Since today’s my long day at school, for day four of International Blog Against Racism Week I’m going to do a link roundup of some of the discussion that’s been going on about Resident Evil 5. The primary reason for doing this, of course, is that link roundups don’t take that much time so I can write it in the morning before school and set it to post when it’s the right day in the US. But I also think it’s valuable to see the various different points of the critiques in the same place.
In posting this roundup, I hope to make it easier for fans to see beyond the knee-jerk reactions to the word “racist” (and the implication that race-based critique of a game is implying that the game is racist) and actually understand what the concrete problems with the trailer, and by extension the game, are.
Please note: the following links are listed in order of which link I saw first.
Resident Evil 5 at Iris Gaming Forums, comment by Nashiko:
Now, don’t get me wrong, I love a good zombie game, but I found it a little strange that not only was RE4 a game full of Spanish cultists who where deemed as inhuman, but it was also the first RE game that had what I like to call the “super zombies”. Not the placid, growling, stumbling undead that we all knew and loved from RE 1 and 2, no, supper zombies. Crazily violent and able to speak. A little more humanized than I care to have my zombies.
On Race in Resident Evil 5 at Heroine Sheik:
Instead of battling zombies in an abandoned house or even in Spain, players will be now be blowing the heads off of the living dead in an African village. That’s right, we’re talking about black zombies. What’s more, you play a commando character who is white whity-ity white. Jesus, I couldn’t even make this stuff up. Even if we don’t play the racism card, there’s a whole mess of issues here: monsters and otherness, the paranormal as a manifestation of our anxiety about real-life conflicts like race.
Resident Evil 5 at Black Looks:
The new Resident Evil video game depicts a white man in what appears to be Africa killing Black people. The Black people are supposed to be zombies and the white man’s job is to destroy them and save humanity. “I have a job to do and I’m gonna see it through.”
This is problematic on so many levels, including the depiction of Black people as inhuman savages, the killing of Black people by a white man in military clothing, and the fact that this video game is marketed to children and young adults. Start them young… fearing, hating, and destroying Black people.
Resident Evil 5: White Man Shoots Black Zombies at The Village Voice:
Plenty of Resident Evil fanboys are standing up for the game by claiming that Africa is just a setting like any other. After all, why shouldn’t zombies be black? On one level, that’s true.
But looking again at the trailer, I see a different message: it’s not just that these zombies are black, but that the uninfected black villagers are zombie-like too. See all those spooky shots of the villagers before they get infected? It’s as if race itself were a disease. The white protagonist has to fight back or be infected.
With bulging eyes, simian super strength, and a room temperature IQ, we’ve been portrayed as savages beyond redemption. So, when we see images like these, it doesn’t just resonate with the long lived zombie genre, it also triggers memories of so many awful stereotypes — and what those stereotypes have been used to justify past and present. Put down the crazed negroes before they take the white women! And so on…
But perhaps the most troubling part is that these scenes seem to be set in Africa; the “dark continent.” With all the positive steps being taken of late to raise awareness of the good things happening in Africa as well as the urgent need in some parts of the continent, we really can’t afford this kind of step back. We need to find ways to humanize Africans, not dehumanize them.
Race in Games: Culture, Context, and Controversy at microscopiq:
I’m fully prepared to accept the possibility that Capcom is not intentionally drawing on painful stereotypes, but that does not mean they’re allowed to be oblivious to them or their impact. To the contrary, as a company that sells into many markets worldwide, it is very important for them to be aware of cultural issues. If they fell down anywhere, it seems likely to be here — understanding stateside racial sensitivities.
Of course, a trailer is not a full, playable game. But trailers are a way for game companies to manage impressions of their games. If a game is presented in a troubling way in a trailer, folks can and should react to that presentation. As has been pointed out in the comments, a number of interpretations are possible, but I would still argue that certain images in the RE5 trailer are problematic as they are expressed presently.
ETA: Resident Evil 5 at grysar’s livejournal:
“But,” you may argue, “that’s true of most any zombie movie or game. 1) Zombies don’t use guns, 2) In survival horror most everyone is already dead, 3) there’s not a problematic context because they’re dead.” And you’d be right. Here’s the thing, zombie games defuse the fact that you’re mowing down the weak by making them literally inhuman. They are decaying, they do not emote, they do not think. The not running thing is secondary. This isn’t to say that there aren’t political or cultural critiques in Zombie movies, there certainly are. However, they can be a bit more subtle by limiting the humanity of the baddies.
RE4 and RE5 have humanized zombies to the extent that they can’t afford to be subtle about the political/cultural context. The first one dodged this by evoking a situation that might be horrifying in Eastern Europe, but basically doesn’t resonate at all in America. However, RE5 chose a context that they knew paralleled real events. I am baffled that nobody at Capcom stood up during the earlier meetings and said “Hey guys, this doesn’t look good.” I don’t care that they’re Japanese, this isn’t some sort of subtle point. The zombie excuse stopped working when you intentionally made them emotive, angry-mob like, and hard to visually differentiate from normal humans.
I’ve left out ones that I didn’t feel added anything to the conversation, but if you come across an article that you think should be included, please link to it in the comments. Thanks!