Esports Game Halo Uses Ape With Red, Black, And Green To Represent Juneteenth

Game play screen shot

The world of esports is enormous and culturally influential, so when they get it wrong in the sensitivity department, it causes alarm in the industry.

Such is the case for video game developer 343 Industries, who makes the wildly popular game “Halo Infinite.” The title came under fire for a new “nameplate” honoring Juneteenth in the worst way possible, after an ape.

The game added the Pan-African colors of red, black, and green colorway to the player username “Bonobo,” an endangered primate.

Bonobo, Though?

Bonobos and chimpanzees are similar primates, according to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). Wild bonobos are in forests south of the Congo River in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), known as the pygmy chimpanzee.

The fact that 343 Industries connected the Pan-Africanism, Juneteenth, and an African ape is more than concerning.

The video game developer eventually renamed the nameplate to “Freedom” and then to “Juneteenth,” attempting to explain that the nameplate was initially named “Bonobo” for a developer tool.

They did reportedly recognize significant oversight.

The Back Track

“We are a studio and franchise that is committed to inclusivity where everyone is welcome and supported to be their true self,” said Bonnie Ross, the founder and head of 343 Industries. “On behalf of 343, I apologize for making a celebrated moment a hurtful moment.”

Ross reportedly said once they were made aware, the game “contained a term that was offensive and hurtful,” they immediately changed it via game update.

Juneteenth is a holiday celebrating June 19, 1865, the day Union Major-General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, and proclaimed Emancipation Day, freeing enslaved people in Texas who’d remained in bondage since the Civil War had ended two months earlier.

Play How You Weigh

343 Industries claims that it stands for hope, stating, “we believe that even in the darkest of times humanity is worth fighting for and hope is never lost. We believe in sharing, seeding, and amplifying hope.”

During a 343 Women’s History Month roundtable discussion in March with a diverse group of the studio’s women employees, one of its Black senior managers discussed the organization’s focus on inclusion.

“Representation matters so much! Particularly in creative fields such as gaming. Having that diverse thought process only makes our product that much better,” said Angie Dunn, 343 Industries Senior Security Program Manager, a Black woman.

“I’m so proud of the way not only women are represented in Halo Infinite, but people of color as well. That doesn’t happen unless there is a diverse group of people creating and developing the game.

“I’m so excited knowing that women and people of color can play Halo Infinite and see themselves and be that much more entertained. Representation is the reason why Halo Infinite has a black female character – that doesn’t happen without diversity in thought.”

New Games. New Opportunities. More Scrutiny.

Halo is a pillar of esports. The Halo Championship Series (HCS) is the official Halo esports league created and maintained by 343 Industries. The game is so popular it has even made one NFL player retire to pursue it full time.

Kenny Vaccaro, former All-America strong safety and the 15th overall pick in the 2013 NFL draft by the New Orleans Saints, retired from the NFL in 2021 to pursue a career in the emerging esports industry. He reportedly turned down offers from teams to continue his career.

“I’m happy where I’m at, doing what I’m doing. I just really felt like this was something deep down inside that I wanted to do,” Vaccaro said in a press release

With esports becoming a significant pillar in competitive opportunities, game producers like 343 Industries have to be monitored and regulated by the communities they serve when they cross the cultural sensitivity line into disrespect, whether accidental or not.

Rhett Butler is a Boxing Writer Association of America Journalist, Play-By-Play Commentator, Combat Sports Insider, and Former Mixed Martial Arts and Boxing Promoter. The New York City native honed his skills at various news outlets including but not limited to: TIME Magazine, Money Magazine, CNN's Wolf Blitzer Reports, and more. Rhett hosts the PRITTY Left Hook podcast, a polarizing combat sports insider's take featuring the world's biggest names.