This week is International Blog Against Racism Week (hat tip to Oyce for the icon). I actually contributed to day one without meaning to, posting a quick rebuttal to the claim that the no one complained about the previous games in the Resident Evil series because it was white people killing white people. To kick off day 2, I’m going to devote another post to the great RE5 wank of 2007 (you can find the trailer that sparked the wank here and a link roundup within the comments over at Iris’ forums).
One of the things that struck me about the discussions on blogs that broached the subject of potential racism in Resident Evil 5 was the way that the same arguments were brought up over and over again, and many of them are iterations of arguments I’ve seen come up when people protest discussions on gender.
The “no one is saying/has said anything about [x thing] in [y] game” argument is the one I will be addressing here. The racist-apologist complainers who bring up that argument do so in bad faith; they aren’t arguing it because the presence of said critique would solve the problem, but rather because they see the argument as a tool to shut down discussion on the game in question. They are, sometimes literally, saying, “You didn’t say anything before, so you have lost the privilege of saying anything now or in the future!” Which is a problematic argument, to say the least. Behind the cut I will explore some of the specific problems with the argument in more detail.
I. Problem 1: Lack of critical works in general
While sometimes it might feel otherwise, the fact is that there are some subjects that have not yet accrued a solid foundation of criticism. Popular culture in particular, especially newer fields such as video games, is still struggling to be seen as a valid area of study. Most gamers are painfully aware how often opponents of video games try to argue that our games aren’t artistic expression and therefore don’t qualify as free speech, so I don’t see why it would be so hard to understand that, as of yet, games do not have a solid foundation in terms of critical study.
Because of this, there are gaping holes in terms of what games have, and have not, received criticism. Of course, the only way to rectify this is for bloggers and scholars to not only keep up with current games, but to get their hands on old games, play them, then create a critique. Although there are some bloggers, like myself, interested in that (I have a writeup on Kyrandia 2: The Hand of Fate that I need to figure out what to do with), the bottom line is that most people are going to pick up on what bugs them now, not spend their time, money, and energy tracking down, playing, and critiquing the other games in order to appease the racist complainers who used the argument not because they want they believe there should be comprehensive criticism, but because they believe there shouldn’t be any criticism at all.
II. Problem 2: Prior criticism isn’t a prerequisite to hold an opinion now
Another problem with the argument is that it’s based on the notion that, in order for me to express an opinion on the subject matter at hand, I had to have expressed an opinion on the ostensibly related subject matter that the complainer brings up. The idea being put forth is that certain kinds of criticisms can’t be made unless some arbitrary prerequisite has been met.
Bringing it away from racism for a minute, the favourite one I hear when talking about sexism is that, in order for me to be able to hold a discussion about women, I need to talk about men. And not just in passing — as the complaint inevitably comes up on posts where I give a nod to problems that men face — but at the very least “equal” (or, really, greater) time must be given to discussing men. It is not enough, of course, that I have two men who contribute to this blog, a masculinities category, and several links to spaces that discuss men’s issues. If I don’t meet the prerequisite of talking about men in that post then I am not allowed to speak critically on the subject of women’s issues.
That kind of behaviour is another iteration of the same “no one said anything when it was [x],” argument, and it has the same purpose: to change the focus of the discussion to [x], thus ending the discussion on the matter at hand.
III. Problem 3: If it’s not in the post at hand, it doesn’t exist
The final problem with the argument that I will discuss is that it often subscribes responsibility on the individual to have personally addressed whatever area the complainer finds lacking or risk having their current critique be invalidated. If we haven’t written about it, or haven’t written about it to the complainer’s satisfaction, it’s because we don’t “care” and therefore we’re not allowed to “care” about the subject at hand. Not to mention that often this claim is made without the complainer actually bothering to look at the other works that the poster has created, and therefore there are many instances in which the argument is just flat out false.
And, even so, there are a whole lot of things that I find problematic that I haven’t written about. I have trouble finishing my series (I have at least four that need my attention), and even if I was a full-time blogger I still wouldn’t have the time to touch upon every subject that I feel needs touching upon. Like most bloggers — and scholars, I daresay — I write about what’s in front of me. I write about things that I see that provoke an immediate reaction. Yes, there are times that I have a subject in mind that I want to write about and spend my time researching it instead of the other way around, but that’s not the norm.
There is but one absolutely valid conclusion that you can pull from a person’s lack of writing on a subject: that they haven’t yet written on the subject. You cannot know whether or not they plan to write on it, whether or not they have an interest in the subject, or whether or not they think that it’s a subject worthy of study. And assuming any of those, as the problem argument does, just reinforces that the argument is used in bad faith in order to silence criticism.
Because it can only be made in bad faith, I propose that anyone caught using the “no one is saying/has said anything about [x thing] in [y] game” style of argument automatically loses at the internet, and therefore forfeits their privilege to participate in the discussion. I know that means that the majority of the gaming blogsphere loses at the internet, but if it makes you feel better about the loss, I’ll promise you that if I can get my hands on the Gamecube remakes of the series I’ll be more than happy to play through and critique them.