343 Industries leadership is apologizing for the release of a Juneteenth-themed color palette that was named after a type of ape in Halo Infinite. In two tweets last night, company president Bonnie Ross and head of creative Joseph Staten both acknowledged that the color palette’s name was offensive, and noted that the team worked to change it as fast as possible.
This incident began on the afternoon of June 14, when Twitter users began to notice that a new color palette released to celebrate Juneteenth (a recently-federally recognized holiday commemorating the emancipation of enslaved African Americans) had an unusual name: “Bonobo.”
The phrase “bonobo” is the name for a type of ape, which is particularly troubling given that imagery using apes and monkeys has long been a trope of racist propaganda targeting Black people that dates back as far as the 18th century.
How did this wind up being the name of a Juneteenth color palette? A Halo Infinite community manager clarified that “Bonobo” is the name of a 343 Industries toolset, and that “it was not intended” for the color palette to be named after it. In the same window, 343 Industries rushed to remove the name and replace it with something more appropriate.
343 did not provide context how an internal tool designation was used as a name for a cosmetic item.
Quickly apologizing for the name and replacing it feels like the bare minimum that 343 Industries could have done here, and Ross and Staten appear to have recognized that further apologies were necessary. “We were made aware of a palette option for our Juneteenth emblem that contained a term that was offensive and hurtful. The team immediately addressed this issue via an update,” Ross wrote on Twitter.
“We are a studio and franchise that is committed to inclusivity where everyone is welcome and supported to be their true self. On behalf of 343, I apologize for making a celebrated moment a hurtful moment.”
Staten called the mistake “inexcusable” and said that he was “ashamed we allowed it to happen.”
It’s tempting to view this mistake as an isolated incident, but there are implications for 343 Industries and other game studios. An error like this can build instant distrust with a game’s community, as players have plenty reason to question why the first misnamed asset in a recent Halo game coincided with such a racist trope.
The game industry’s continued disproportionately low hiring of Black employees can impact the likelihood of these mistakes being possible. Only four percent of the game development workforce is Black, according to the IGDA, a vastly disproportionate ratio to the number of Black players (a 2018 Nielson report stated that 73 percent of Black Americans over the age of 13 play video games, which is higher than the 66 percent of the country’s total population that play video games).
A company whose workforce is misaligned with its audience risks making mistakes like the one 343 Industries made this week. Hopefully it and other studios recognize the potential pitfalls, and work to course correct for the future.
Correction: An earlier version of this story referred to the in-game item as a “nameplate” when it in fact a color palette.