Constantine isn't an easy man to get in contact with. He leads the team that developed Survival Island 3 - Australia Story 3D, the controversial game where you can kill Aboriginal people. In less than a week over 90,000 people have signed a petition against the game, which saw it pulled from the App Store, Google Play, and Amazon. Communications Minister Mitch Fifield called for an investigation into how it even got made. No one had found out who was behind it.
If you haven't played Survival Island, here's a little background: You play a white character who mostly just wanders around a crude rendering of the empty Australian outback, hacking at trees and kangaroos when they cross your path. It's really boring. The controversial bit is that using an axe, bow and arrow, or even a boomerang, you can fight and kill Aboriginal non-player characters (NCPs).Anyone with even a passing knowledge of Australia's violent colonial history likely had the same response as me—who the fuck thought this was a good idea? Well, Constantine did."Hello Madison, I'm an application developer of Survival Island 3D," his email read. "In creating this application, we did not want to offend anyone. We are ready to accept the claim. My WhatsApp in Russia… [sic] Write to me to discuss on WhatsApp and fix it."Here's what I found out: Constantine is a 42-year-old app developer living in Siberia. Although he knows about the petition, he's under the impression it only has 42,000 signatures. Also, he's a big Mad Men fan. When I asked him to send a photo of himself for the article, he insisted on forwarding one of Don Draper.Constantine was keen for me to know that he's sorry about Survival Island. Although he now seems to understand it was a mistake, he was quick to justify it, bringing up other violent games like Grand Theft Auto and World of Tanks.Pretty early on though he said something that surprised me—not only is he developing another Aboriginal-themed game but he also wanted my suggestions for the plot. I knew as a non-Indigenous Australian I wasn't the best person to ask, plus I really had no idea what a better version of this game would look like. I did have an idea of who might though: Georgia Mantle, the 19-year-old Gadigal woman who started the petition against Survival Island.
When I told Mantle that Constantine and his team are based in Russia she was surprised, but quick to say that this does shift the conversation. "This is not an Australian game maker who knows a lot about Aboriginal history and has done something racist," she said. "It still is racist but it has come from ignorance."She points to something I hadn't considered in all of this—the developers of Survival Island didn't form their ideas in a vacuum. "As Australians, as a country, we need to consider what images we're portraying of Indigenous people and the way we're informing the world about our Indigenous communities."Constantine isn't Australian. He has no understanding of Indigenous culture, but he was picking up on the media and culture that we, as Australians, are filtering out into the world. Of course this isn't to justify Survival Island, but it does give the controversy some context.
Survival Island is fucked but the fact that enough Australians got pissed off enough about the game to get it taken down is a good thing. For too much of our history nobody would've blinked an eye about violence and racism towards Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.As for Constantine's new game, Mantle has a suggestion. Basically, just don't do it. However, she did offer an invitation: "If he did want to represent Indigenous culture in an authentic way come on down," she said. "I'm happy to show him around Redfern… I'm sure I can get some other community members and they themselves can speak to how they would like to be represented."I asked Constantine if he now got why people were so outraged by Survival Island. "We are surprised by the reaction. We never wanted this game to be racist," he said. "We are really very sorry about the situation and we sincerely apologize."It felt like we'd come to some middle ground. Although I hoped he wouldn't make a new game, I thought maybe I'd managed to have a human conversation in the centre of the internet's outrage cycle.That was until he sent me this message: "I see your Instagram. You are a very beautiful girl." I cringed and flicked over to Instagram, there were a bunch of notifications. Constantine had liked all of my recent photos.Follow Maddison on Twitter