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Opinion:  Resident Evil 5  - How Does This Make You Feel, 'Partner'?
Opinion: Resident Evil 5 - How Does This Make You Feel, 'Partner'? Exclusive
April 1, 2009 | By Tom Cross

April 1, 2009 | By Tom Cross
Comments
    56 comments
More: Console/PC, Columns, Exclusive



[In this opinion piece, writer Tom Cross discusses questionable and offensive imagery and themes in Resident Evil 5, and how these elements undercut the rest of the game.]

One thing that has been repeated about Resident Evil 5 is that the game may include offensive imagery, but that you become inured to these images when you get in the thick of combat. This might be the case during certain sequences where you don’t have time to think, but there’s no escaping it for long.

As soon as you do, Chris and Sheva find a butcher’s block, topped with a dead animal and buzzing flies. The game’s helpful text blurbs will then say something like “The smell is awful. Why would this be here?”

A butcher shop with meat in it isn’t offensive or out of the ordinary, and in fact is part of everyday life all over the world.

However, the peculiar Othering of normal occurrences (like a butcher shop having meat, knives, and flies) so that they fit into a frantically horrified conception of village life in Kijuju is pervasive and carefully orchestrated.

This is What's Horrifying

This kind of characterization is prevalent throughout the first two chapters. Some of the initial establishing shots are careful to emphasize the flies that are everywhere, and thus, the unclean, eerie aura that such sounds bring to each scene. If you are going to depict this kind of situation, you need to have a strong authorial voice, one that presents the events either as “objectively” as possible (a task few, if any, attempt), or one that clearly directs the player and takes a side.

Art does not exist in a vacuum, nor do any forms of media or entertainment. You cannot make this game and portray these events and not telegraph your feelings as regards the proceedings. And Capcom hasn’t; from every “creepy” slaughtered animal to every collection of skulls and candles in a shack (”It must be some kind of ritual,” Chris advises us), Capcom’s intentions are transparent.

They work very hard to show you that this particular West African Town is poor, dirty, and dangerous: that people are vicious, violent, and skulk around the heroes. Furthermore, their houses and places of business are even more alarming, filled with “bizarre” practices. It should be noted that this kind of ignorant, traditionally stereotyped imagery is considered to be a good way to scare Capcom’s audience. Stop and think, why is it “scary.” What’s being coded as horrifying and alarming in this game are poor, “West African,” people who froth at the mouth and cannot be trusted due to their violent natures.

This is brought home hard when you realize what other “scares” the game has in store. It doesn’t have any, aside from the well done “partner has to hold the light source” section in the mines. The game is really about two things: it’s about a really excellent action game, and what the designers hope will scare you in their portrayal of these people and their homes.

medium_2528922251_f521cd7135_o.jpgSpreading the "Infection"

Another defense of Resident Evil points out that you are killing zombies just as you’ve always killed them. It’s not like you treat them different than Leon treated the Ganados, right? This does not take into account how the game depicts the “African” zombies’ violent nature and activities, as well as the spaces they inhabit within the game. Early in the game, you are treated to a scene where a white woman is dragged off kicking and screaming, only to be found infected with the virus, and thus, no longer pure.

There are other characters that you’ll see killed by the infected humans (and other enemies), but none are treated in this way. When Chris and Sheva find a black villager who has just been infected, Chris wearily approaches the infected man, not realizing the danger, but quickly withdraws when the man screams in pain as the virus takes over his body. When Chris finds the white woman, he grabs her, and supports her, before she turns into a vicious member of the infected.

There is a way (among many) that a designer could humanize the victims of the virus, before they were infected. It’s a very straightforward technique, and one that even the most by-the-book movies include. Before the dehumanizing, physically disfiguring virus or condition affects the victims, the fiction can try to show what their lives were like before the infection. People going about their business, children going to school, social gatherings, etc. have all been used in countless movies to show what “the people” are like before the war/virus/disaster.

While this does of course lead to other problematic characterizations (the “innocent,” “humble,” townspeople who need saving, for instance), at least it shows that the authors of the fiction want to emphasize the difference, the before-and-after nature of the infection. In Resident Evil 5, there are no such characterizations. From the first frame, the villagers you see are either infected or acting violently, suspiciously, or both.

Capcom has pointed out that everyone’s infected, so none of them are “people” anymore, which makes it acceptable and necessary to kill them. By not including images and videos of uninfected villagers, Capcom is making it clear (possibly accidentally) that none of them are human. They barely take the time to stop and amend this issue, at they only do it once memorably.

medium_2909915595_e81dbf90f8_o.jpgToo Little, Much Too Late

There’s a boy’s diary that you find in a village in the wetlands, that delivers the kind of humanizing look at the pre-infected society that would have changed the beginning of the game, to some degree. However, it’s power to amend Capcom’s mistakes is blunted by the fact that it’s tasked with explaining the villagers’ propensity for wearing “traditional” African garb. The problem here is twofold. First of all, Capcom stuck this document (an optional read at that) in the tail-end of the 3rd act. The second problem is more serious.

The reasoning they give for these villagers dressing up in “traditional” garb (clothing that has no basis in any regional traditions but is instead pulled from the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull roster of “primitive” clothing) is paper-thin. Apparently the villagers just started dressing in this fashion and murdering each other after being infected. Why did they do this when the other infected failed to do the same?

Apparently this is a symptom of the version of the Progenitor virus specific to that part of Africa (and specifically, the marshlands and the nearby caves), which only affects men. Men who kill their families and villages as they become infected. This may be explained as “how that version of the virus is,” but it also happens to fit conveniently into popular, old, stereotypical visions of what unpredictable, violently traditional African people are. Again, the problem is not necessarily that Capcom is “racist,” it’s that they uncaringly used very old, very vicious racist caricatures and stereotypes to create the foundation of their game and their “new brand of horror.”

The argument that Capcom and the gamers who see this game as being perfectly acceptable just doesn’t understand or are ignorant of these stereotypes is a problematic one. If this is the case, why would Capcom carefully construct Sheva in the way that they have? She’s there for a reason, and it’s to deflect flak from people calling them out on the problems with RE 5’s depiction of violence, white military intervention, and every day life in this particular version of “Africa.”

medium_2910765324_53c3c87f4c_o.jpgThanks, Partner!

It is worthwhile to look at Sheva and the way her Blackness and African-ness is coded as opposed to the way the villagers' Blackness and African-ness is coded. Whereas the villagers are dirty, violent, inhuman, and dark, Sheva is fairly light-skinned, well-kempt, and respectful of Chris and the BSAA and its hierarchy. She is, essentially a “safe” black person, whereas the villagers are “the worst kind.” Also, the inclusion of white and “Muslim” enemies in no way helps the situation.

It’s true that there are people in various nations in Africa who are “white,” but it’s just as true that sing skin color and other ethnic “identifiers” is almost meaningless in parts of the world where being a Muslim does not mean your skin has to be any particular shade. Simply put, this is a red herring: the problems the game has are not alleviated by the inclusion of vaguely area-appropriate non-black enemies.

The game consistently, forcefully presents Kijuju as a dangerous, primitive, scary place, where good, nice white people really don’t want to be caught hanging out around. I want to reiterate that I am not accusing anybody of meaning for this message to be sent, but it’s such an old and time-honored way of portraying Africans that it can’t be swept under the rug. It’s so regressively, unthinkingly stereotypical, it’s almost hard to explain or view in its entirety.

There’s no point at which it’s self-aware, post-modern, or aware of the history of Colonial, Imperial, Neo-Colonial or military trends and actions in various parts of Africa. At its best, it vaguely gestures toward the bad things that have been and are still being done in Africa by foreign, white-owned companies. It never makes it this far, however, muddling in the same direction all Resident Evils have muddled: corporations tend to think only of their research and hurt people.

Something that should be noted is that the game obviously codes these villagers as Poor, Vicious, and Animalistic, but it’s not alone in this. Resident Evil 4 may have been about “Spanish” villagers, but it could have been set in any poor village in any part of the world. It could have been set in America. The significant elements of the initial stages of RE4 hinged on the player’s fear of poor, vicious, strange villagers. It’s not like poor rural people are strangers as villains in the horror genre, they’re often used by directors and writers as the receptacles for various societal fears and repressed urges.

It’s just that RE 4 was the first game in the series to so clearly emphasize their poverty and “uncivilized,” inhuman ways. It doesn’t matter if you, as a developer, don’t bother to humanize those who haven’t been infected. It doesn’t matter if the developer says “they’re all infected.” The onus is always on you (designers and artists) to show the humanity of these people, otherwise you slip dangerously close to the trap that many zombie movies fall into: using zombies as a convenient “inhuman,” “cleansable” population, as has been done in zombie movies (and comics, tv shows, etc.) for years.

medium_2555210435_095d0cfb8b_o.jpgAcceptable Losses

Post-Night of the Living Dead, George A. Romero was alarmed at how zombies were being used to make the slaughtering of marginalized people acceptable. Romero directly worked against this trend. In the original Dawn of the Dead, an early scene depicts S.W.A.T. members “cleansing” or “clearing” a ghetto.

It’s made clear that the soldiers shoot people who are obviously still human (or show every appearance of humanity); they are not zombies. They’re “being sure,” and it’s acceptable for them to kill these people to be sure, because they’re black and poor. Resident Evil 4 and 5 do the same thing, and they’re not trying to make a point like Romero was. For these games, these players, and these designers, it’s acceptable to depict this kind of situation and present it in this fashion, because of how it “scares” people and makes for a “good setting.”

This is by no means the last word on whether or not “the game is racist.” What it is is an analysis of broader, more easily identifiable trends in the presentation of Resident Evil 5. It’s something that we all need to discuss, and I really do mean “we all.” This can’t be something that gets discussed for five seconds and then thrown out of the bigger sites and forums, only to be caught and rejected again by the smaller sites.

This is a dialogue that we need to have, and it should be as inclusive as possible, featuring voices from various communities and points of view, not just your average 20-30 year old white gamer. If we don’t have these discussions, we’ll repeat this highly regrettable, extremely harmful mistake again and again. If we want to be taken seriously as a form of media and as a block of consumers, we have to take our media seriously, and we have to actually listen to points of view that we don’t necessarily agree with.

[I’d like to conclude this article by saying two things: first, this is a combination of various posts by myself about Resident Evil 5, as well as new ideas I’ve had as I’ve played the game. Second, it should come as no surprise to anyone that this is one of many articles written before and after the release of RE 5 that discuss the imagery and themes within RE 5 that are offensive or troubling.

It would be impossible for me to link to or mention all of them, but I’ll try to link to a good deal of them. You can find a lot of interesting and intelligent discussion going on, in the articles themselves and in the responding posts. I’d recommend checking out as many of them as you can. Related posts and articles: Acid For Blood, Brainy Gamer, The Iris Network, Evan Narcisse, Racialicious, Tom Chick. And those are just the ones I've been reading recently, there are many more great discussions out there]


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Comments


Brighton gardiner
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1. Resident Evil 5 is not scary in the least, there is horror but it is not frightening, just unsettling.



2. The game is not raciest, and frankly I am very annoyed with these blanket claims of racism. Look at Resident Evil 4, you are killing Spaniards yet no one even mentioned the possibility of racism. Suddenly when you are dealing with a black population of NPCs it becomes an issue. The game does not need to have noninfected Africans as it is made clear that tricell has purposely infected everyone in the town. Now if there was a sort of objective about holding the line and escorting a small group that survived then great. But given Resident Evil is a Zombie franchise, it is perfectly acceptable to make the game consist of; Zombies, lickters, bosses, and stupid ravenous dogs. I am perfectly fine with nothing but Zombies in a game about Zombies.



There was not a single moment during the game or afterward where I had any opinion shift on any sort of racist tendencies that could propagate as you suggest. As a matter, the only thing remotely racist that I've said was a toned down quip of satire to my friends as a means to mock groups who claim the game to be racist.



The game does not go out of its way to imply that all Majinis are evil. There is also a moment where you are saved by Delta Squad, which consists primarily of Africans. And what does Capcom do? They make those characters endearing and likable.



I really think everyone is over-examining this whole issue. Its really nonexistent unless you slant every possible observation in a given direction.

Greg Udall
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I'm somewhat appaI'm somewhat disappointed that Gamasutra has started printing the insane ramblings of idiots. I'm quite amazed I read to the end of the article. But when reading such tripe, it's difficult to turn away in case the next sentence is as ridiculous as the last. I've played the game through once, and to be honest I thought the game was average and rather poor compared to the previous games in the series. However, to make such fanciful claims that the game is in fact 'racist' is complete rubbish. I suppose if you begin playing the game with a mind to proving your hypothesis then you'll be biased from the first scene. And this is clearly how the author evaluated the game.

Resident Evil 5 is NOT racist. If you don't believe me play the game. I've been to Africa and I can tell you this for a fact; not many people have red eyes and jaws that split in the middle to reveal a second row of teeth. How anyone, no matter how deluded, can think Capcom were trying to portray this as a stereotype is beyond me.

Next you'll be telling me Tomb Raider is sexist :p

Aaron Karp
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Greg, Brighton, I think you're missing the point that Tom is trying to make. He takes pains in his article to say that he doesn't necessarily think that the game's designers were being actively racist, rather that they used old, well-worn stereotypes with very little consciousness of what those stereotypes mean and where they came from. The suggestion isn't that the game will suddenly cause otherwise open-minded people to become racist - it's that the caricatures shown as "horrific" in the game will simply reinforce often unconscious attitudes. Tom also addresses the defense that RE5 essentially duplicates RE4's plot in a new setting, and therefore can't be racist. As he points out, both have issues of classism. If you strip away the races of the characters, as the "RE4 did the same thing and you didn't call it racist" argument suggests, the hostile characters are still poor and "uncivilized."

Again, it's important to reiterate that Capcom's developers aren't necessarily racist or classist. If they're "guilty" of anything, it's not thinking deeper into the statements their games make. On the surface, the Grand Theft Auto games seem to argue that random, senseless violence is okay, but by looking a little deeper, listening to the radio stations, it becomes clear that what Rockstar is depicting is *not our world,* despite the obvious similarities. They are well aware of the messages their games send, and are deliberately tweaking our understandings of the experiences we play through. In RE5, Capcom doesn't seem to grasp what it is they're implying.

I'm sure people will argue that games are meant to be fun, and that all of this is over-thinking, but given the mass market penetration of games (especially AAA franchise titles like RE5), developers must tread somewhat carefully. They have to be aware of what messages are implied by what they do. If they agree with those messages, fine, but if they don't, they have to take steps to defuse them.

Z Z
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So Africa is the richest continent in the world? Their streets are paved with gold? Umm, no. Sorry, but the reason the game is like that is because there is some truth to it.



As for the people, blacks want equality? Then you too can become zombies. Sorry we (white people) took this precious occupation from you for so long, welcome to the party.



Oh, tribal Africans don't exist? Is tribal Africa embarrassing? You want to hide it? Why do you want to hide and entire culture?



So people don't fight when not zombies? Anger isn't a human emotion as well?



Also, hmm, Chris supported the white woman that he found which had the same hair as his "old partner" that he was looking for the entire game, that's suspicious...



The black man that got turned and scared Chris literally rushed him and screamed. Sorry, but if anyone rushed me screaming I think I'd take a step or two back. As for approaching him cautiously, he didn't know the person, you don't rush up and touch someone you don't know, it's called common decency. (he thought he knew the woman).



Finally, where there's rotten meat there are flies, simple as that. Has nothing to do with the location if a slab of rotting meat is on a friggin butcher table then it is full of maggots which turn into flies, it isn't rocket science.



You make no sense.

Meredith Katz
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I haven't played the game, so I'm refraining from commenting on the issue itself, but since there's some misreading of what the writer said *in* the article:



1) the issue the writer took with handling of race in the city wasn't that it was poor, but that like, unlike the Spanish, the poor village was portrayed as uncivilized rather than just impoverished.



2) The issue with the chopping block and the cultural elements wasn't that they existed, it was that they were portrayed as the "scary other" rather than the normative (when it *should* be normative, yes, in a village that prepares its own food etc.).

Adam Bishop
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You know, I generally consider Gamasutra to be a place of intelligent conversation, so it's kind of sad that the early responses to this article are so completely missing the point, and simply repeating the talking points bandied about elsewhere. Nowhere in the article does Tom say that the creators of the game are racists. Nowhere does he say that the players of the game are racists. What he does say is that *the game uses a particular set of imagery in ways which were very poorly thought out*. But for whatever reason, none of the people who like to cry "it's not racist!" ever seem to want to address the actual points that are being made by people like Mr. Cross. Instead they're arguing against things that no one has said.



I'm glad that Gamasutra has posted this article, which is extremely articulate and well thought-out, but I think it's become perfectly clear by this point that it's simply not possible to have a thoughtful discussion about this issue in an open forum.

Z Z
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Umm, Mr Bishop I addressed the parts you're talking about. The fact of the matter is that the "imagery" he is talking about isn't "badly thought out" so there is nothing to discuss. Everything about the imagery is true and has a purpose.



Africa is poor in parts (like other places), is it wrong to depict that? no



Tricell would choose the poor so that they have less likelihood of being caught. If you turn a rich area into zombies there are going to be a lot more questions a lot quicker, fact. If I want to become a serial killer I would have much more "success" at killing hookers than CEOs of companies.



African tribes exist and is a part of the culture, should the culture be hidden for no one to see?



As for the depiction of a human emotion, anger, that is just true to life. It just so happens that anger is more prevalent in a poor society as history has shown.



I'm not saying "you've thought too much about this", I'm saying "you haven't thought enough about what you're saying". Back to the drawing board.

Sean Parton
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This article is so full of holes you could pass it off as Swiss cheese (my apologies to the Swiss).



For example, the whole "your partner is a lighter skin colour than the other African's" argument is the author trying to find anything racist he can. Ever thought that, perhaps, if the partner had been as dark skinned as the other enemies, she might be hard to pick out in a crowd? We industry people like to call that "design" to make sure the player knows who his enemies and who his allies are.

Logan Margulies
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Some of the comments miss the point in a literal sense, but I think they are picking up on the article's implications. The literally wording of the article never makes the accusation of "racism", but what is the point of writing it in the first place if not to raise these very questions? Personally, I'm not sure it's ultimately that important. I appreciated the article's raising a point that is valid, and something I thought about myself while playing RE5.



However, I disagree strongly with its ultimate conclusions. The game is clearly not overtly racist, the author isn't making that claim, because he'd be crazy to do so. Were there such an example, certainly it would have found its way into the article. As for the subtext, it's subject to interpretation, and largely it comes down to this. What's the point of the debate? To establish that Capcom did something wrong, that ideally certain aspects of the game would be different? I'd agree, mostly in terms of design (some day Capcom, you're going to let me shoot, move and reload at the same time. Some day.) and the game's ability to convey horror, that changes are needed. This issue, however, would be somewhat further down the list.

[User Banned]
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This user violated Gamasutra’s Comment Guidelines and has been banned.

[User Banned]
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Eddie Vertigo
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There's a review of RE5 on Zero Punctuation that sums it all up quite nicely, I encourage everyone to check it out and see if your opinions are swayed in any way.



http://www.escapistmagazine.com/videos/view/zero-punctuation/624-
Resident-Evil-5

Andrew Clear
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Quit crying about RE5 being racist. Quit pulling the damn race card out. It takes place in Africa, and sure the main character is white, but him shooting african zombies isn't racist, or a hate crime.



Not one white person would complain if RE6 had a black main character, who goes to some small Montana town and kills only white zombies. There wouldn't be an outcry.



It's a game, plain and simple. Entertainment purposes. They tried to keep it realistic since it was set in Africa.



If we are gonna end racism in America, then we need to quit crying about video games like RE5.

Adam Bishop
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"If you see racism in the game, YOU are racist."



This kind of thinking is why I've said it's impossible to discuss this issue in an open forum. Presumably anyone who sees sexism is a sexist, anyone who sees homophobia is a homophobe, etc. That kind of thinking is so far from rational that there is no way it could possibly be responded to in a reasonable manner.

Rodney Brett
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Are "aliens" the only safe portrayal of bad guys these days? Geeez, someone has to be the bad guys. If it's the Italians in one game, someone will be offended. If it's the Spanish in another, someone will be offended. If it's something as silly as a "butcher" portrayal? Well, I guess someone that's not even a butcher will be offended it would seem. LOL. The article represents a new low for Gamasutra. Please don't turn into the CNN of gaming publications. please!!!

Aaron Karp
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There's a tendency in discussions of racism to forget (or willfully ignore) the context in which the discussion is taking place. RE5 (and all other games) are consumed by cultures who have history. That history impacts how things are seen and interpreted. That being the case, it's perfectly valid to analyze and discuss how a particular product, in this case RE5, can be analyzed and interpreted, as well as the steps its creators did and did not take to influence that analysis. The argument that it is an entertainment product and is therefore beyond criticism falls short, because what are we surrounded with if not entertainment products? Are you arguing that it's impossible for an entertainment product to be racist?

Even if we accept the idea that what Capcom is giving us is a "real" depiction of Africa, we have to question why they chose to set RE5 there. Even if their intentions were 100% innocent, the fact remains that Africans have been depicted as mindless, violent savages constantly in the history of mass media. Anyone choosing to create a story that plays into those notions, even peripherally, has to be mindful of that and can't expect to dodge criticism. What's more, it's not appropriate for anyone to tell anyone else that their perception of racism or offensive content is wrong. If it offended that person, then to that person, it is offensive. You can explain why you don't feel the same way, but you can't tell them that how they reacted to it is wrong, and if you're not a member of the group expressing offense, you're way off base to simply declare "It's not offensive and you're 'crying' or being foolish for suggesting that it is."

Andrew Young
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Have a look at this ink blot. What do you see? A muffin eating a cupcake because it has frosting on it? Rabbits hopping among the meadows. I see a fucking black stain splattered on a white piece of paper. See what i did there? I incorporated the words black and white in that sentence when i could have just said.. "I see ink on paper." Attributes that are conceivably there yet hold no specific merit to what the entire picture is all about. But.. as history might have it, ink blots are usually a pool of black ink spilled on white paper to give a strong contrast and a clear image. Thats why that imagery is chosen.



Take from that what you will.. but what i'm trying to say it that, I too can write a ridiculous set of words that fill the void when all i need to say is, Tom, your a douche. To paraphrase you..."Think about your images before you incorporate them. Do some research on what they might mean. " ALOT of history is incorporated when it comes to game design. You can scrutinize anything designed to mean whatever you want. Its an artistic game design not a historical teachers aid. Kijuju = FICTION Zombies = FICTION. Romero's take on the depiction of Government acting the way they do when it comes to zombies was a design choice and FICTION.



Avian bird flu infection caused millions of could be non-infected birds to be euthanized. Hoof-and-mouth disease brought forth the same reaction. Its a natural reaction that humans do. In this case Zombies which de-humanize an entire group of a people are the product that needs to be exterminated. The game is not about about saving some people. He cared for that "white" woman maybe because she was a "WOMAN." So call the game sexist. But wait no.. it can't be sexist because your side kick is a woman.

What you argue is essentially shes not quite a woman because shes tough and strong and protects you and capable of handling herself. She strays away from the womanly stereotype too much to be considered a real "woman" Sheva is not a lighter "shade" of black, she is black. That argument is ludicrous. Its a couple of people attempting to eradicate an infection of un-humans. Its because it takes place in Africa and depicts the causal of a war-torn society and area conflicted with immense poverty, that everyone is getting so defensive and sensitive to the imagery.



If your argument was about choice of imagery and its connotations, than you should have chosen to discuss a group of games and/or design choices. Instead you sought to talk about a HIGH PROFILE, obviously racially sensitive and most publicized game that is the most discussed for its cultural connotations. Tom, your a band-wagon publicity jumper and your opinion has no merit with me.

Josh Morris
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I don't find the game to be racist either. I don't think it even comes close to being a survival horror. It's more of an action shooter to me. The first RE really scared me, how about going back to places like the creepy mansion next time?



I don't like the bloody item interface :< It still irks me that you can't even discard items from Sheva's inventory and she doesn't give you full stacks of ammo, just to name just a few of the problems. The item interface is klunky and totally disconnects me from gameplay. Sheva's AI seems to be intentionally dumb. Please lose the partner theme next time, or make it truly 2 player cooperative, not internet only.



When are the people at Capcom going to take suggestions from the players as to how the interfaces should work? Obviously not this time.



On a more positive note,

Even though you can beat the game in 6 hours or less it certainly has replayability. More so than previous RE titles, in my opinion. I like being able to bring upgraded items in with you the next time you play through.



Capcom, how about implementing feedback from your players more effectively in future releases?

Marty Dodge
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Killing white people (deranged, infected, criminal) is fine, if they are of any other race, creed or type its racist/sexist/homophobic etc. The Max Payne point is apt. Should I be offended and cry "racist" or similar because of the depiction of people from the coast of Maine (where I live) in movies, culture and literature? Or should the English be upset that the vast majority of baddies in movies and games have English accents and/or are Oxbridge/English boarding school educated?



What an amazing load of drivel this piece is...

Sean Parton
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@Adam: Saying "this sort of discussion can't be had in an open forum" is basically saying you know that the majority of readership disagrees with you. If you think this is wrong, you (and others with your opinion) either need to put out more conclusive, logical evidence or accept that you're very likely wrong.

Jeff Beaudoin
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As a note, I haven't played the game, as I am offended by the controls, but I believe I am aware of most of the imagery contained within it.



You kind of touch on this in your article, Tom, but are the portrayals in RE5 significantly different than those found in every other RE game? As far as I remember, portraying zombies as strange, savage, feral and aggressive is sort of the jumping off point for every RE game. It is sort of an unfair critique to say that the villagers are not specifically called out as being infected when you first see them, because every character who doesn't talk to you in every RE game is infected, as a matter of course. Their location and lifestyle is largely irrelevant.



The first zombie you see in the first RE game is presented in exactly this way. Strange and feral, then it attacks you. Police officers and townspeople are presented this way in RE2. Villagers in RE4 and 5.



I think that having a problem based on presentation they have been using in their games for years is unfair, unless it is a problem with them using a generic presentation of zombies, regardless of race. I get that your point is more that they didn't think about the imagery as it applies to this particular situation, but this is a series using generic imagery that was established in cinema featuring the undead years ago. Portrayal of zombies in media and classic stereotypical imagery of Africans have a lot in common, but it seems to me that the only solution would be to disallow black zombies, which is ridiculous. The problem is with stereotypical imagery of the past, not with zombie imagery of the present that is applied to a specific race.



Critique of the reversion to African customs of questionable authenticity has a much better basis, as it does seem to pointlessly exploit stereotypes in a way that is not necessarily consistent with RE canon. I am not sure why this was included in the game at all, but serves as a much better basis for articles like this one, in my opinion.



Again, I haven't played through the game, so if the imagery is not in line with my understanding or is significantly different from RE games of the past, then I may be totally off base!

Jeff Beaudoin
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Man, a lot of these comments really miss the point and are more offensive than RE5 is.



Nice work guys.

Adam Bishop
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Sean, I would love to have a discussion about this that is based on logical and compelling evidence. There just isn't a way to do that when people say things like "If you see racism in the game, YOU are racist" or "it's just entertainment". It has nothing to do with whether or not I believe I'm in a minority or a majority, and everything to do with the fact that I don't have much interest in getting into a shouting match with people who are trying to attack arguments that no one is making. At a certain point it's just not worth it. I would *love* to have a genuine dialogue about this issue with people who disagree with me. But that's not what happens. What happens is someone like Tom puts together a carefully thought out piece and instead of calmly and rationally putting forward a counter-argument, most of the people who disagree show up to start shouting "no racism! no racism!" Which, when you think about it, is kind of bizarre; if there isn't anything to discuss, it's kind of strange that people feel the need to constantly say so angrily. And then we get into these bizarre side-debates about the nature of the debate itself.

Daniel Boy
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i have to agree with tom:

re5 uses stereotypes to create a total "otherness" the player must cope with it by killing the representations of this otherness: the infected.

These stereotypes include colonial, racial, corporate (maybe even anti-capitalistic), sexist stereotypes (not only in the depiction of women: just take a look at his biceps...) etc. It uses easy to grasp, archetypal dichotomies: WE vs THEM, city vs village, civilization vs savagery. This is no crime in itself. It's not new in the RE-series. All forms of media use stereotypes, maybe we need these stereotypes/archetypes/tropes to understand our reality.

but (big but): you can ask for more. No. You HAVE to ask for more.

I want my horror game/movie/novel to use the archetypes, to play with the fears of my inner WASP and then deconstruct them. Blow my mind away. Rob me of their safety. Sting me where it really hurts. RE5 could have been Capcom's Heart of Darkness or Apocalypse Now, but it has no greatness, no artistic direction. It wasted its potential. It's a nice action game that reuses the same stereotype structure from RE4 just turned up a notch. But it's an empty shell, has nothing to tell us. That's boring.

Z Z
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Everyone, especially Adam Bishop seemed to just ignore what I said regarding the issue. I guess it made too much sense, can't argue when things make sense can you? I wasn't arguing racism, I was arguing the issue that the article brought up about RE5, the imagery of Africa and its people. I specifically targeted the examples in this article to show how stupid they were.

Daniel Boy
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@jeffrey

"The points stands. If you see racism everywhere, you are racist"(post 2)



That was not your point. Your point was: If you see racism, you are racist (post 1).



The problem with (1) is, that you are entering a vicious cycle. To make apoint: "If you see anti-Semitism, you are are anti-Semitic." You can't argue with anyone on this level. That's what adam meant.



The problem with (2) is, that you don't know if Tom sees racism "everywhere". AFAYK he does see some stereotypical representations of race in RE5. And he has arguments for it. He is saying: "Oh I see these underlying stereotype structures, i don't like them. They are in a way similar to RE4, but in a disturbing way different. In other media they use techniques to soften the effect. Why doesn't Capcom do the same?"

Daniel Boy
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@ B N

"Africa is poor in parts (like other places), is it wrong to depict that? no"



It's not just "depicted". Don't be so naive. The SETting is used for the effect. The effect is not: oh poor communities are the target for corps. The effect is: make the player uneasy. Normal rural life is depicted AS otherness and this transformation or deformation of rural normality (the butcher's block) into otherness is for the most part never questioned. The protagonist AND the player are left alone with a distorted view of the poor Africa. It was bad in RE4 it is worse in RE5.

But on the other hand: Maybe the one-sided "depiction" of Africa was a ploy by Capcom to question our world view by questioning the one inside the game :)

Z Z
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@ Daniel Boy



I think jeffrey just articulates what he means to say wrong. He doesn't mean "if you see racism, you are racist" he means that equality doesn't truly exist until we don't have to talk about things being stereotypical or racist. Until we can disregard stupid things like RE5's location and imagery as just a game, we haven't come far enough. Talking about whether it is or isn't doesn't matter. The fact of the matter is that it only "is" a problem if we make it a problem. People, all people need to learn to disregard things like this as just a game, or similar things in movies as just a movie.

Akil Bandele
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Have any of you noticed that in the last two resident Evil games that all of the zombies have been minorities. in RE4 it was hispanics now in RE5 its Africans. Thats messed up!

Adam Bishop
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"That's the common reaction of an idealogue who has their carefully-crafted world view rocked by an insightful rebuttal"



Yes, my attempts to calmly ask for people to patiently and reasonably discuss the issue are clearly the hallmark of an ideologue. I worry in cases like this that I'm just feeding the trolls, but I'll give you the benefit of the doubt and explain what's wrong with your argument: if your argument were actually accurate, it would mean that there would be no way that we could ever actually combat prejudice in the world, since only people who are prejudiced are able to perceive prejudice. Do you see why that's a logical fallacy? Do you understand why it seems pointless to argue against such a clearly preposterous suggestion? Do you really believe that? That only prejudiced people are able to see prejudice? Presumably, then, the people who fought slavery were all racists. And the people who fought to get women the right to vote were all sexists. By your reasoning, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr., and Ghandi were all racists. There is just no level on which that makes sense.

Jeff Beaudoin
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@Adam

"I worry in cases like this that I'm just feeding the trolls"

You are.



"but I'll give you the benefit of the doubt"

You shouldn't have.



A valiant attempt at spurring reasoned discussion though.

Adam Bishop
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Sorry for the double post.



OK B N, I'll respond to your points since, as you say, they were at least a response to the article.



"So Africa is the richest country in the world? Their streets are paved with gold? Umm, no. Sorry, but the reason the game is like that is because there is some truth to it."



First of all, Africa isn't a country. Africa is a collection of dozens of countries, and there are enormous differences between them. Egypt is not the same as the Democratic Republic of the Congo is not the same as South Africa. Is it fair for the game to portray its African country as poor? Yes. Far Cry 2 portrays its fictional African country as poor. The difference that Tom is pointing out is that in RE5 it seems as though you are supposed to be afraid *because* they are poor.



"As for the people, blacks want equality? Then you too can become zombies. Sorry we (white people) took this precious occupation from you for so long, welcome to the party."



There are fierce debates in political science and history about the legacy of colonisation in Africa. Many people believe that the current state many African countries is largely the result of Western interference; the role of Belgium and the U.S. in the assassination of Patrice Lumumba, for example, or Western support for the Apartheid regime in South Africa. Western interference in Africa is far from over.



Perhaps more to the point, I've not seen anyone say that there is anything wrong with black zombies. Again, you kill plenty of black people in Far Cry 2, but the imagery used to represent those people is entirely different. The problem is not that you kill black people. The problem is the imagery used to convince you that those black people are scary.

"



"Oh, tribal Africans don't exist? Is tribal Africa embarrassing? You want to hide it? Why do you want to hide and entire culture?"



I'm not entirely sure what you mean here. The term "tribal" is generally used to denote pre-nation-state form of government. It has nothing to do with culture. You would be hard-pressed to find a serious historian or anthropologist who would ever refer to a group of people as being "tribal" as a way to describe their culture. The idea of Africa as a tribal continent is generally based on misinformation. For example, the differences between the Tutsis and the Hutu in central Africa were essentially made up by German and Belgian colonists. So, to answer your question, no, as a general rule tribal Africans do not exist.

Michael Kowalski
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There are at least 450 different variations of Monopoly. At the end of the day, they're all still boring once you start playing and the game never ends with everyone happy.



When I think about how Capcom decided to bring RE to Africa they were probably just answering the question, "Where haven't we been yet?" I honestly can't think of another game that showcases Africa in any means beyond RE5 and Farcry 2. Incidentally when Farcry 2 was first previewed to audiences I heard the racism argument get briefly passed around as well.



Africa is a touchy subject for many, there is almost an overwhelming sense of guilt when the world gazes upon her. It is no secret a good majority of the continent is a mess to put it lightly, but I have to commend Capcom for not flinching in their decision to go there. It made sense for the series seeking to close many of its plot holes, and show us the source of everything. It was a fitting decision as mankind did take their first steps in Africa.



Not once did I ever actually think RE5 was racist while playing thru it. To me it was just the flavor of the week. All I saw was monsters, zombies, and guns while blasting everything while searching for jewels.



For all I could care, RE5 could have been set in China or in a McDonald's parking lot. It would still have players blowing everything up without really asking why beyond the micro shots of back story in the varies memos and files strewn over the game world.



The real question is why when Capcom decided to paint RE's walls without moving the furniture everyone got mad?

Z Z
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@ Adam Bishop



"First of all, Africa isn't a country. Africa is a collection of dozens of countries, and there are enormous differences between them. Egypt is not the same as the Democratic Republic of the Congo is not the same as South Africa. Is it fair for the game to portray its African country as poor? Yes. Far Cry 2 portrays its fictional African country as poor. The difference that Tom is pointing out is that in RE5 it seems as though you are supposed to be afraid *because* they are poor."



This is where I lose you guys. How are you supposed to be afraid because they are poor? I don't understand where this is coming from. I hear no examples of how the game gives you this impression. They are depicting a poor village and you are extracting this feeling of fear from it because maybe you're not poor? Afraid of the unknown? That sounds like a personal thing, not anything the game does.



"There are fierce debates in political science and history about the legacy of colonisation in Africa. Many people believe that the current state many African countries is largely the result of Western interference; the role of Belgium and the U.S. in the assassination of Patrice Lumumba, for example, or Western support for the Apartheid regime in South Africa. Western interference in Africa is far from over."



Unnecessary paragraph just to show off.



"Perhaps more to the point, I've not seen anyone say that there is anything wrong with black zombies. Again, you kill plenty of black people in Far Cry 2, but the imagery used to represent those people is entirely different. The problem is not that you kill black people. The problem is the imagery used to convince you that those black people are scary."



Again, are you just scared of black people or something? Scared of the unknown. I don't see how they make you fear black people unless you just personally fear black people. I have yet to hear of any specific instances in the game that would make you fear black people. Sounds to me like them just existing is scaring you. Examples please.



"I'm not entirely sure what you mean here. The term "tribal" is generally used to denote pre-nation-state form of government. It has nothing to do with culture. You would be hard-pressed to find a serious historian or anthropologist who would ever refer to a group of people as being "tribal" as a way to describe their culture. The idea of Africa as a tribal continent is generally based on misinformation. For example, the differences between the Tutsis and the Hutu in central Africa were essentially made up by German and Belgian colonists. So, to answer your question, no, as a general rule tribal Africans do not exist."



Well I meant the tribal look. The skulls (mentioned in the article) the clothing, etc. I didn't mean a government system, and I doubt you actually thought I meant that. You, and this article just try to skew every little thing, but government system? Really? Can you say reaching... So no you can't say tribal Africans don't exist in the context that I was talking about.



Finally, you can't pick and choose to respond to certain things only. If you respond you have to respond to everything or again you're just skewing things in whatever direction you want.





Also regarding FarCry 2, how is it different? The black people in FarCry 2 are depicted as thieves, killers, and traitors. They don't show any soft side to the bad ones. They show black people that are good in the same way RE5 has Sheva and Josh. In both cases, RE5 and FC2, it is normal people turned into monsters. RE5 literally turns them into monsters while FC2 turns them into people trying to survive by doing monstrous things. To me, FC2 is actually more offensive because the monstrous things are conscious actions on the part of the black people. In RE5 they're at least victims with no choice of good or evil.

Jeff Beaudoin
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@B N

Every one of your rebuttals are ad hominem, congratulations.

Michael Walker
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First of all, if you don’t “see” the racist imagery, you are either in a state of denial or incredibly ignorant about history and unable able to place the images in any kind of cultural or historical context. The game is obviously relying, at least in part, on ideas about Africans being dangerous, unclean, diseased savages for its sense of "horror," as the article points out. These stereotypes (and stereotypical costumes) have been in use for decades if not centuries. Sure many Africans really are poor, sure games aren't really known for humanizing enemy NPC's (exactly the opposite usually), but this game demonstrates an almost complete ignorance of how troubling these images are. Even worse, little things like the random Muslim "non-black" enemies show that the developers understood their mistakes, but were unable or unwilling to do anything significant to address it.



The common knee-jerk responses are "well, no one got mad when they were white zombies," or "I know a black person who doesn't see the racism, and it doesn't bother me and my friends, so therefore there are no racist images." There are a couple of reasons these "arguments" don't hold up:



1) Most importantly, for historical reasons, the relationship between the two groups is not reciprocal. For example, if a woman tells a man who is similar in size and strength, "I'm going to strangle you," it has a very different meaning than the man telling the woman the exact same thing in the exact same tone of voice, because there is a long history of violence against women perpetrated by men. History matters, and even if we were truly "post-race" (which we obviously aren't) you can't just swap a privileged person with a comparatively nonprivilged person and pretend historical context doesn't affect anything.



2) Even ignoring point one, the main character is a white man mowing down black zombies. If there was a Resident Evil game, or any game really, that had an African American main character mowing down wave after wave of white and/or asian zombies who were somehow portrayed as a dehumanizing "other" (wearing stereotypical white and asian clothes, although the outfits wouldn't possess exactly the same negative connotations, more evidence of nonreciprocity) it wouldn't make this game any less problematic, but it would at least show that there was some crude, misguided effort being made at equal opportunity racism. As a side note, the argument that his sidekick is lighter skinned just to stand out doesn't seem valid considering the long history of mainstream culture judging lighter skinned black people as more attractive.



3) Intention doesn't matter when it comes to racism. I have no doubt that the developers don't intend to have racist images in their games. The images are readily available, and they are used out of ignorance, just as someone from a small midwest town might assume that all asians eat rice, mix up their l's and r's, and drive honda civics with giant spoilers. But it's still racism; ignorance is not an excuse. If a game has an asian character who eats dogs, has giant buck teeth, a horrible accent, a long pony tail, an opium pipe, and works at a laundry, you could easily dig up hundreds of asian people who would say, "No, that's not a racist depiction." That doesn't magically mean that the racism disappears. That image has a history.



Historical ignorance coupled with extremely poor reading comprehension skills among gamers (and developers, sadly, although it's slightly more understandable coming from a homogenous country like Japan) has led to a level of complacency when it comes to racist imagery in games. It actually seems as though racism has been redefined in a simplistic way which allows it to escape the negative label of racism and continue to be consumed.



Look, as a previous poster pointed out, racism (and to a far, far greater extent sexism) has been the norm in gaming and society as a whole for the entire history of gaming (line up all of the African American characters in games next to each other if you need convincing). Because of this, in the mind of the average gamer, racism has to be completely over-the-top to “count” and "earn" the label. It probably wouldn't even count then because gamers would claim that it was "satire" like the sexism in Family Guy. People are getting angry about this article not because they don’t see the racism, but because they don’t want to be forced to label what they see as racism.



Labeling it correctly as racism and dealing with the consequences would also be to admit that gaming has cultural and artisitic significance. Admitting this significance makes it much more difficult to escape from the real world into the gaming world, which remains largely juvenille and isolated despite the increasing age of the average gamer and the ever more blurred boundaries between gaming and life. "It's just a game, it's just fiction, it doesn't mean anything!" Sorry guys and gals, that doesn't cut it with something as blatant as this. Even something as abstract as Katamari has some social relevance.



I understand why people are afraid of correctly identifying what they see as racism. It would force them not only to recognize the racism in gaming, but also that racism is still a significant problem in American society and the world at large. It’s much more safe and comforting for gamers to tell themselves that racism no longer exists for the most part, and that their beloved Wonderland of gaming is not connected in any way to anything worthy of serious discussion or debate.



It's comforting to retreat to a place where racism and sexism can exist and have always existed safely beyond the reach of the labels that would force people to think critically. You don’t want to think, you just want to play. But until gamers learn to read (images as well as words) any attempts to discuss racist and sexist imagery in games will meet an angry, frightened wall like the one you see here. My hope is that as gaming pushes further and further into our everyday lives, the cracks in this wall will widen. Even though they’re mostly kicking and screaming now, gamers and gaming owe people like Mr. Cross and the many others who are trying to discuss this issue calmly and honestly a lot for trying to map out the reality that lies between the oversimplifed extremes of idolatry and scapegoating.

gren ideer
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"It’s so regressively, unthinkingly stereotypical, it’s almost hard to explain or view in its entirety."



It must be hard to explain, because I've never played the game and I don't understand what you are talking about. The one offensive situation that has any substance is the treatment of an infected white woman vs. an infected black boy, but that could just be context (The woman was seen before being infected?).



I can't make a real decision without playing the game, but your article does little to inform someone in my position as to what is offensive about it. I worry that articles like this have no value.

Ryan Skees
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Man, the pretension in this comment section is sickening.



News flash, people have different opinons and outlooks on things. Both sides of this debate need to take a step back and try to look at this from the other's perspective. This whole "if you see racism, than you are racist" and "if you don't see the racism you are ignorant/racist" bullcrap needs to stop if people are ever going to be able to have an intelligent discussion on this topic.

John Mawhorter
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The problem with any discussion of race is that racism is both omnipresent and intolerated and that any way of looking at the issue conflicts with somebodies viewpoint. Racism itself is a rather ingraspable concept that can be defined and is used in many different ways. This discussion seems to be succumbing to the usual flaws. People who don't see racism in something are ignorant (in a good way, I'd argue), but may also be subconciously influenced by racist imagery. People who do see racism may be blowing things out of proportion but are equally entitled to their viewpoint. Therefore noone can agree.

Tommy Hanusa
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I'm going to offer a concurring opinion, but I don't want to blame Capcom for being close-minded. Honestly the portrayal of Africans and zombies and such is kinda odd; but I really don't care.



what I do care about is the fact that they could have made the game 'better' or 'more horrifying' if they built an african society and then had it fall apart. They tried to show it in the first level; but it was so short I didn't catch the place in a state of normalcy. They tried to put to much tension in the begging.



It would've been better if the game started with a smaller number of infected, creating a sort of paranoia where the player runs into zombies expecting to find normal people. It also would be better if the player started to find clues about the symptoms of infection and then start to have characters show it and eventually have some turn out to be infected. simply I wanted a longer incubation period for the virus to ramp up tension so I could watch the society devolve through the effects of a capitalist corporation. (hating capitalism is a much more accepted message than hating specific ethnic groups)



My other problem is with Sheva; she is just weird. She is inhuman, in a sense she is more of a zombie than some of the, well, zombies. while you may be a 'partner' she just gets bossed around by you, until you try to make her do something complex. Most of her dialog is way to static, shes like a robot. She never tells any jokes, she never says anything beyond the most shallow impressions of the situation.



and then there is 'Chris' and 'Redfeild' the right and left biceps of the 'main character'. I mean seriously his biceps are HUGE! It hardly makes any sense for people to have arms bigger than their head. Chris also suffers from the same character deficiencies as Sheva, making me feel like I really am just controlling two massive biceps through a zombie infested Africa with my own special zombie sidekick that tends to use the weapon I last gave them regardless of the tactical situation and has an utter lack of entertaining dialog.



Honestly I want recurring character #2 as my side kick (i think his name was Irving). He had that je ne sais quoi and an accent. when he died it was all about these massive necromancer biceps and its animated 'partner' that needed to find 'some chick'. I would rather go to cut scenes with a funny guy who has a big head than have to sit though the Biceps Super Action Agents go an save Africa from some thing... that some what... who now?



But RE6 has a very imprtant question to answer...

which is bigger Irving's head or Chris's biceps?



the combat was fun though...

Ruben Idigora
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OK, I just find this stupid... I'm from Spain and while playing RE 4 the only thing I got annoyed with was the fact that the spanish people showed there had Mexican voices and that the "pesetas" are no longer our currency right now...



I just killed what I had to kill without even thinking they were from my country and laughing from the voices. So stop discussing if RE5 is racist or not because I think that only makes the black comunity to think about it and creating stupid issues like this one.



Just discuss that RE5 is just like 4 with a co-op. Or for example that every single hero is north American







Sorry about my not perfect english.

Jordan Vincent
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Adam Bishop: ""If you see racism in the game, YOU are racist."



This kind of thinking is why I've said it's impossible to discuss this issue in an open forum. Presumably anyone who sees sexism is a sexist, anyone who sees homophobia is a homophobe, etc. That kind of thinking is so far from rational that there is no way it could possibly be responded to in a reasonable manner."



I think he's referring to the bit that defines racism as "a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities" (Merriam-Webster). What he means is that from his point of view the 'zombies' of RE5 aren't vicious, scary, and unthinking because they're black but because they're infected. Your example of anyone seeing sexism being a sexist works in the same manner if applied to an example where a person always assumes that because a male gets the promotion before his female competitor it must be because he is a guy and not because he's better qualified.



The determining factor in this argument is that people attribute all the negative aspects of the societies depicted in RE5 to the fact that the majority of its inhabitants are black, instead of to the fact that the story is set in an impoverished, third-world area of Africa.



Setting the game in the environment that it is in doesn't make the game racist. Thinking that the environment is the way it is because its inhabited mainly by blacks does. Of course, it could be said that Capcom made the environment the way that it is because it was using Africa and its black inhabitants as their zombies, but I prefer to think that they used the setting they did because its slightly more frightening for a person in an apartment or a house playing their PS3 or 360 to be somewhere that they're not familiar with in the game such as dilapidated building/research facility or a tribal hut than in a South African apartment building that looks remarkably like their own. (I use the word tribal because I'm referring to something related to or characteristic of a tribe)



The incident with the white woman was already mentioned before where Chris is sympathetic to the character because she looked like his partner, it could also be because she was a female and therefore he felt the need to protect her, whereas he may have felt threatened by the male who he saw being infected earlier in the game. Does this mean that RE5 is also sexist? Possibly.



On the topic of Chris' biceps- Try looking at a side by side screenshot of Chris in the remake of RE1 on GC and Chris in RE5. It's obvious he's been using steroids in the offseason.

David Tarris
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Uhhh... April Fools?



Good lord you people can be thick.

Jordan Vincent
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"Uhhh... April Fools?



Good lord you people can be thick."



You should join the fun. Just pick a random posters comment and try to support their point of view.

Jason Bakker
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This would be a stupid and offensive April Fools joke - one that I very much doubt Gamasutra would make.



I haven't played RE5, but I definitely think the topic is worth discussion and exploration. There's no real reason for there to even be "sides" here - except for the fact that some people have made a snap judgment and decided their opinion is apparently the right and only way to see the situation.

Adam Bishop
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"The determining factor in this argument is that people attribute all the negative aspects of the societies depicted in RE5 to the fact that the majority of its inhabitants are black, instead of to the fact that the story is set in an impoverished, third-world area of Africa."



I really don't see anyone arguing that. I don't think that the game is supposed to be "scary" or has a negative portrayal of its people/zombies because they're black, and I doubt that the people making the game actually sat down and said "Hey, how can we exploit the enemies' skin colour to make them scarier?" What I *do* think is that, regardless of intention, the game has some extremely insensitive imagery, and seems to be unaware of the context that it's working in. There is a long history of specific sets of imagery being used to try to make white people afraid of black people. The game does, intentionally or not, make use of some of those images. Again, I doubt that Capcom deliberately set out to use those images, but some of them do exist in the game regardless. Context is important.

Gabriel Verdon
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I'm pretty disappointed with the majority of the posts here. I thought better of Gamasutra readers. Oh well, thanks Adam et al. for being the beacons of rationality in this so-called "debate."

Tom Newman
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I was all set to post a long-winded response, but it's not worth it. I find this "opinion" to be irritatating at best.



Writers/designers should have the artistic freedom to create without the pressure of political correctness - that's one of the qualities that separates "art" from "product".



Also, coming from a mixed-race family myself, the calls of this game being racist is laughably absurd.

Stephen King III
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I don't find this game racist. I agree with Tom Newman in the fact that they should be able to express themselves "without the pressure of political correctness".



I'm curious how the people that find this racist would portray this setting if they were making Resident Evil 5? How would you change it to be, in your opinion, not racist?



Also, I'm very curious to know what people from Africa think of this game. I've seen many comments from supposed black people saying that they don't find it racist.



And I found Ruben Idigora's post very insightful. And your English is better than most of those that post on the internet. :) I didn't hear *one* article about any alleged racism in Resident Evil 4. I think it's hypocritical to call out RE5 if you didn't call out RE4. But I would love to hear the difference between the two for someone that finds RE5 racist but not RE4 (and feel free to repeat it if you posted that already, I may have missed it in the comments).



When it comes down to it, it's subjective. I think it's sad that a lot of people cry racism when this merely feels like a new setting. Is it 100% realistic? No. Are elements of the game realistic? As far as the setting, I'm not sure I could say, since I honestly don't know much about Africa.



This is an action game (I'd hardly call it survival horror anymore). Of course Chris is going to have huge pythons; many action games (and movies) will have the ultra-exaggerated look and feel.



I'm still working on my morning latte, so this may not be a very cohesive post. :)

Z Z
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@ Jeff Beaudoin



"Every one of your rebuttals are ad hominem, congratulations."



Actually they're not. Adam has offered no examples to rebuttal, that is the problem. No one has offered any examples to rebuttal. The only conclusion I could draw since no examples are listed is that he really is just scared of black people. Until someone can provide some actual examples of why black people are scary in RE5 that is the only conclusion.



I hear people say "imagery to make white people afraid of black people", but they list no examples. They say long history of this imagery, but they don't list the history or its sources. There is a crucial part of the debate totally missing, and until someone posts those concrete examples of what the heck they're talking about then it is just them pulling their own fears out of their head and putting them into the conversation.



So my post ad hominem? How about everyone else's posts just downright avoiding a crucial part of their entire argument.

Sean Parton
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Thank you, Tom Newman, for saying what I and many others really should have said a few dozen comments ago.



And really, I'm cool with the lack of long-windedness, because succinct replies are more strong in a platform like this.



@ David Tarris & Jordan Vincent: As funny as it seems, I don't think Gamasutra meant anything jovial about the article (the only instance of a news site/agregator that hasn't degraded itself to April humour, that I know of). It could explain some of these posters' comments, however...

Rodney Brett
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I like Tommy Hanusa's post.. I think that would have been a VERY great idea for the first few levels. Show the society in it's normal state, have children happily playing with each other. Show the warmth and kindness that exists in poor rural areas. That way, when the culture around them breaks down once the infected take over, you have a point of reference as to what it should be, instead of the whole infected African people being scary from the beginning. I know it's about context, but the infected context in the first level is very subtle and some players might not pick it up, thus drawing the wrong conclusions.



You can also view the game almost as analogous to the AIDS epidemic in Africa. There are many social parallels that Capcom could have explored with the story, but they went with the "B" movie flick instead.



I finished the game, btw, so I'm speaking on the game as a whole. In response to a post about Sheva being a "light skined" black woman being the only "good guy", there is actually another African that you meet that's dark skinned. Him and his whole team are good guys, in fact, *Spoiler* he helps you escape at the end.

Christopher Enderle
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It's been repeated again and again, but... no one here said the game was racist, just that it had poorly and insensitively (in historical context) conceived imagery. Not talking about racism is politically correct. It makes people uncomfortable and brings fore flaws deeply ingrained in our society that, if they were properly addressed, would fundamentally change the status quo. The industry shouldn't be a slave to political correctness, but as a work of "art" this game doesn't do much to thoughtfully or responsibly address real world issues.



@B N

Being ignorant of history does not disqualify someone's argument based on that history.

Z Z
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@ Christopher Enderle



I'm not being ignorant of history, but black people simply existing in the game in Africa seems to be the problem to many of the posters here since they can't back anything up with actual examples of what they're talking about. All the specific examples the actual article used I already shot down. Aside from the specific examples the article itself brought up, no one has offered any other examples. No one offers any logical reasons for their complaints about this so called "imagery". I have listed reasons why the imagery is the way it is, and it has nothing to do with history. Any notions people are getting from the imagery are personal prejudices as far as I can see from the postings thus far. Until specific examples can be made that can't be shot down like the article's already have been then I just don't see the argument certain posters are trying to formulate.

Timmy GILBERT
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Aside from not being not being consciously racism, RE5 is simply immature and insensitive... Well as much as if it was set in an zombie infest world trade center during 9/11.

Of course not being american such a setting would not be as offensive as it would be for some american, but i still understand that it can be for american citizen.

These discussion just make feel awkward because it mean that my sensibility, if i find these image offensive, will not meet respect, just like i respect the 9/11 imagery to be offensive for some people...



FACT: http://www.joystiq.com/2008/08/22/space-invaders-sept-11-art-exhi
bit-stirs-controversy/

anthony b
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sorry for the lengthy post - i just discovered this 'opinion piece' after already writing ~3000 words on this subject on my own blog - so here's ~1500 more:



"…Chris and Sheva find a butcher’s block, topped with a dead animal and buzzing flies. The game’s helpful text blurbs will then say something like “The smell is awful. Why would this be here?” A butcher shop with meat in it isn’t offensive or out of the ordinary, and in fact is part of everyday life all over the world. …the peculiar Othering of normal occurrences (like a butcher shop having meat, knives, and flies) so that they fit into a frantically horrified conception of village life in Kijuju is pervasive and carefully orchestrated."



what also seems ‘carefully orchestrated’ is a misrepresentation of the cutscenes in the game by the author. perhaps it’s unintentional - but without this inaccurate account of the game’s opening scenes, the foundation of this opinion piece would collapse.



the author is absolutely correct that there’s nothing out of the ordinary about a butcher shop with meat in it. but Chris investigates the meat and remarks “It’s swarming with bugs. It looks rotten.” hopefully Mr. Cross would agree that a butcher shop full of rotten, bug-infested meat is a somewhat less-than-normal occurrence. then, moving on to the butcher’s block with a dead goat on it, Chris remarks “It smells rancid. It must be the heat that does it.” that’s probably as “objective” a reaction as one could hope for, in a room full of rotting meat. objectivity that is completely ignored by the author. but then, Chris didn’t come to Kijuju to buy a rib roast - he’s there to kill zombies.



as for the second part of the misquoted game text (”why would this be here?”), the closest thing to that particular phrase is spoken after Chris and Sheva have already left the butcher shop. while walking down a back alley, Chris & Sheva encounter what appears to be the headless corpse of a dog - its legs are bound together and it’s been impaled with sticks. and when Chris investigates, he remarks “The body’s still warm. Why is this here?” - now surely even Mr. Cross would acknowledge that while there may be one or two butcher shops in the world where rotten meat is ‘ordinary’ and ‘normal’, one would most likely not expect to find a hog-tied, decapitated canine out back, its still warm carcass being picked over by birds. and if one WERE to encounter such a scene, it might understandably instill a mild sense of unease. if not a smidgen of horror.



“…from every “creepy” slaughtered animal to every collection of skulls and candles in a shack (”It must be some kind of ritual,” Chris advises us), Capcom’s intentions are transparent… Stop and think, why is it “scary.” What’s being coded as horrifying and alarming in this game are poor, “West African,” people who froth at the mouth and cannot be trusted due to their violent natures.”



actually what’s being coded as horrifying and alarming are, in fact, things that would likely horrify and/or alarm anyone who found themselves confronted by the same imagery in real life. remember, Chris didn’t come to Kijuju as part of some group tour, only to find it a very different place than what was advertised in the brochure - he’s been dispatched to a “bioterrorist hotspot” to restore safety and stability. and it’s not unsafe and unstable because the people are poor, or violent, or African. it’s unsafe and unstable because terrorists have taken over, using the remnants of Umbrella Corporation’s bio-weapons. it really couldn’t be more clear, it’s spoken (and captioned) in the first 3 minutes of the game. as for why it’s “scary”, we’re talking about the confluence of various strains of mutagens, parasites, and viruses in THE BIRTHPLACE OF VOODOO. that’s why it’s “scary”.



“Early in the game, you are treated to a scene where a white woman is dragged off kicking and screaming, only to be found infected with the virus, and thus, no longer pure. “



this type of language is better suited to a renaissance fair than a critique of RE5 - at what point in the scene is there any implication that this white woman was “pure” in the first place??? unless of course by “pure” the author means “not yet a zombie”.



another misrepresentation follows, with the author’s comparison of Chris & Sheva’s encounter with the black villager vs. their encounter with the white woman. Chris DOES approach the black villager carefully - after all, he’s just seen the man restrained on the ground by two other villagers. he holsters his gun and places a hand on the man’s shoulder, asking “Are you OK?” - but when he withdraws, it’s not because the man merely “screams out”, it’s because the man lashes out at him. in the case of the white woman, they lose sight of her after she’s “dragged off” - then when Chris rushes into a room in the building, she’s standing just inside and appears to faint, so he catches her. the main difference between these two encounters is that Chris & Sheva witnessed the black villager being accosted by two other suspicious villagers. they did not witness the same thing being done to the white woman, and thus had less reason to suspect her of being infected.



the Majini of the marshlands, who’ve apparently begun dressing like their ancestors, wear outfits that the author claims “has no basis in any regional traditions but is instead pulled from the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull roster of “primitive” clothing” - these particular zombies seem like an amalgam of several different cultures - they carry shields reminiscent of the Zulu (not West African, but African nonetheless), their faces and bodies are painted white as befitting practitioners of voodoo (the same voodoo that is still widely practiced in West Africa), and the ornamental headpieces seem like evil renditions of the masks used by the Dogon, of Mali (West Africa). evil renditions, because this time they’ve been made by ZOMBIES. to assert that this style of dress has no basis in any regional traditions is, at best, disingenuous.



the author takes issue with the presentation of Sheva because she’s black, but the wrong kind of black. or rather, not black enough. because she’s light-skinned, clean(?) and respectful(??) - i can’t imagine how this critique could be any more insulting.. Josh, the NPC who’s Sheva’s mentor and a frequent contributor to the gameplay, is also clean, respects the military hierarchy, and has darker skin than Sheva. i wonder if Mr. Cross considers him to be a “safe” black person, or is he also “the worst kind”? it’s vital to note that the dirtiness and hostility of the locals has absolutely nothing to do with their skin color, and EVERYTHING to do with the fact that their country has been taken over by bio-terrorists, and that THEY ARE FREAKING ZOMBIES.



when Chris first arrives in Kijuju, Sheva mentions that “Tensions are running high ever since the change in government” - i instantly thought back to the violence that erupted in Kenya following the 2007 elections, in which nearly a thousand people were killed. sure, Kenya’s not in West Africa - but the point is that recent events in real-life Africa give a precedent to the staging of this game. the portrayal of this fictional African town may be viewed by the author as “regressively, unthinkingly stereotypical”, or as “a dangerous, primitive, scary place, where good, nice white people really don’t want to be caught hanging out around.” - Capcom has chosen Africa as the setting for this survival-horror episode, so it seems likely they’d borrow imagery from the entire continent to give Kijuju the scariest vibe possible.



but let’s not pretend that there isn’t a deep dark history of violence in Africa from which to draw these images. where else on the planet, in the last 20 years, have rape and amputation been institutionalized as weapons of war? where else but Central Africa have armies been populated by over 100,000 child soldiers, some younger than 10? where else but Rwanda were nearly a million people killed over the course of just three months (primarily by being hacked to death with machetes) at a rate of nearly 9000 a day, EVERY DAY? Liberia, Cote d’Ivoire, and Sierra Leone are all still recovering from their own recent conflicts. concentrate all that violent history into a single, fictional, West African country and you’ve got quite a “scary place” indeed, to serve as the setting for Resident Evil 5.



incidentally, the author’s gratuitous use of “quotes” throughout the article where none are required (except to include direct quotations) seems kind of smarmy. the misrepresentations of RE5’s content in this article seem aimed at people who haven’t yet played the game… those of us who HAVE played it know (or should know) that we’re being treated to a false narrative.



and to anyone who HASN’T played it yet, for fear of somehow being turned into a racist: all of these cutscenes are available on youtube, many in HD quality – i would encourage you to view the scenes for yourselves and draw your own conclusions.



the full post is located @ http://www.observulsion.com


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