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South Park: The Fractured but Whole Is the Most Inclusive Game I've Played in Ages, and That's Weird

South Park is offensive as hell, but I can't deny its twisted warmth.

Analysis by Nadia Oxford, .

As I reached the last hours of South Park: The Fractured but Whole, I had an epiphany. My preferred party included a kid in crutches, a diabetic kid with a speech impediment, and "myself"—a Jewish pansexual hero who was white, but could have chosen from a wide range of skin colors, genders, and sexual orientations.

I don't want to insinuate South Park: The Fractured but Whole is sensitive or progressive. It's not. It has greasy "jokes" about strippers, trans people, child molesters, Catholics, black people, Mexicans, Jews—name it. I mean, Eric Cartman's superhero persona is "The Coon," and that says it all.

Despite all that, two of the game's strongest playable characters have obvious disabilities. The leader of your rival group, Timmy, is wheelchair-bound. Are the two movement-impaired characters, Jimmy and Timmy, always portrayed respectfully and carefully? Lord hell no (especially Jimmy, whose superhero persona is a Flash clone named "Fastpass") but neither do their peers single them out, coddle them, or ridicule them. They're just part of the gang. Separate gangs, maybe—South Park is beleaguered by divided loyalties—but nobody asks them why they're there, or tells Jimmy "You can't be a fast superhero! You're on crutches!"

Cartman's gonna Cartman.

It feels odd to point at the Fractured but Whole and tell other game developers, "Hey, this game has a few things to teach you about inclusivity," but it feels less odd the more I think on it. South Park is 20 years old. That's a terrifically long time for any show to be around, let alone a show that maintains its life force by sniping at every marginalized group imaginable. But unlike other shows that pride themselves on "edgy" comedy, South Park isn't an easy study. AV Club's Sean O'Neal published an excellent breakdown of South Park last July that clocks in at over 2,500 words, and I agree with its general message: South Park is hugely problematic, but I don't believe it should take the blame (certainly not all the blame) for the current rise of Nazis, white supremacists, and poisonous Twitter trolls.

Yes, South Park makes fun of political correctness, but its inclusion of Timmy, Jimmy, Scott "Captain Diabetes" Malkinson, and myriad race choices / sexual orientations for your character is exactly the kind of thing that gets denounced as "PC bullshit" in the grimier corners of the Internet. The story for The Fractured but Whole also addresses white privilege, racial profiling, and police brutality towards black people—problems that straight-up don't exist according to the alt-right.

And, like the show that birthed it, The Fractured but Whole even has moments that are genuinely sweet. Towards the end of the game, there's a scene where the kids get in over their heads and their lives are in real danger. Clyde—who goes by the moniker of "Mosquito" and wears a Vuvuzela as a proboscis—starts to cry and says he wants to go home. Scott puts his arm around Clyde's shoulder and tells him everything will be OK. Nobody laughs at them, calls them pussies, or tells them to man up.

It's a good thing the kids support each other, because the adults will beat your ass when given half a chance.

Granted, many of the sensitive moments in The Fractured but Whole can be read as jabs at people who care too much. Thing is, it's impossible to be certain: Series creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone are champions at being coy. The sequences where you select your gender and sexuality are fronted by Mr Mackey, whose air of general buffoonery while he questions the protagonist might understandably give players the feeling they're being mocked. Maybe they are, but Mackey's demeanor hasn't changed much across the past 20 years, and there's no reason why a school councillor wouldn't talk to a student about gender and sexuality. Moreover, when you exit your appointment, you're waylaid by a truck of drunk rednecks who mock your identity and initiate a fight while howling how socialist pussies like yourself need to get out of America. They look like the dumb assholes—not you.

Another "Am I being mocked? Yes? No? Maybe?" scene comes courtesy of PC Principal, who teaches your character about microaggressions and invites you to take a swing at anyone who uses them against you. While the character can easily be read as a cheap personification of the "Both sides are just as bad" argument, PC's explanation of why certain microaggressions are harmful prompts an apology from Stan after he uses one. "Sorry," Stan says, "I was trying to sound tough and I guess I forgot words hurt." It's a surprisingly solid apology from a character who's as down-to-earth and sensible as South Park allows. You're left guessing, sure—but it's better than being told "Oh, did I offend you, Snowflake?" To paraphrase a line Father Maxi delivers in the game, "South Park giveth, and South Park taketh a selfie."

I'm not writing this to make people change their minds about South Park. It's been 20 years; your feelings about the show are almost certainly set in (Matt) stone by now. Consider how The Fractured but Whole caused a stir prior to release when Ubisoft announced the game's difficulty is dependent on the color of your character's skin, with black being "hard mode." Later, Ubisoft announced the game's skin color slider is purely cosmetic. There was condemnation on both sides: People who believe the struggles of black people in a racist society shouldn't be used to make an edgy joke, and people who feel removing the unconventional difficulty slider dismisses that struggle. Still more people believe they shouldn't be subject to a harder game experience just because they want to play a character whose skin color matches theirs.

Positive message about racial profiling, or problematic shock joke? Both. Thaaaat's South Park.

None of these positions are incorrect. It all comes down to your personal tolerance. I'm not especially amused by comedy's "New York Jew" stereotype, but Kyle's cousin still makes me howl. Laughing at Kyle Schwartz is my prerogative as a Jewish person who's unfortunately aware of the harmful Jewish stereotypes that exist across every shade of the political spectrum, but if I didn't find him funny, I wouldn't appreciate non-Jews telling me why I ought to find him hilarious. Parker and Stone are currently doing fine even though every person on earth hasn't pledged fealty to South Park; they'll probably continue to do fine.

South Park can be brilliant, but it can also be insufferable. Still, I don't believe the show or its games revel in meanness the way some other adult comedies do, and they occasionally deliver valuable messages in their own twisted way (poor Butters is a testament to how not all child abuse is physical), but I understand why some people want nothing to do with it. I even doubt I'll start watching it regularly again despite enjoying The Fractured but Whole. I'll wait for the inevitable sequel to get my next fix.

Surely another RPG from another big publisher will make a cast as varied as The Fractured but Whole's before then. Right? Right?

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Comments 8

  • Avatar for SIGGYZtar #1 SIGGYZtar A month ago
    It does remind me of a common thread among superhero/ensemble movies not made by DC. A family will always squabble and bicker over a variety of things, especially physical appearance, but in the end they will always come together and work toward a common goal. You can of course translate that to living in society, and intolerance and hate only serves to make us weaker. Glad to see that the South Park game does reflect that notion.
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  • Avatar for Flipsider99 #2 Flipsider99 A month ago
    I will go out on a limb and say that South Park is STILL one of the most progressive shows out there. I don't think it's problematic. Quite the contrary, I think what's problematic is when people try to stifle the use of humor as a device to convey these issues. Humor is an absolutely essential tool when it comes to progressive causes. The moment we're not allowed to joke about something because the issue is too "sensitive", that's the moment where we stop making progress and the issue will inevitably get worse.
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  • Avatar for SatelliteOfLove #3 SatelliteOfLove A month ago
    South Park is one of the very few comedy outfits that truly hits everyone and generally clean about it.

    That is...difficult now. Clayton Bigsby would not hit like that sketch should nowadays with even the fringe who stoke divisions being manipulated from the shadows for money and power. Everything is a weapon. Everything is a sign of "the enemy". Division is "normal".

    I just figure Matt and Trey have always had a strong sense of decency and sarcasm in their bellies and now, as the political faultlines realign from "right vs left" to "normal people vs brazen assholes", they found themselves on a side. Our side.
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  • Avatar for Thumperlee #4 Thumperlee A month ago
    My favorite thing about South Park is that it takes issues that stir the country, and portrays how pointless and just stupid our "differences and issues" are. How much could be tossed and forgotten if we would just be decent to each other.
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  • Avatar for FalcoT #5 FalcoT A month ago
    I appreciate that you did fully outline your thoughts and feelings on the game's handling of identity. And as a white guy, admittedly, my voice should not carry as much weight in this discussion. But I will say, I remain empathetic with the people of color who feel frustrated by the race slider. Veteran comedians such as Stone and Parker should realize they are in effect punching down by making the joke about how minorities are impacted by systemic racism.
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  • Avatar for soloskywalker #6 soloskywalker 28 days ago
  • Avatar for soloskywalker #7 soloskywalker 28 days ago
    @FalcoT Saying "as a white guy, admittedly, my voice should not carry as much weight" is ridiculous. In a world where people are trying to be so progressive and "inclusive" they have gone so far in the other direction that they have come back around to being what they are standing against. You are not helping the situation with that mentality. If people want equality then start treating everyone as equals.
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  • Avatar for Flipsider99 #8 Flipsider99 27 days ago
    @FalcoT "And as a white guy, admittedly, my voice should not carry as much weight in this discussion" The entire reason we should be against racism is so that people don't make statements like what you just made. Racism effects everyone in all sorts of ways, including you... obviously the fact that you think that your ideas should have less weight simply because the your skin is the "wrong" color is ample evidence that you yourself are the victim of racism. And that's something we all need to fight against.
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