Resident Evil 5 is a game set in Africa. It would follow, then, that many of the characters are African. This same logic would apply to a game set on Kashyyyk, home of Wookiees. One would expect to see many of Chewie's kin.
Yet because of Resident Evil 5's setting, we've been hearing a multitude of voices claiming that the game is racist. Most recently, via the Wall Street Journal.
The controversy stems from the fact that you play as white man, Chris Redfield, who is sent to several villages in Africa to investigate an odd virus that is affecting said villagers and turning them into zombies. ZOMBIES!?! Yes, zombies. And what do you do with zombies? Well, you certainly don't have tea with them due to their tendency to eat brains. More specifically, your brains. So, you kill them. You kill them any way you can. Be it with guns, knives, machetes, a Bic pen...anything. They're zombies after all and it's you or them.
Those stirring up this controversy, in an effort to get people to read their stories, like to frame the debate in this way: A white male hacking up poor African villagers with a machete. Or, as the WSJ says, "Critics contended that the imagery of a white man shooting black Africans evoked troubling memories of the age of Western colonialism." Going a tad further, "As a player, you are often forced to use a machete to hack your way through your attackers, using the same kind of weapons that were used in atrocities in places like Rwanda and the Congo over the last two decades."
Several points here. One, they are zombies. Their penchant for brains is the driving force behind their actions, not a desire to commit genocide against one another.
Two, if a zombie's race were such an issue why wasn't the press up in arms about Resident Evil 4's Spanish zombies? I mean, really, why is El Gordo and the bull run all that they care about?
Three, the game is not inherently racist. It was developed by Japanese programmers who do not have the finely tuned American racism radar that is incessantly blipping and bleeping in many of us. Now, granted, the calibration of that radar causes much consternation here in the States, but in Japan, well, they're just not tuned into it...there are no bogeys on their screen, to beat a dead metaphor.
Therefore, the game is not racist, but people are. This same argument has been made in regard to violence in Grand Theft Auto games and I tend to agree with it. For the most part, you can complete GTA games without too much collateral damage. The media's favorite whipping posts in these games; the ability to beat up prostitutes after having sex with them or randomly shooting dozens of civilians in a Columbine-esque training ritual, are not necessary to beating the game. The player can choose how he or she wants to play the game. If the player sleeps with prostitutes, murders them, and then goes on a rampage, well, that's the player's issue, not the game's. So it is for the racism in RE5
Four, any reference to Colonialism, as in the WSJ article, will leave most Americans blank-faced and is simply an exercise in mental masturbation on the part of the authors eliciting RE5 racism. What are the appalling statistics we hear at least once a year on Dateline NBC? That 56% of Americans can't identify the US on a map. Well, good luck identifying Africa, much less a country in Africa. What? Africa isn't a country?. But back to Colonialism. You would be as likely to get an answer about Williamsburg as you would about Europe's glory days of resource stealing and religious conversion. Come to think of it, you'd be lucky to even get Williamsburg as an answer.
Five. Five is a lot like one. They're zombies and the game is set in Africa. Unless the plague only affects rich white people on Safari you'd expect that the zombies in the game would be "black Africans." Oh, and it's a game, not a mix tape featuring "Barack the Magic Negro." Now that's racist.