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]

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About Mark Methenitis

Mark Methenitis is an attorney in Dallas Texas. Mark received his Juris Doctorate and his Master of Business Administration from Texas Tech University and his Bachelor of Arts from The University of Texas.

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