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The Phony "Resident Evil 5" Race Debate

Filed under: PC | PS3 | Video Game Politics | Xbox 360
Posted by Lunabean on March 11, 2009 7:11 PM
Comments (12) |

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.

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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.

Comments (12)

Yeah,I agree with your statement that the game is not racist, people are. Why can't they just enjoy the enjoy and stop talking about racism!

sorry to step on ur great statement. but there not exactly Zombies. but any ways yea ppl Bish to much about dumb shit.

Yeah, I know. They're plaga-infected humans, but still, I think even Chris refers to them as zombies in the game. Point taken. :)

They are not zombies AT ALL. I'm disappointed with EberScence's statement. The only time Chris used the term "Zombie" is in the beginning of the game.

His exact statement was "These dont move like any zombie I ever seen."

He wasn't calling it a zombie, by that statement he had doubts they were. Why cant people pay attention to in game text?

It is NOT a virus, but a parasite, Las Plagas.

Well, if we're going to be a whiny ass titty babies about it...

First we have the progenitor virus. Then, the T-virus. Then, the T-Veronica virus. Then, the G-virus.

The game's own Library >> Files (30/44) says, "Birkin completes work on the G-Virus. A zombie horde attacks the city's police station." (That would be the Racoon City police station.)

Then, in RE4, we get the Las Plagas parasite.

So, let's not get bogged in what's what and who's who. Let's just enjoy the game.

steven? that's not the point, the point is that your not killing black people, but zombies, now i, as well as others know they are infected, but people reading this will identify better with the word zombie to sum it up.

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So, does a person's ignorance justify an offense that is identifiable by more intelligent people? I feel that the author of this rebuttal and many of the responders simply lack the nuance of understanding to grasp the principles of the argument in the Wall Street Journal article. Many other game players simply don't care and don't want to be bothered with politics. This suggests ignorance and a lack of desire to think critically. I believe the article raised a proper framing of the issues.

However, the larger problem is that Japanese pop-culture is an outgrowth of the most preponderant details of Western culture, including the diversity it lacks. I'm thoroughly familiar with what Japanese people know about American culture and history, and despite that, I think in this age, they can make a game about Africans and tell that a more realistic of the female lead does not correspond to the sex images that no longer simply help sell products in the West, but globally. This has been true now for a long time. Couple that with what ignorances remain about Western culture, and problems like this are inevitable. They make products that cater heavily to Western markets, but it becomes obvious that in many ways video games cater to many of our more base sensibilities (for Westerners), cater to those more complex sensibilities that are common in Japan and the West, then sometimes fail completely to address the ones which are not important to Japanese at all. Finally it seems that people who are raised on the culture of video games may become equally insensitive to the issues regardless of where they live, but being ignorant is not an excuse.

The author of this article does point out the issue of ignorance of the American people, by the fact that more than half don't know where Africa is.

People are racist. The game isn't. People are ignorant about why games like these are produced in the first place.

In the end, capitalism isn't concerned with such issues of ignorance. If anything, they exploit it and make profit. Whether you like it or not, it's money and they're going to milk it out of the public. Whenever the Wall Street Journal and other big entities jump on the topic, they are also doing it because it brings in revenue, but also partly to spread awareness. Issues about these games, for example, give them something to write about. Its an argument that will be made over and over and people will choose to not care over and over as well. People may or may not know what's going on, but in the end, nobody wants real change because that would mean ruining jobs and people's passions to design, let's say, video games. Sorry to say, race-based arguments against any industry that is making money and providing jobs and imports/exports, and most importantly not creating immediately visible signs of unfair hardship/suffering for someone, will remain on this Earth. It's the heart of capitalism, where some succeed, while others suffer.

I don't give a shit about these issues on VIDEO GAMES because the people that supposedly care aren't doing much to change anything anyway. People have far more important things to care about like gentrification of communities by private institutions like universities, immigrations laws, our often unfair and discriminating justice system where the issues branch out to every prison especially in a stat like California. I don't see the Wall Street Journal making a big deal out of these REAL issues. Until that happens, don't give me shit about what I can/can't play in terms of video games.

Japan? They have their own issues to worry about. Americans have plenty to worry about on their home front, regardless of how much hegemonic influence we have on other nations. Also, I don't expect children (teens and young adults alike) to make critical decisions on what video games they buy. Such education should occur at home. Not anywhere else.

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