Is Prince of Persia culturally insensitive?

I’ve found that The New York Times is one of the most critical and interesting mainstream outlets when it comes to discussing videogames. I don’t find myself typically agreeing with its writers, but I still like to read their views. A new piece discussing the so-called cultural responsibility of Ubisoft’s Prince of Persia is another recommended NY Times read, even if I have to raise an eyebrow at the sentiment.

“What are we to make of a “Prince of Persia” who talks and behaves like a 17-year-old American mall rat?” asks writer Seth Schiesel. “A “Prince of Persia” with blue eyes, fully Anglicized facial features and what looks like a tan he picked up on spring break? Is it taking a video game too seriously to shrink in distaste from such characterizations? In fairness, the new Prince of Persia does not claim any historical or cultural authenticity; the game is set in a fantastic magical realm rather than in a rendition of any real place. But does that absolve the game of any responsibility?”

Schiesel brings up “Orientalism,” a practice in which Western people lump everything from the East into one big pigeon hole while at the same time exploiting and romanticizing it. A little deep an accusation for an Ubisoft game? Not according to The NY Times:

Prince of Persia is a great game, but simply being a video game is no longer sufficient to earn a pass from being held to account for shaping the perceptions and attitudes of its players. Not anymore,” Schielsel posits. 

Is Prince of Persia responsible for shaping our perception of the East? Should a platforming action game that doesn’t pretend to be anything more than player empowerment feel responsible for whatever imagery it may or may not perpetuate? For me, a game’s first responsibility is simply to be enjoyable. I don’t feel any form of entertainment, whether it strives to be art or not, is responsible for anything other than whatever its creator wants it to be. Ubisoft had no obligation to anybody with this game, other than to produce something worth $60.

Jim Sterling