Crispy Gamer has a review on Resident Evil 5 that’s making the rounds. It’s mostly a review on the percieved racism in the game, and only tangentially about the game itself. Scott Jones comes right out and calls the game racist, and I’m foolishly rising to the flamebait by responding to him.
If you’ve missed the story: The game takes place in Africa. Being a Resident Evil game, it’s about fighting “zombies”. (Not really zombies this time around, but zombies by another name.) Being set in Africa, most of the zombies are infected from the local population. (i.e. Not white people.) This is a Japanese game. We’ve have several titles in this series where we gunned down noting but lily-white Americans, and RE4 where we gunned down some slightly swarthy Spaniards. None of this raised any red flags for players.
So Japanese writing about white people killing white zombies was fine, but Japanese people writing about a mixed-race team of people killing African zombies is racist?
Read the whole thing for full context. I’m just going to cherry-pick a few comments.
This sounds like an ad hominem: If you don’t have a problem with the game then you are ignorant of the history of racism.
The African zombies, in contrast, look underfed and hollow-eyed. Their lips are puffed and cracked; their bloodshot eyes practically bug out from their skulls. The physical contrast between the game’s heroes and villains — light skin versus dark skin (even Sheva, who’s African, is light-skinned); civilized versus savage — makes cutting down hordes of the infected with a submachine gun a complicated and troubling act.
The fact that zombies are emaciated and disturbing is the entire point. How does this make it racist? Would it be less racist if the zombies were… healthy? If they didn’t look like zombies? What could the designers have done here? If they’d not made the zombies look like zombies, Scott could have just come at them from the other direction: What does it say that the white people in previous games are all dehumanized through discoloration and decay, but the Africans in Resident Evil 5 look just like regular Africans? Is the game saying that these people are already sub-humans?
Would it still be “racist” if the game were set in Europe, and they came at you with longbows or pikemen? What about games where white people fight with primitive weapons? Because, that’s 90% of American RPGs, right there.
What about the previous game where the Spaniards (or whatever they were) carried pitchforks? Why is a spear and a grass skirt offensive, but overalls and pitchforks not?
Imagine that. A Japanese writer wasn’t able to intuit how his writing would be received by large white liberal men in America.
I have no idea if anything I’ve written is offensive to short blond English Tories, or left-handed Australians with freckles who voted ALP in the last election. Perhaps I’m a racist.
I can’t believe I’m defending the writers at Capcom. I doubt I’ve ever seen anything they’ve written that I didn’t regard with contempt. But I don’t think it’s possible to write in such a way that your words won’t offend someone, somewhere.
I can only imagine the result if every story had to be carefully written and filtered by a multi-ethnic committee so as to not accidentally offend people of “different ethnicities, different tax brackets, different levels of education, different points of view”. It would not improve the world of fiction.
Zombies are usually “generic people”, but when all of them are of a different race, it might make them feel a little less generic. Zombies are supposed to make you a little uncomfortable because they inhabit the uncanny valley and are recognizable as both monsters and people. Perversely, the distaste Scott is feeling is something you’re supposed to feel when you’re killing zombies. We’ve been desensitized to gunning down white zombies in suburban shopping malls, and when a change of context restores that lost empathy for the victims the resulting revulsion is mistaken for some sort of malice on the part of the designer.
I don’t object that Scott Jones is uncomfortable with the imagery in RE5. If I ever end up playing the game I might have the same reaction. (But I’m sure I’ll be offended by the awful writing long before I reach the shooting zombies portion of the game.) Maybe after an hour of gunning down dark-skinned people I’ll feel the same sense of horror that he does.
I was sickened by the gunning down of kids in Prey. I can understand when a game crosses a line for you. But the goal of tolerance – if that word is to have any meaning at all – should be to tolerate it when we bump up against people with differing world views. This is the very opposite of what Scott is proposing here, which is to demand that other people know our culture before they have the audacity to speak to us, and to take deliberate offense when they mess up. Meticulously sorting and labeling people by ethnicities, income, and education level is probably a bad idea as well if your goal is for people to get along with each other.
I don’t think the writers at Capcom are Racist any more than I think the writers at 3D Realms want to kill kids. I have no problem with him not wanting to gun down mobs of Africans if it strikes him as disturbing. But hanging the label of racist on Capcom is absurd.
And finally, I’ll end with something Susan Arendt wrote a year and a half ago, when tackling the same subject:
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