‘Grotesque’ Duterte-Focused Online Games Draw Backlash

By Keri Blakinger 09/14/17

Some of the games pit the controversial dictator against zombies, seemingly trading on stigmatizing tropes about drug users. 

President Rodrigo Duterte
President Rodrigo Duterte Photo via YouTube

A slew of Google Play games based on the drug war killings in the Philippines has sparked backlash. 

The Drug Policy Alliance on Tuesday posted a petition calling on the online store to take down games capitalizing on the atrocities of President Rodrigo Duterte’s regime, which has slaughtered thousands suspected of using or selling drugs. 

“When a sitting president likens himself to Hitler, it should get your attention. Rodrigo Duterte, president of the Philippines, has proudly said he’d ‘be happy’ to exterminate 3 million people who use or sell drugs in his country,” the Drug Policy Alliance wrote in a press release. “His horrific campaign to rid the Philippines of drugs has led to the extrajudicial murders of more than 12,000 people in the last year.”

Some of the games pit the controversial dictator against zombies, apparently trading on stigmatizing tropes about drug users. 

In Duterte’s chilling first year in office, a Korean businessman was slain inside police headquarters, anti-narcotics police were caught trapping people in a secret holding cell and a dead boy was pulled from a river covered in stab wounds. He was one of dozens of children slaughtered in the violent drug war that has Human Rights Watch calling for a United Nations investigation. 

When the killing of a minor attracted unwanted attention to Duterte’s reliance on extrajudicial slayings, the president claimed such deaths were caused by saboteurs seeking to make police look bad. The pronouncement came just weeks after Duterte green-lighted killing “idiots” who resist arrest. “You are free to kill the idiots, that is my order to you,” he told police.

But despite the sobering reality of the Philippines’ deadly drug war, the Drug Policy Alliance alleges, Google Play has allowed game makers to trade on the horror. According to the petition, that could be in violation of the online store’s own policy, which bans “apps that lack reasonable sensitivity towards or capitalize on a natural disaster, atrocity, conflict, death, or other tragic event.” 

UK-based organization Release Drugs tweeted about the games, calling one “shocking.” Steve Rolles of Transform Drug Policy Foundation called the games “grotesque.”

Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

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Keri Blakinger is a former drug user and current reporter living in Texas. She covers breaking news for the Houston Chronicle and previously worked for the New York Daily News and the Ithaca Times. She has written about drugs and criminal justice for the Washington Post, Salon, Quartz and more. She loves dogs and is not impressed by rodeo food. Find Keri on LinkedIn and Twitter.