Maybe you folks know that I’m a big video game nerd. Been playing them since near birth, and I could write a book or two explaining what I like, analyzing what games say about their designers and audience, pointing out the few games that have intriguing politics, and slamming the ones who’s politics are terrible. This is a little bit about topics 2 and 4.
Maybe some of you are familiar with the Resident Evil series of video games (and their horrible spin-off movie franchise of the same name). The games are usually about cities overrun with zombies, and the cops and soldiers who kill those zombies (and various other genetic mutants spawned by the evil corporate villain). Resident Evil 4 changed up the series slightly by replacing most of the zombies with regular people who’d been infected with some disease or something which made them mindless, violent minions of… somebody, I don’t remember. The story was set in some fictional countryside in Spain, which meant that you were killing wave after wave of rural Spanish villagers* (or some game designers idea of Spanish villagers, anyway). True, the farmers were hurling pitchforks and carving knives at you, but it was a little more disturbing to be shooting old women in aprons than shooting moaning, mobile corpses.
Resident Evil 5 is set to be released in November, and a trailer for the game was screened for the public last July. It follows some of the formula of RE4, with the infected/maniac regular people instead of zombies, but this one is set in Africa. And the main character is a white guy. So the trailer is largely footage of a white guy shooting and killing wave after wave of black people. Black people who are acting like violent savages. In Africa**.
Now, coming to my main point, I found an article on a popular gamer website called Kotaku, that quoted an African-American journalist criticizing the racism, intentional and un-, within the game’s trailer. And in the first several hundred comments left by fans on the website, barely any of commenters sided with the journalist, even a little bit.
I’m not attacking the trailer or the game (although I probably will in a moment). You can find plenty of reasonable factors and context that mitigate or explain away some of the racism. But almost no one was saying “wow, a game where a white guy shoots up a whole bunch of black people? I can see how that might be a little racist.” Or “a game where all the black characters are mindless, bloodthirsty beasts? That might be offensive to some people.”
Instead, it was dozens and dozens and dozens of people loudly proclaiming that the journalist was playing “the race card” (I don’t even know what that means anymore), arguing that the journalist was the one who was racist, putting words into the journalist’s mouth, sarcastically attacking the journalist for not pointing out every other example of racism against every race in every video game ever, or people who just kept saying “I watched the trailer, and I don’t see anything racist about it.”
There are, of course, plenty of contextual and mitigating factors here: the game designers, who are Japanese, might not understand racial history in the United States; the game is set in Africa so it makes sense that most of the people in it are African; the Africans are acting violently not because they are stereotypes but because they’ve been bitten by the zombie maniac virus; the game itself might be much different than the trailer; the game is probably not intended to be racist and will probably not turn anyone into a racist. And I’m sure that some of the response is because gamers are very sensitive to criticism of their games; politicians and pundits love to blame video games for the ills of society and propose various forms of control and censorship of this beloved medium.
It saddens and frightens me that so many of these people who think they are “color blind” are actually “blind to racism.”
* For the record, I was creeped out that I was killing poor Spaniards in this game and never did finish. Nice imperial supremacy going on in that game, really. American agent drops into Spain and starts killing the inhabitants because he needs to resuce the President’s Daughter. Yes, the Spaniards did happen to be weird alien hybrid things, but they weren’t hurting anyone till Hero showed up.
** It was initially announced that the game was set in Haiti, now the game designers are saying it’s actually set in Africa.