with kids as much as I'd expect a South Park game to call Matt Damon a man with [insert stigma here]. Since Shaq is a professional sports player, I had very little to go off of. Even so, I wasn't expecting this.
There are many things that Shaq Fu: A Legend Reborn did that took me back. "Did they really just do that" being my reaction to just about all of them. But why take my word for it. I've prepared a list of the 19 worst things this game did, in order of discovery.
1. "It begins in the land of dragons, legends, and General Tso's Chicken"
THE LITERAL FIRST SENTENCE and we already have a small problem. General Tso's Chicken is a North American sweet deep-fried chicken dish. Some recipe books claim the dish originated from the Hunan providence where Zuo Zongtang (General Tso) was from, all efforts of tracing it back to China have proven false. This is like claiming Napoleon Bonaparte was from the land of French Fries.
2. Ye-Ye the Mentor
This one I marked as a "maybe." Ye-Ye is not a real Chinese name. It IS a popular slang term in urban American settings, often used to express excitement or approval (Yo dawg, we goin' to Six Flags, yeye!). It can be presumed that the name is in homage to this. Even so, this kind of floats in the same vein as naming a Chinese character "ching-chong."
3. "Back off, burnt rice."
Oh man, this one is my favorite. In the game's lore, Shaq is an orphan raised in China. Being a large African American man, his size and skin color were noted by his classmates quickly. When his hometown is attacked, the attackers referred to him as "Burnt Rice." Rice because he's Chinese, but burnt because of his dark skin. This game managed to invent a new racial slur and use it in the first five minutes of gameplay.
4. It's not a woman, it's a demon
When not making fun of the Chinese, the game also has some less-than-savory ways of dealing with women. You see, Shaq doesn't hit women. That's respectable enough. The problem is that the game solves this issue by having all female enemies instead have blue skin and horns. Now they're demons! Don't mind that they dress and move like women. Their well-intentioned compromises are literally demonizing women.
5. Making Fun of Fat People
This was another "maybe" entry. Upon meeting a rather portly enemy, Shaq starts making fun of their size. This is done with remarks regarding Jenny Craig and eating all the low hanging fruit. Disregarding the fact that these characters are called "Tofu Dumpling," I could definitely see a larger-sized fellow feeling bad after hearing this. But given the controversial nature of acceptable body sizes and "fat-shaming," I wasn't sure if it should be counted.
6. The Village of Hunglow
The village that Shaq grew up in was called Hunglow. And according to the welcome sign, it has a population of over 321,000,000. It's a one-two hit of making a dick joke out of the Chinese language while also remarking on overpopulation in China. If we count both of these as a half a point, that sums out to one new point.
Icy Hot, For All Your Aches and Pains
While not offensive, I felt that the game's special healing item deserves mention. In the urban settings, Icy Hot ads are plastered throughout signs and billboards. But the goop's main purpose is to serve as a healing aid to the player, loudly announcing the brand name every time it's picked up. Am I allowed to be offended by obnoxious product placement?
7. The Car Factory
While progressing through the town of Hunglow, you'll notice the HMW in the background. This building, being a parody of BMW, is a larger pagoda that can be seen churning out vehicle parts. That's all they do in China, right? Manufacture automobiles?
8. Very First Quality
Of course, right after the factory, you see a sign promoting the vehicles, stating "Very First Quality." This is a jab at the idea that Chinese immigrants in America hold poor grammar skills. The problem here is that this perspective was first cultivated during World War 2 when American media would portray the Japanese as unintelligent. This would spread into Chinese perception as a side effect. Examples of this can be seen today, one example being the "me Chinese, me make joke" rhyme. It's a small joke, but it does imply the Chinese are stupid.
9. Frizzle's Battle Cry
The first mid-boss you encounter is a hip-hop artist known as Frizzle, an African-American man with sunglasses, a wifebeater, and women at his side. He has a special move in combat where he removes his gold chains and spins in a circle, damaging you if nearby. Do you know what he shouts right before he does this?
"MERRY GO BROWN"
To the game's credit, Frizzle does appear to be a parody of American performer Chris Brown, so this could be in reference to the name. But you still can't have a black man attacking you while shouting merry go brown.
10. Uncle Kike
I had nearly missed this one at first. Only when editing the video linked above did I see it. In the background of the Frizzle Fight, you can see a banner for "Uncle Kike's Bargain Appliances." For those not aware, "kike" is an offensive slang term for a Jewish person, a pretty bad one too. The fact that this Chinese town's bargain appliance store is run by someone named Uncle Kike is super anti-semitic. Yes, I triple checked, it's definitely kike.
So Many iPads
This one was to minor to add to the offense count, but Hunglow is absolutely littered with iPads. Well, they're generic looking tablet devices. This is most likely in reference to the heavy use of labor factories in Asia for manufacturing Apple products. Obviously China isn't neck deep in tablets, but it implying they are a racist joke? I'm not sure.
11. Child Labor and Low Wages
Throughout Hunglow, there are signs advertising new work. This includes things like the Early Riser Employment Agency, a building that appears to hire children, as well as advertisements for a new salary rate of $5. Not sure why they're using the USD for Chinese jobs. Either way, both are clear digs at the existence of unlivable wages and child labor in China. I threw this one into the "maybe" pile.
I'm not adding this to the counter since technically I did already with the whole women/demon thing. But in the second level, you are introduced to a new enemy, protesters with tank tops and straight blond hair. They may look like women, but they're just demons who like to cheer for their favorite pop star. It's totally ok to hit them.
It Tried to be Good
In the fight with the level 2 boss, a parody of Justin Beiber, they remark that skin color doesn't mean he isn't Chinese, the fact that he grew up in China does. It was a nice moment of racial positivity.
Though example was somewhat diminished when Shaq says he's "as Chinese as Confucius eating a fortune cookie in Tiananmen Square." Fortune cookies are originally from Japan, which were popularized in California for the local tea gardens. They're mainly considered an American creation, and they have no actual relation to China. But given the positive message it intends, I let it slide.
12. Ovulation Time
Justin Beiber's special attack is called "Ovulation Time." His battle design is based on the joke that he's a chicken, with this attack being in reference to that, while also insinuating he ovulates, an exclusively female thing. Many will consider this kind of thing a part of "toxic masculinity," and generally offensive. Let's mark that one as sexism then.
13. Non Gender Binary
Based on what you've seen so far, would you bet on them taking transgenderism seriously? Yea, me neither. In the L.A. section of the game, you come across another "demon," this time in a pink shirt. When Shaq asks if they're a woman, they respond by saying "How dare you ask! This is LA! I'm non gender binary! Which means half and half."
I made sure to do some research on this one to make sure I understood it correctly. Non gender binary is a catch-all category for gender identities that are not exclusively masculine or feminine. While this can include bigender, which is a personal identity that encompasses two genders, it also includes agender (without gender) as well as genderfluid (fluctuating gender). To claim it means "half and half" is a crude oversimplification.
Now I understand that the topic of transgenderism isn't something everyone agrees with. So while there are people that would argue that this isn't offensive, there are also many communities that would say it is. So I'm counting it.
But wait! They're a demon anyway, so it's fine
14. Eating Cats
When one enemy screams dramatically, Shaq claims he sounds like "a damn cat screaming from the kitchen of my favorite restaurant." Since in this game, he grew up in China, this is a jab at the idea that Chinese people eat cats. While it's true that old Chinese culture used to eat cat meat, the practice has since become unacceptable under modern culture. As such, making jokes about it is considered rude and offensive to many.
15. Diamond Design
Eventually, you meet Diamond, the parody of Paris Hilton. Since she's a demon, she transforms into her demon form before attacking Shaq. I know, I know, I already marked off the whole woman demon thing. This particular note is because of her demon design. She becomes scrawnier, develops claws and horns on her head, and her nipples burst out of her shirt, forming spikes. Can you guess which part is kind of uncool? They even are darker in coloration near the tips, spike areolas, so to speak. They're emphasizing female features in these designs in a rather degrading way.
This one... god, why...
Eventually, you come across Kandy, a parody of Kim Kardashian. her demon form doesn't focus on her breasts, but something far more sinister. She transforms into a giant butt. I'm not joking. She becomes a giant pair of butt cheeks that flies around. Even worse, her special attack is called "brown beard's cannon," where she shoots globs of firey "something" out of the only orifice she has. This one may not be sexist, racist, or anything like that. But god if I didn't hate it all the same.
17. Scottish Nazis
Nazis are more or less despised by most societies. They're recognized as bad people worldwide. Which is why it confused me so much that I can across an army of Scottish Nazis.
I'm not saying they're traditional Nazis with a Scottish heritage. They're a weird combination of the two cultures. They have German helmets and Scottish Kilts. They play bagpipes with German accents. They even have a symbol vaguely resembling the Nazi eagle. I'm sure the Scottish LOVE being turned into Nazis.
You discover WHY the strange pairing with the final boss, Benedict Fender. He's a parody of Mel Gibson. The character's design is based on the actor's role in Braveheart, drawing on the Scottish character he played. This was then combined with Gibson's association with the radical far-right political position, often associated with Neo-Nazis.
I see where they got Nazi Scots from, but still. Come on.
18. Resourceful People
The game ends with a speech by Shaq. He states that "We Chinese are a resourceful people. Our gifts to the world include fireworks, toothbrushes, and General Tso's Chicken-" While the first two are true, I must reiterate the fact that General Tso's Chicken is not from China. But if anyone on the development team knew that, they'd have more things to reference than a chicken dish. Also, calling them "a resourceful people," while not a negative one, is still stereotyping.
This totals out to 18. If you included the ones I mentioned but did not count, it would total to 23. The video embedded at the top of this article includes one extra that you'll have to watch to see. While I've seen my fair share of offensive video games, they're usually the creation of one man with a free membership to the Unity engine, not a full studio working for one of the most famous basketball players of current time. Even so, this is the most diverse selection of offensive content I've seen that wasn't done ironically.
Thank you for joining me; it was a rough ride.