Archive for Resident Evil 5

Resident Evil 5 Isn’t Racist, But You Probably Are

Posted in Games with tags , , , , on March 18, 2009 by zolthanite

Intentionally inflammatory title for what I perceive as a completely ludicrous subject.  It’s like they have no idea what Resident Evil is about, nor keep it in context.

This was cross-posted at Twenty Sided in response to Shamus’ original article.

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I’m going to paraphrase a story that one of my old bosses, Robert, told me. Regardless of veracity, it holds particular weight with this whole debate.

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There was a time, long long ago, when Colin Powell was being interviewed as an up and coming African American in the Army (I believe this was before he became a general). One of the questions asked of him was, roughly: “What is your feeling about racism in the Armed Forces?”

His response: “I have not had a problem with racism in the Army.”

After the press conference, Robert was in Powell’s office, as he was Robert’s commanding officer, on unrelated business. But it was fairly obvious the interview didn’t sit well with him, and as he was leaving Powell stopped him and said, “Did you have a problem with what I said?” in reference to Powell’s response.

“Sir, I think that to say that racism has not been a problem in your career is quite honestly a lie. I don’t think any black person in the Army, myself included, would agree with you on that point.”

“Robert, racism is not something I have a problem with because I am not racist. The people who have a problem with racism are racist themselves. Racism is their problem, not mine.”
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Bottom line is: Personal bias for the person playing the game is irrelevant, especially if they are hyper-sensitive to such issues. The baseline for racism is purely about intent, not about perspective.

As far as the intent goes, I would almost claim that because the game is devoid of artistic merit it doesn’t have to deal with the problem of racism or not. Birth of a Nation is not purely derivative entertainment, and actually is blatantly racist as it goes out of its way to elevate white people at the cost of black people. Using blackface, in most capacities (beyond a production of Othello or historical reenactment.  It’s a matter of context), actually is racist because someone actively is making race an issue.

Resident Evil 5 takes the zombie menace, and puts it in Africa. Unless it’s taking place in South Africa with tons of Dutch around, arguing about black zombies is ridiculous. Every Resident Evil has taken place, in some capacity, in the middle of nowhere. Raccoon City was a middle of nowhere town. The first RE (I believe) was in a middle-of-nowhere mansion. RE4 was in the unnamed, generic isolated Spanish countryside. RE5 is in Africa somewhere. What other ethnic group would you expect to find? This is dictated by setting, not because someone said “Oh we need to mow down some black people. We can’t do Harlem, so let’s go to Africa. I hear they have loads of  <insert racial slur in plural form>.”

As far as racist imagery, I don’t see pearly white smiles. I don’t see large lips and shuffle dancing. I don’t see anything that would indicate historically offensive paradigms, especially for the US, that’s no worse than your average box of Uncle Ben’s rice or Aunt Jemima’s pancake mix. To be frank, I don’t see anything different from Resident Evil 4 beyond a meaningful change in scenery appropriate for the setting. More importantly, for such a White Is Right game, why is the female lead not also white? Shouldn’t she also be lily fresh, blonde, and sexy to make the battle for white supremacy complete? She isn’t Asian, that’s for sure.

If anything, one could look at Japanese games as a whole and wonder, if they have any fault at all, why they elevate Western European features as a form of beauty as they do. Ken from SFIV is actually Japanese-origin, but wants to be American to the point where he bleaches his hair. I don’t remember playing a single RE where an Asian features prominently anywhere, except for Ada Wong, who isn’t exactly a positive role model for heroism. Is she a symbol of Japanese self-loathing? It would be a much more fruitful discussion. Cherry-picking RE5 for being racist out of the entire series is irresponsible for any real discussion.