Friday, August 3, 2007

The Resident Evil 5 Racism Issue

I had rather hoped that this story would not become the darling of the gaming blog universe, but much to my disappointment, it has become "big news." And so I feel, at this point, that I need to don my editorial hat once again.

To summarize the series of events so far, for those who haven't been keeping up:
The Resident Evil 5 trailer was released at E3, and it depicts the new game taking place in a locale where the residents have a dark complection, which may be Africa or some part of the Caribbean, and based additionally on the background scenery, it appears to be somewhere hot and relatively arid. Fast forward from E3 to two days ago when the Black Looks blog complains of "racism," additionally pointing the game as "being marketed toward children." At which time the story is picked up by most of the gaming blog-o-sphere, and the typical mix of rash, crude remarks and intelligent commentary ensue. From there, a number of blogs "respond" to the response, with such responses appearing here, here, and here, many of which have chosen to take cheap shots at the gaming community as a whole. I can only imagine if things continue at this pace, the mainstream media and the politicos who love cheap shots will be on board shortly.

Before I begin, I want everyone on both sides of this debate to stop, take a deep breath, and at least try to think about this rationally.

First, this video is a trailer. Would you deride a movie based on its trailer? Would you lambaste a book based on the summary on the back cover? Would you demand action against a CD if you heard 4 words from 4 tracks strung together in a random order? Of course not. Attacking an incomplete game based on a promotional trailer that shows a disjointed pseudo-summary of elements of the plot shows nothing but a true and complete ignorance of the medium. It is the very same level of ignorance that fuels the racism you detest.

Moreover, the categorical stereotyping of the gaming community is more akin to racism than you would like to accept. If I said that all African Americans were drug dealing thugs who shot people, you would be offended, correct? That is no different than claiming the gaming community is all young, immature, uneducated white males or saying things like "Many of these folks seem like the type who would try to reenact scenes from Resident Evil 5. Can you say Columbine?" Gamers span the gamut from every age, race, religion, nationality, education level, and profession. I am well past my "teen" years and have two graduate degrees. According to your stereotype, I should be the last person playing video games or involving myself in this debate. This fundamental misunderstanding of the gaming community and the gaming culture may also be the groundwork for the repeated, ill-conceived attempts at regulating the industry.

As has been pointed out many, many times, the Resident Evil series is part of the larger zombie genre, in which the zombies are typically white. Resident Evil 4 took the traditional zombie concept in a new direction by crafting a storyline where the traditional "zombie" was replaced by a faster, smarter zombie-like infected human. That game was set in Spain, and all of the enemies spoke Spanish. The driver behind their language and appearance was the setting, not a secret racist agenda. In fact, I can imagine that is Resident Evil 6 were set in India, the zombies would be Indian, or in China the zombies would be Chinese, or in Iran the zombies would be Persian. It is a function of setting, not of ulterior motives. And as has been further mentioned, the Resident Evil 5 development team is Japanese, not American, and their cultural sensitivities
are tuned to far different issues than ours.

Finally, there is still the issue of free speech. Short of inciting a riot, the content of the game cannot be restricted other than by virtue of the ratings system. Except for the absurdist reference to Columbine, which was obviously used for shock value, no one has alleged that this sort of harm will occur. Many works are published in many mediums every year which are far more damaging, but have drawn far less ire. Video games are just a target of convenience. In fact, the depiction of other races in certain games has been, arguably, as bad as or worse than the racist interpretation of the RE5 trailer, and yet there was no public outcry. Racially based gangs have appeared in dozens of games, depicting Hispanics and Asians and various Eurpoean nationalities as nothing but violent criminals. However, as works of fiction, albeit in a new medium, they are protected by the First Amendment.

I would like to close by quoting Justice Harlan. "Our Constitution is color-blind, and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens. " The more we draw lines among ourselves, the further we move from being a colorblind society. I can only continue to hope that people will realize that if they desire socio-political change, attacking the game industry is likely the least effective way to accomplish their goals. In fact, it will only serve to alienate an ever growing, immensely diverse group of voters.

[Via Game Politics]
[Via Joystiq]
[Via Kotaku]


Unknown said...


Much like yourself, I was quite surprised to see this incident turn into such a large issue. I've had several ideas form response to the numerous posts I've read condemning RE5 and its audience, many of which you have answered here. Well done on fighting a gamer sterotype of being an immature teenager through your command of the English language and a solid thinking process.

One thing you did not discuss, however, were the comments along the lines of "Would it be okay to make a game about an Asian kid who has to shoot up a college campus and get more than 30 kills?" "Is it okay to make a game where Arabs fly planes into buildings?". I found this thinking to be illogical, as these are very specific events in our history. To my knowledge, there has been no case of a white military officer shooting his way through African/Caribbean villages. Their points introduce shock value without validating their argument which only serves to fire the emotions of their audience.

Also like yourself, I was disgusted to read the amount of stereotyping that was being aimed at the gaming community. We're all immature, teenaged white youths? We're all racist, frothing madmen waiting for the slightest hint of excuse to carry our videogame violence into the real world? How is that better than what they accuse those young, irresponsible games of doing? It's not. They're looking at a blog comment column of around 430 posts to describe a community of nine million people or more. Nine million people from all sorts of racial, financial and educational backgrounds that certainly cannot be summed up from an experience of 430 individuals. That's akin to my walking down a prison block and accusing every race or sex represented as nothing but bloodthirsty criminals.

Bravo on taking a well-worded stance on this issue! Perhaps it will help show that sterotypes, even in defense of stereotypes, is never justified. I believe I shall be frequenting your blog more in the future.

Dan said...

I couldn't agree more.

Gavin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Gavin said...

I think there are many ways to attack bloggers� opinions against this game. For a start people referenced the groundless notion that this violent game is marketed towards children. I don�t think any resident evil games have carried a rating below M. The game is certainly marketed towards the adult gamer. In all most titles are in fact purchased by adults and the average gamer was 29 last I looked it up. A lot of people do not grasp this fact. People often associate games with kids. So there goes that thought. That the game encourages killing black people can be defended by the position that these zombies are no longer people at all; they are zombies. (All black people are not africanids. There is no question that these people were black before they died regardless of the geographical setting)

It is those who support the game that caused the issue to spiral out of control however. If comments left on the blogs were calm, collected, and analytical, perhaps the issue would�ve settled long ago. Instead people have called the bloggers all sorts of names... actually just one sort of name in particular. He the �N� word. All sorts of racial and sexual insults have been thrown by gamers making us all appear in a bad light and turning the issue into an irritated fester. Had someone gently communicated a decent answer and had NO One been an anonymous idiot the issue would be gone. Black people do not think everything is racist. I�m black and I understand that a resident evil game in Africa will inherently involve shooting Africans just like a zombie game in Willimette Colorado will involve shooting white people (although a co-worker fresh from vacation just informed me that there are a few black people in Colorado -seven). The problem is the inherent anonymity of the internet. EVERYONE knows you shouldn�t write things like that and so the askthisblackwoman is not to bear the full blame for the problem.

I like video games and I want to play a fun Resident Evil game, but I also have Respect for other human beings.
Gavin Brown-Simmons McCullum

Unknown said...

So Killing black zombies is racist but killing white zombies aren't.WTF?
Whats the difference between killing white and black zombies.So if it was chinese zombies it would be OK? Stop trying to find something to B!*@# about and just enjoy a good game

Unknown said...

It is not the fact that the zombies are black, and yes there is no "hard evidence" that a white officer walked through an African Village or Caribbean village and gunned down everyone in sight. In actuality we do know however that at some point in history blacks were raped, killed and murdered by white men with no authority. If this is not something that relates to your history it would not be offensive to you. Lets say for argument sake that RE6 were to take place in say Germany during lets say WWII and lets say that these zombies resembled Jews and the protagonist lets say wore a Nazi uniform without any official Nazi symbols of course. Would the Jewish community take a game that resembles the Jewish holocaust in so many ways lightly or would they brush it off as a mere video game? just a question?

War Breaker said...

Well, for starters, I completely agree with you. In my opinion, the diversity among the video game crowd is great. There are so many different backgrounds within our medium that to just blatantly categorize us all as "immature teenage white youths" is more offensive and rascist than what is allegedly offensive and rascist in the trailer for RE5. I myself am of hispanic origin, and when RE4 came out, which was set in Spain, in which we were killing Spaniards, which of course can be classified as Hispanic, I didn't hear one word from anyone that it was remotely rascist.That to me shows ignorance on their behalf, being ignorant to the medium that we enjoy. The gameplay in RE5 is similar to RE4, and of course the only difference is the color of the "zeds" skin. Its ignorance like this that muffles the creativity of some of the greatest minds out there. So what if they are black? So what if the protagonist, a white man, is killing the black "zeds"? The question i ask you is, if it bothers you so much that they are black "zeds", then maybe is it YOU who is the rascist? In the world we live in now, why does it make a difference what color we are? The only reaction i believe there should be to any forms of medium out there are, "Wow, that was a great story!", "Can you believe how great the gameplay is?", and even "That was the greatest game, movie, or piece of art i have ever seen.

Iman Sain said...

In response to the Issue of Racism in RE5, and Elijah's comment, I usually don't concern myself with such matters, BUT on this I will finally let my opinion be known.
On the Racism note, has anyone even taken into note here that technically the Oroboros are victims to Weskers plot. So all the people that your shooting and or killing are infected with this disease so your forced to take them out. Not like your choosing to.

Racism, by its simplest definition is the belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race. People with racist beliefs exhibit stereotype-based prejudices toward individuals and groups of people according to their race. In the case of institutional racism, certain racial groups may be denied rights or benefits, or get preferential treatment. Racial discrimination typically points out taxonomic differences between different groups of people, even though anybody can be rationalized, independently of their somatic differences. According to the United Nations conventions, there is no distinction between the term racial discrimination and ethnic discrimination. Racism is the belief that a particular race is superior or inferior to another, that a person's social and moral traits are predetermined by his or her inborn biological characteristics.

End of story this game is not racist in anyway shape or form. The fact that this virus started with Zombies because of a flower and a virus and evolved from that virus, and now they are testing it in Africa means nothing because they plan to spread it out into the world. They didn't test it first in Africa, they tested it first on White people in Racoon City. Besides the fact that Irving + other White Characters are killed by Chris in the game, or that his Sidekick is South African.

However the most important thing for all of us to remember is this. Critics will always hate, haters will always find something to complain about. It's human nature, it's life in it's simplest most infantile form. Get used to it.

Unknown said...

The point that i was trying to make is... if a certain group of people feel offended either by race, religon, sexuality etc. it is up to them to voice their opinion. If resident evil was offensive to spanish people it was up to them to make a fuss about it and it is for us (whoever is not hispanic) to either agree with them and support them or to say no it is not we dont agree. It is a matter of perception and that is why i simply said if it is not something that relates to you and your history or your culture it would not matter to you. Regardless if they are shooting zombies the fact is it offends people and they have the right to voice that opinion. To further my point if a RE game was made and it looked like the ZOMBIES were gay, the gay community would have an uproar and most likely those who are not gay would say hey its just a video game and besides they are ZOMBIES. One could say hey all of the other RE games had straight people and they never complained about it so why should you everybody gets a shot to be the zombie. It's all a matter of perception.

War Breaker - I'm observant, it is funny that i would be the racist by explaining why i think that someone could find it racist... I never said i agree or disagree that it is. have you read any other blogs on the subject? have you seen blogs where bloggers say stuff like I get to shoot ni**ers too or great cant get to shoot blacks in real life... it is out there.

Gavin - I agree black people dont think everything is racist but the problem is that WE make big issues over little problems. when cops can unload 50 shots into an unarmed black man in queens and its not a matter of color is a real issue. So when blacks complain about small issues the big ones become irrelavent and now "We complain about everything"

Iman - I agree people will always complain its how we deal w/ the complaints that matter

Iman Sain said...

The world is full of misguided souls that are afraid of the unknown, that fear has led them to ignorance, and that ignorance has led them to anger, anger which has turned into hate. The hate of a people, leads to suffering. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction. The chain reaction
of evil--hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars--must be broken, or we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation. - Dr. MLK Jr.

Tat3 said...

Elijah, of course Jewish people would be offended by that. That was one of the darkest periods because of what happened. You mentioned that only to serve as shock value, it has nothing to do with this game. The setting is now in Africa so you kill Africans. Would you want them to be killing white people in Africa? And in almost all the other resident evil games you killed white people. Just because they are accurate in that the setting matches with the people they are racist?

And in my opinion the jews have had it the worst throughout histroy. They have been persecuted from the beginning. Not saying blacks didnt have it bad but they picked cotton. The jews built the pyramids. Not saying blacks had it easy but you can be the judge on which is worse. And anyway alot of races have had it bad, but the problem is that white people are considered all different races such as italian, irish, or british. And there is alot of hate between whites such as the irish hating british. But blacks are just considered African American. So all the history of the Irish left to die by the british and the natives spitting on them when they came to this country goes out the window because they are just white. Everything is now only black and white because of slavery and rights. The jewish were killed becuase they were thought to be the cause of the black death in europe. I never really hear the jewish people complaining and they have been being persecuted for over 2000 years.

It is like reverse racism. Just because there was slavery there cant even be a video game in Africa because its racist. Did you know alot Irish, Scottish, German, and other europeans were indentured servants which was basically a slave except a promise of freedom most didn't see.

QB said...

It's a bit fickle to try to compare representations of blacks in a mass media product to representations of nerds on a blog.

Enjoy the game, accept that some people will be upset by it (and probably not without reason) and get on with it. For those of you whose nearest reference to white on black opression, go and watch Cry Freedom. It's banned in South Africa. You'll realize why at the end. People are entitled to their own outrage. Noone's going to ban the thing, just like they didn't ban Fallout 3 for Threedog having the shittest, whitest voiceover in history.

The IGN Editorial was the best thing I'd read on the subject:

Speakeasy said...

personally, I'd say that if suddenly having black zombies is racist then you are basically saying that all zombies must be white from now on just like in previous games and that future games must take place in mostly caucasian countries. Which personally to me makes very little sense. it basically the equivalent of saying. "yeah, its okay to kill white zombies, but its racist to kill the black zombies." who cares? their zombies! their color shouldn't matter! and this goes for people in general and not just zombies. hell on an ironic level having zombies of multiple races is being inclusive and breaking the race barrier. problem is most of these self-segregating interest groups don't want to see it that way. The fact that of everything going on in the world they throw a fit about THIS does nothing more than make them look petty.