Lying Media Bastards

April 12, 2008

Color Blind Is the New Racism

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**.

Yeah.

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.”

That’s depressing.

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.

But still.

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.

Posted by Jake on April 12, 2008 9:13 pm

9 Comments »

  1. Games have gotten a lot of shit from journalists recently for being horrible for various reasons, most of which are total crap (look at the Fox News ‘Mass Effect is a porn simulator’ for something that’s just plain wrong). So it’s almost understandable that Kotaku readers would say ‘journalist bad rawr.’

    Nowever, N’Gai Croal is pretty much the top game journalist in traditional media. He’s well thought out and damned intelligent. Just like if Fox News says A is true I automatically distrust it, if Croal says it I automatically assume it’s true.

    Though I didn’t comment, I read the story and sort of facepalmed. The only defense I can see is that RE5 is being made in Japan, which doesn’t have the same history as we do.

    Sigh.

    Comment by Dan — April 13, 2008 @ 5:54 am

  2. Good ol’ Kotaku. I disagree, it isn’t racist at all. It’s a zombie game, plain and simple. The ‘Blacks fading into the shadows’ is called horror movie shots and editing. It sets atmosphere. regardless the idea of zombies comes from The Vodoo/Vodun religious tradition.

    I quote a poster from the N’Gai article who gets perturbed that N’Gai doesnt bash 50 cent games for furthering urban gangster stereotypes yet picks a Japanese game where zombies are coming out the hell right now. “If you truly feel that games are art, then you will have the sense to recognize that sometimes art makes you feel uncomfortable. Sometimes art brings up thoughts from within your own life experiance that dont make you feel warm and fuzzy. Being uncomfortable is good, it makes you question yourself and the world. Enjoy the feeling. Now please go stop the next 50 cent from being released. Pleeeease.”

    Comment by Brian D — April 13, 2008 @ 10:47 am

  3. Jaaaaaake, quit playin’ the race card! Damn leftists. Taking away our right to be racist!

    Comment by Eric — April 13, 2008 @ 12:46 pm

  4. Was this video game anything like Black Hawk Down?

    Comment by Eric — April 13, 2008 @ 12:48 pm

  5. Eric, the game isnt even out yet, they are just going crazy over a trailer for it. Because they use cuts that make the game seem scary (its a horro game, find me a horro trailer that doesnt use those angels and cuts) and its set in a locale w/ blacks its racist.

    Comment by Brian D — April 14, 2008 @ 12:03 pm

  6. And even more frighteningly we have Brian D over here repeating the same points just criticized without a hint of having read the post.

    Comment by Benjamin Melançon — April 23, 2008 @ 6:56 am

  7. I’m a bit disappointed, Brian. You actually can’t watch the trailer and see how people could perceive racism in the trailer? No one is actually arguing about the game, because no one’s played it yet.

    And the quote you choose, almost every part of it is nonsense. The guy is trying to say that if something makes you uncomfortable, therefore it’s art, therefore you should shut the fuck up. Games can be art, sure, but most of them don’t even try. And sometimes offensive is just offensive.

    And the 50 Cent argument is a strawman, just weak. You can’t criticize this particular instance of racism unless you criticize all the other ones first? In addition, I wouldn’t be surprised if N’Gai actually had written about the 50 Cent game, but I doubt the commenter even bothered to look.

    Comment by Jake — April 25, 2008 @ 8:26 pm

  8. I had to check the date on this article to make sure it wasn’t a joke.

    In RE4 you’re fighting cultists that are taken over by parasites. The fact that they’re Spanish is really just incidental. It’s also great how you fail to mention that not only do they attack you first, but they also brutally murder the innocent Spanish cops that are escorting you to the village.

    So now things are set in Africa and it’s more of the same. You’re fighting zombies, which was cool before, but now that they aren’t white as the driven snow, you feel guilty. What a load of hypocritical, racist nonsense.

    Comment by Marcos — May 14, 2008 @ 6:11 am

  9. Couldn’t agree more with Marcos. The problem here is that some people are looking for reasons to side with the easily offended, insofar as I can tell. If you want to look at this trailer SOLELY on the surface & see “white guy shoots loads of black people” then I suppose a black person could be offended, and sure, everyone has the right to be offended, it’s carried with the first amendment. But are they justified for being offended without first taking everything involved into account? That should be the real question here… and I for one, would say no, they are not. I’m a young white male from the midwest, and so are most of my friends, we played eh… the name escapes me, the “cyber-cop” game on Xbox 360 which puts you in control of a black police officer, who right off the bat spends his time killing loads of white folks. Did we care? Not a bit.

    You might also be interested to look into Resident Evil 5 again and find that the second character, who’s always with you, in single or cooperative play, is a black female agent.

    Comment by Thomas — July 16, 2008 @ 4:09 pm

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