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Playing together shouldn't hurt
February 16, 2009 1:46 PM   Subscribe

The Socially Conscious Gamer is just the most recent example of growing discussions about how gamer culture and problems with silencing and pushing women out, wallowing in racist stereotypes, self-fulfilling cycles of exclusion, and why these conversations are hard, if not impossible to have. Still, if rational discussions can be had about games dealing with slavery, perhaps there is still hope. Personally, I can't wait for escapism to be for all of us, and not about escaping FROM us.
posted by yeloson (159 comments total) 46 users marked this as a favorite

 
I remember when the first trailers came out for Resident Evil 5, depicting a lily-white man running around an African village mowing down hordes of rabid black people. The discussions on sites like Kotaku, where white gamers insisted that there was nothing racist about it, were absolutely infuriating, while the discussion on Stormfront, where gamers were openly salivating at the prospect of a game where a white dude goes to Africa and mows down hordes of rabid black people, was predictable and (oddly) seemingly more honest.
posted by Pope Guilty at 1:55 PM on February 16, 2009 [11 favorites]


Dan Whitehead's review of RE5 apparently doesn't have much better to say. Over on Racialicious they're having the conversation they couldn't have on a mainstream site.
posted by yeloson at 2:01 PM on February 16, 2009


I wonder if they've heard about the rape simulator game being sold on Amazon Japan.
posted by saulgoodman at 2:02 PM on February 16, 2009


So far, I haven't seen anyone game specific tackling it, though a lot of good discussion is going on about it.
posted by yeloson at 2:06 PM on February 16, 2009


oh, hot damn! great post. Yeah, the Resident Evil 5 controversy is a big deal, especially with Eurogamer writing that apparently there really is some tremendously insensitive material in the full retail release.

It's odd how, with games, the fanbase (and I count myself in there) can get so rabid in defense of the medium that we forget that individual titles can and should stand or fall on their own merits. In the case of Resident Evil 5, part of the difficulty in that conversation was that people simply refused to understand what writers like N'Gai Croal were saying about how Imagery can have historical implications. That a game creator doesn't necessarily need to intend to offend anyone, but can simply be ignorant or insensitive toward the history of race relations in the world.

The idea that an American white dude can go wandering around Africa like a one man (and one very hollywood style african woman) supercop killing black people indiscriminately without invoking the memory of centuries of White presence in Africa is absurd. Sure, it's likely that a bunch of Japanese dudes were just trying to change the location for a plot that's similar to Resident Evil 4 (with its Spanish town), and they're not bad people for this. But damn, that trailer and the demo really cam off badly despite their best intentions. It's not a condmenation of games to say so. I'd say make ourselves look pretty terrible by leaping to its defense even though the problem imagery is right there for us to see. As good as the game might be, and as much as the creators might deserve to profit by their work, there comes a point where gamers as a community should demand better of the games we play.
posted by shmegegge at 2:09 PM on February 16, 2009 [12 favorites]


Frankly Resident Evil 5 just doesn't look that great a game. And further, from what I have seen and heard of it, it seems like it, well, wasn't really thought through very well, from a cultural standpoint. But, playing devil's advocate, I think I detect a little confirmation bias right off the bat in the quoted excerpt from Whitehead's review:

"One of the first things you see in the game, seconds after taking control of Chris Redfield, is a gang of African men brutally beating something in a sack. Animal or human, it’s never revealed..."

Maybe they were beating the shit out of a zombie?
posted by turgid dahlia at 2:11 PM on February 16, 2009


(shows how out of touch i am. i didn't realize that story from boing boing had been covered so extensively in the mainstream press.)
posted by saulgoodman at 2:14 PM on February 16, 2009


Hey! Shoutouts to the awesome RPG designer Julia Bond Ellingboe and the compelling RPG podcaster Clyde Roher! How awesome!

Well posted, yeloson. Well posted.
posted by edheil at 2:18 PM on February 16, 2009


turgid, maybe it was a zombie -- but it would have been a black zombie.
posted by boo_radley at 2:28 PM on February 16, 2009


Yeah, this is a great post, and I wish I had more time right now to look at your links. I'll try and get back to them later.
posted by Caduceus at 2:28 PM on February 16, 2009


From Eurogamer's review of Resident Evil 5:
Later on, there’s a cut-scene of a white blonde woman being dragged off, screaming, by black men.
What the everloving fuck?!
posted by Kattullus at 2:31 PM on February 16, 2009


I disagree with Peterson's exclusion of CJ in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas as a stereotypical portrayal of a black character, for two reasons: first, try to portray a black youth from/in a neighbourhood with gang and drug problems, whose trying to deal with those problems, and not fall prey to any stereotypes; second, by playing through the game as CJ you get a certain depth in the character that can't help but subvert stereotypes insofar as stereotypes are, almost by definition, shallow things.

That said, her point remains: a white male is the default character in virtually all games, except where a hyper-masculine yet still super-busty female is used, and it's plain that game developers still don't really get the point of diversity.
posted by fatbird at 2:40 PM on February 16, 2009


I remember once playing "Perfect Dark" on the N64 - all of a sudden I came to the realization that Ms Dark is a rubbish secret agent because all she seems to do is massacre people in the most unsubtle possible way - most FPS games are quite horrendous things when you think about them... if they were in the real world they would be classed as outrageous massacres, even war crimes.
posted by salimfadhley at 2:45 PM on February 16, 2009 [4 favorites]


This all smacks of videogame gentrification...while I understand that there are emotional connotations attached to violence between different racial groups, isn't the Resident Evil series kinda mostly made by Japanese people for Japanese people? While the Japanese don't have a proud history when it comes to slavery, surely the context is different. Again, this is a Japanese videogame featuring American heroes, which is a country that Japan has an ambivalent relationship with. Couldn't it be seen, like Grand Theft Auto, to be satirical?

I don't think that violence between Caucasians and Africans has the same sorts of connotations to a Japanese person as it does to a person born in the United States. I think it's more about a new and exotic setting for the action than an attempt to reinforce racial stereotypes. While some of the material may seem offensive, even, it's also insensitive to try to force American values down Japanese throats. Just pull back, shake your head a little, and let it go.
posted by chrisgregory at 2:50 PM on February 16, 2009 [2 favorites]


You'd like the first few levels of Deus Ex, where you get a choice as to whether or not your matrix-coat wearing super-agent gets to gun down tons of people or not, and if you do various NPCs act vaguely horrified by it. After that it''s pretty much just killing people by the truckload though.
posted by Artw at 2:51 PM on February 16, 2009 [2 favorites]


I was setting up my xbox live account not too long ago. My boyfriend and (male) roommate both warned me to make sure I picked a gender-neutral or overtly male name, without knowing the other had warned me already.

When it's common sense advice to warn people to hide their gender because they WILL be harassed otherwise, well, you've got a big problem.
posted by Kellydamnit at 2:52 PM on February 16, 2009 [17 favorites]


I'd say someone ought to stand up for the living dead, but the fuckers keep standing up by themselves.
posted by Artw at 2:54 PM on February 16, 2009 [17 favorites]


isn't the Resident Evil series kinda mostly made by Japanese people for Japanese people?

There's 127M Japanese people, and 330M Americans, and 770M Europeans. Japan is a strong market for video games, but videogames which are released in Japan, America, and Europe, as Capcom's are, can hardly be said to be "mostly made... for Japanese people".

While the Japanese don't have a proud history when it comes to slavery, surely the context is different.

Japan's national culture is racist to a degree that would shock most Americans.

You'd like the first few levels of Deus Ex, where you get a choice as to whether or not your matrix-coat wearing super-agent gets to gun down tons of people or not, and if you do various NPCs act vaguely horrified by it. After that it''s pretty much just killing people by the truckload though.

This is not an accurate representation of Deus Ex. There is only one person who must die to finish the game, and there are many situations where you're better off eluding enemies than killing them.
posted by Pope Guilty at 2:58 PM on February 16, 2009 [5 favorites]


/looks at huge pile of bodies.

Oops.
posted by Artw at 3:03 PM on February 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


This all smacks of videogame gentrification...while I understand that there are emotional connotations attached to violence between different racial groups, isn't the Resident Evil series kinda mostly made by Japanese people for Japanese people?

well, that's an odd use of the term gentrification, which usually refers to what happens to a predominantly black neighborhood when white people move in. I'm not sure how the two are similar. Are video games too ghetto and now you think game critics are trying to take the blacks out of it? i'm confused.

also, regarding the "made by Japanese people for Japanese people" thing...

This is less true than it used to be.

Either way, it's important to remember that, even though the Japanese developers almost certainly didn't intend for the game to be as insensitive as it seems to be, that doesn't mean it's not insensitive. That just means that its problems are accidental, not that they don't exist.
posted by shmegegge at 3:04 PM on February 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


turgid, maybe it was a zombie -- but it would have been a black zombie.

Yah but my point is, they weren't beating it just because they are savages.

Still, if they Africa they're living in is anything like the Africa depicted in Far Cry 2, I guess it's understandable they'd go a little loopy. I just drove through this checkpoint two minutes ago and massacred everybody in it, how come it's full of baddies again? Why is it that I'm a hardened mercenary who pulls bullets out of his own leg with the pliers on a Leatherman but I can't scrabble up this very slight gradient, or vault over this small rock? Why do you all talk so quickly? What are these Land Rovers made of, hope? And you've obviously got a mobile phone, you just called me on it!, so why the fuck do I have to drive all the way to the other side of the map just to have you tell me in person that you will meet me back at the place I just was?
posted by turgid dahlia at 3:06 PM on February 16, 2009 [11 favorites]


-y
posted by turgid dahlia at 3:07 PM on February 16, 2009


This is pretty funny, we have simulated murder and that's OK, but simulated racism is a no-no. This holds true in movies and TV, too, but it still feels like the pot calling the kettle black to me. Why is violence acceptable?
posted by doctor_negative at 3:07 PM on February 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


Remember, racism is bad, and if something has been tagged as racist you automatically and without question have to stop liking it or you are a bad person. Keep your bingo cards close at all times.
posted by Artw at 3:08 PM on February 16, 2009 [2 favorites]


This symptom of our society allows youngsters, and young-in-mind teens and 20's people to actually and EASILY control something in their lives. It doesn't take much other than repetition and mastering of the digital manipulation of whatever, and the poor souls can actually (though really it is virtually) be something they are not, and have some relative control over something in their lives. Very sad, this phenomenon, but a symptom of our crumbling society.
posted by GreyFoxVT at 3:09 PM on February 16, 2009


When it's common sense advice to warn people to hide their gender because they WILL be harassed otherwise, well, you've got a big problem.

The key to fun online play, in my opinion, is to find a group of friends and stick with them. Otherwise you're going to get the 13 year old kids who get a kick out of saying fuck and are generally bored and alone, waiting for their parents to come home.

I did play a lot, I mean a lot of Halo 3 when it came out. I don't think I ran into more than a dozen females over that time period. It was seriously very, very rare. When they did play, it really wasn't a big deal. I would say most my online experiences came out a lot better than I thought they would. Sure you'd have the kid who'd yell "faggot" for no other reason but to hear himself say it, but directed hate was really rare. I played with a black friend who actually used 'blackfriend' as a part of his handle and I don't believe he was harassed once, which again surprised me. Outside of the cesspools of non-ranked big team battles, middle school bravado really doesn't exist like you think it would. I was actually surprised by how little I had to use the ignore function.
posted by geoff. at 3:09 PM on February 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


And you've obviously got a mobile phone, you just called me on it!, so why the fuck do I have to drive all the way to the other side of the map just to have you tell me in person that you will meet me back at the place I just was?

also, if I'm hear to stop the influx of guns into the country and to curtail the diamond trade that is tearing the country apart, why am I running around like a madman stealing every diamond I can get my hands on and trading them to arms dealers for guns to kill more people with?
posted by shmegegge at 3:09 PM on February 16, 2009 [4 favorites]


I'll reserve final judgment on the racial elements of RE5's plotting until the full game's released and we see some more reviews. But based on playing the demo, it's no sale for me at this point for purely formal reasons--specifically, the mandatory AI partner in single-player mode has no earthly idea how to play Resident Evil. She flagrantly wastes ammunition, she doesn't go for headshots, she doesn't take cover, she'll cheerfully run into the middle of a bunch of zombies and start screaming "Help, help!", and worst of all, the death of the AI partner results in a game over. (That's the problem with AI teammates in general--if they're not as good as you, they're annoying, and if they're better than you, then why not put the controller down and let the game play itself?)

chrisgregory: Couldn't it be seen, like Grand Theft Auto, to be satirical?

The reason I'm willing to give RE5 the benefit of the doubt until the game's release is that I think RE4 does have elements of satire in it that aren't initially evident--there's a point (about when Leon Kennedy meets the boss of the game for the first time) when the game (in which a corn-fed David Bowie look-alike goes on a one-man killing spree) turns into something of a metafictional critique of America's view of itself as evidenced in popular culture that's its principal export. (Remember Saddler saying, "The American prevailing is a cliché that only happens in your Hollywood movies.") Consider also that from Leon's perspective, every foreigner is most likely a zombie, to be shot on sight, and I think that the game actually attempts to put the player in a position in which that attitude is somewhat uncomfortable (at least in the first act, the one in the village, where you don't know what's going on. Remember when you kill the very first guy in the house and examine him--the subtitles read, "He's not a zombie....").

It might turn out that in a larger context, RE5 uses overtly racist imagery as part of a similar satire of American attitudes. That smacks of what I call the Natural Born Killers defense (in which you try to have your cake and eat it too, showing the viewer endless violence while simultaneously wringing your hands about how violent the world is), but that's different from saying that the game uses deliberately racist imagery indiscriminately.

But I don't know. I haven't seen anything of the game yet, other than the demo, and so I'm speculating.
posted by Prospero at 3:16 PM on February 16, 2009


I have virtually no interest in playing Resident Evil 5, but I can concede that the idea of basing a zombie survival horror story in a third world area has some appeal. There is less infrastructure to protect you, but there is also a better chance that your time there would have trained you to improvise and thus improve your self reliance.

The thing is, why the hell didn't they just make the protagonist a black guy? From the area? It would have been completely story-appropriate, and would have totally eliminated any kind of controversy.

I mean, it's not like the idea of a strong and capable black character isn't deeply ingrained in the culture of zombie fighting already or anything.
posted by quin at 3:19 PM on February 16, 2009 [6 favorites]


It's odd how, with games, the fanbase (and I count myself in there) can get so rabid in defense of the medium that we forget that individual titles can and should stand or fall on their own merits. In the case of Resident Evil 5, part of the difficulty in that conversation was that people simply refused to understand what writers like N'Gai Croal were saying about how Imagery can have historical implications. That a game creator doesn't necessarily need to intend to offend anyone, but can simply be ignorant or insensitive toward the history of race relations in the world.

I think a big part of the problem is that, for better or for worse, the story elements of a game almost always take a backseat to the gameplay elements. Read any video game review and see how much time they spend on the technical aspects in contrast to the storytelling. It's nearly the exact opposite of reviews of films, which might spend a paragraph on cinematography and the rest of the review critiquing the characters and story.

So when you talk about a game standing or falling on its own merits, the major emphasis tends to be on its technical merits, so much so that it can seem odd to even have an in depth discussion of the historical and cultural statements made by the game. How many people talked about the cultural or historical impact of Doom 3, versus how many talked about the lack of an ability to hold a weapon and flashlight at the same time?

Personally, though, I think these kinds of conversations in general are a good thing. People have talked about the messages games send, but most of those voices have come from "concerned parents" or other groups that neither understand nor enjoy games. It would be nice if the gaming industry and gamers alike took more time to think about the kinds of stories their games tell, rather than ignoring storytelling in favor of raw gameplay.
posted by burnmp3s at 3:20 PM on February 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


to anyone who is going to try to pull the 'it's from japan, they're japanese, they don't know any better...' line i just want to say, "they do know better." everybody in that country is well aware of american hostility to non-whites and can comment on it, extrapolate on the topic and understands the issues.

those folks don't live in some backwater where they never got exposed to american racism. it seems like a last ditch effort to afford them, the designers, some false shelter. they watch u.s. movies, listen to u.s. music, read u.s. books. come on; they aren't stupid.

but are they that smart? the natural born killers defense is a pretty big leap to take.
posted by artof.mulata at 3:20 PM on February 16, 2009 [2 favorites]


Geeks are a self-selecting crowd, up to a point, but they also exclude people. Girls with an interest in fantasy, science fiction, gaming etc. are often excluded at an early age and kept out of geekdom. Having grown up for most of my childhood in a largely monocultural society (though that's been changing lately) I can't say whether non-white people were similarly excluded but girls were kept out of geek culture because they were girls. They weren't "smart enough" or "liked girly things" and didn't fit in (I'm talking early years here, 9-12 years old). I have heard similar stories from geeky female friends in the U. S. so I'm assuming that this kind of behavior was fairly common of pre-teen geeks in my age group (I'm born in 1981).

I see signs that this may have changed (Harry Potter geekdom seems about evenly split among the sexes) and I hope that it's true. But I don't find it strange that many women give up on gamer culture.
posted by Kattullus at 3:25 PM on February 16, 2009 [5 favorites]


That this debate is occuring while actual Africans are being slaughtered reminds me of how sweet we have it in the developed world.
posted by Joe Beese at 3:25 PM on February 16, 2009 [3 favorites]


turgid dahlia : Far Cry 2...I just drove through this checkpoint two minutes ago and massacred everybody in it, how come it's full of baddies again?

I'm choosing to believe that it's because I personally insulted every single one of their mothers. Probably in some way that suggests that they did something inappropriate on film with a couple of circus freaks and a bottle of vegetable oil, and that I'm selling said film to their children while giving them free vials of crack.

It's really the only explanation for the kind of passion they have for hunting me down and trying to kill me.
posted by quin at 3:27 PM on February 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


but are they that smart? the natural born killers defense is a pretty big leap to take.

in defense of the series, it did once upon a time start out as a totally campy (though nonetheless scary) tongue-in-cheek take-off on American Zombie flicks. the first Resident Evil was this absurdly voice-acted thing with the cheesiest lines and this occasional narration of your characters' thoughts (for instance, when you interacted with an object and got a text response of "Strange. This tiger statue is missing an eye...") that almost dared you to try to take their motivations seriously.

As time has worn on, the games have become slowly more serious, but I always notice the little things in there that indicate they're not totally willing to abandon the cheese factor. If the whole thing turned out to be a massive commentary on American international policy, I'd be pleasantly surprised, but I wouldn't put it out of the range of possibilities.
posted by shmegegge at 3:32 PM on February 16, 2009


What percentage of gamers who post rape jokes on Kotaku do you think complain to their friends about how they can never find a girlfriend who's into the same shit he is? What percentage of those friends immediately punch that dude in the teeth?
posted by Doublewhiskeycokenoice at 3:33 PM on February 16, 2009 [9 favorites]


It's really the only explanation for the kind of passion they have for hunting me down and trying to kill me.

Like how they know you're the enemy even though you're barrelling along the road at 60mph in an enclosed Jeep with tinted windows, and can then hit you accurately with a shotgun blast from half a click away?
posted by turgid dahlia at 3:36 PM on February 16, 2009


That's the problem with AI teammates in general--if they're not as good as you, they're annoying, and if they're better than you, then why not put the controller down and let the game play itself?

I started playing HL2 Ep 1 yesterday, and am having just that problem with Alyx Vance. She appears to be indestructible and posesses infinite ammo; so my best rational strategy is to hang back under cover, conserving my own health and ammo, while she pops away at the enemies until they're all dead. Rational, but less fun than going in all guns blazing.

(Also: bloody antlions.)
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 3:36 PM on February 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


When I was enjoying role-playing games in the early 1980s I heard from 'the right' how those games were evil. They said it was impossible to pretend to be or do something and not actually be and do it. Fighting in the game would lead to killing people in real life. Sure enough, a single-digit number of gamers perhaps did kill people. A few million of the rest of us did not.

Around 30 years later 'the right' has accepted that a person can pretend something in a game and not do it. Now it's 'the left' that claims that if something exists in a computer game it is a danger in real life. To have ugliness in a game is to promote it in real life. The game will magically contaminate the player and make them be/do bad things. What 'the right' doesn't do any more in the name of Jesus, 'the left' does in the name of anti-racism. Sticks and stones break bones, and words (pictures) now do as well.

To all of you, left, right and center, a reminder: it's just a game. If there really were ideas / words / images / sounds that could not be considered and rejected (and have a place in play-time) then I'd emit those memes and control you all. Here, I'll try... no, didn't work, did it. It turns out people other than me have the ability to consider and reject ideas. Maybe you too, you critics of pretending?
posted by eccnineten at 3:36 PM on February 16, 2009 [4 favorites]


To all of you, left, right and center, a reminder: it's just a game.

Yeah, and Birth of a Nation is just a movie, but that doesn't make the watching it any less horrifying.
posted by Doublewhiskeycokenoice at 3:38 PM on February 16, 2009 [12 favorites]


and can then hit you accurately with a shotgun blast from half a click away?

I'm using fire. A lot. Whenever someone starts some shit, I just whip out the Molotov cocktails and scream "How about a little fire, Scarecrow?" and torch the entire field they are in.

It works pretty well, but it has caused me to start referring to the game as my "African landscape burning simulator".
posted by quin at 3:40 PM on February 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


Valid points, one and all. There is merit and indeed a need to discuss the role of gender and race in videogames. However, I would leave the commentors on most sites out of this particular discussion. Or at least create some amount of distance between the two parties (the makers and the consumers).

John Gabriel's Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory is strongly in effect on blogs dedicated to videogames. Rock, Paper, Shotgun is one of the few places where I venture into read the comments section. I've deliberately avoided getting an account for gametrailers, destructoid and kotaku because it would be pointless to argue with these people (a lot of them working on the 'editorial' staff). The commentors on all three sites are truly the worst of the worst.

It's like talking about film commentary and the depiction of women in Hollywood, with the story not so much looking at the films themselves, but the comments section on Ain't It Cool News. Yeah, it gives you an idea of the audience that spends time online and feels safe in the anonymous sphere of the internet where it takes 5 seconds to mouth off a sexist or racist remark without any fear of repercussion. I'm not sure it is necessarily indicative of the industry and its consumers as a whole. I don't have any stats on hand, but I wonder how many people that play videogames actually spend time reading about or much less discussing them online. I doubt the majority of Madden/FIFA etc. players are interested in anything that geeky.

The trick is to hit the source and get the makers of games to adjust their sights higher. It's a young artform, currently going through a juvenile mainstream phase. Not that film has grown out of this phase entirely, but at least the variety available in the mainstream has increased.

Finally, I get overly defensive of this particular art form (which is also my bread and butter) because games get blamed for every goddamn act of violence committed by anyone under 21. Which doesn't excuse the misogyny, racism and 'culture of exclusion' that is unfortunately prevalent in gaming culture. Or at least among the people that write and bitch about it online.
posted by slimepuppy at 3:42 PM on February 16, 2009


Doublewhiskeycokenoice: Yeah, and Birth of a Nation is just a movie, but that doesn't make the watching it any less horrifying.

It helped the Ku Klux Klan spread in the early 20th Century and was a major inspiration for the Klan in its heyday.
posted by Kattullus at 3:42 PM on February 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


I think the racism behind this is on a much more subconscious level than most of you are thinking about.

Can we assume one of the main goals for resident evil is to elicit fear in the player? Can we also assume the type of fear that would elicit a significant response is being alone, and with a situation that is foreign to you, that is completely out of your control, with little chance of outside help?

If you know the vast majority of your customers are white, let's roll with the stereotypes here, as video games often do. What stiuation would freak someone(read:white gamer) out and have a different setting than every other zombie game out there.

White guy. Alone. Africa. Everybody's a zombie. You're totally screwed.

Everything around you is different and alien, and wants to eat your brains. Barely a shred of hope to get 5 minutes of rest, let alone get to somewhere safe.

Think about the people that drive through just a slightly dangerous neighborhood, and lock their doors reflexively.

Multiply that by a billion, and I think that's the kind of fear the designers wanted to tap into.

Take out the social critique and ramifications, it's an amazingly powerful emotion to tap into in your customers.

In the real world, it's way more complicated, and the questions all of you are asking are very valid.
posted by chambers at 3:46 PM on February 16, 2009 [4 favorites]


Oh, I do want to mention that Birth of a Nation was specifically intended as a pro-racist tract and I do not believe that Resident Evil 5 or any other modern computer game is intentionally meant as pro-racism.
posted by Kattullus at 3:50 PM on February 16, 2009


Good point, chambers.
posted by turgid dahlia at 3:51 PM on February 16, 2009


It helped the Ku Klux Klan spread in the early 20th Century and was a major inspiration for the Klan in its heyday.

No, I know, and I feel ya. I'm not sure it's doing much of the same thing now, and I don't think RE5 is in a position to rocket the Klan back to the presidency, but I see what you're getting at. The really troubling thing about what I've seen from that game is just the sterile imagery divorced from the story. Just those screenshots of Leon in that village with the gun were enough to make me put my drink down. It's not that games like this are gonna send any kids into the ranks of the Klan who weren't going there already, but that when you combine this sort of shitty imagery with the sorts of guys who post the rape jokes on Kotaku, you wind up a supremely fucked up scene.
posted by Doublewhiskeycokenoice at 3:54 PM on February 16, 2009


"Think about the people that drive through just a slightly dangerous neighborhood, and lock their doors reflexively.

Multiply that by a billion, and I think that's the kind of fear the designers wanted to tap into.
" said chambers.

well that is the problem right there isn't it?

and it's the main reason i don't live around white people anymore.




(sorry; i couldn't resist. some of my best friends are white. really.)
posted by artof.mulata at 3:58 PM on February 16, 2009 [5 favorites]


While lamenting the game's insensitivity, I would argue that it does far less to support the racist framework of our society than "the black best friend" who ministers to the white hero's emotional needs in shit like The Legend of Bagger Vance or the Sex and the City movie.
posted by Joe Beese at 4:00 PM on February 16, 2009 [2 favorites]


Birth of a Nation was specifically intended as a pro-racist tract and I do not believe that Resident Evil 5 or any other modern computer game is intentionally meant as pro-racism.

Yeah, I don't really care about that. If D.W. Griffith looked up at me with pleading eyes and said that he didn't really *mean* it I would still tell him to fuck right off. I'm not inclined to let the imagery of that film off the hook just because he made Intolerance later on. The imagery can speak for itself, and while the intent can be a fun fact it's not really as important, in my eyes, as what winds up on the screen.
posted by Doublewhiskeycokenoice at 4:01 PM on February 16, 2009 [2 favorites]


The reason that misogyny and racism are bad ideas in games is that then their audience is limited to white guys. The game manufacturers should recognize that the rest of us have money, too, and would gladly spend it. I was delighted when we bought Rock Band 2 and the creators had realized that women were playing the game so having more female vocalists was a good idea.

That's all we're talking about. Not censorship of "politically incorrect games". Just including everybody is something that's supposed to be fun. Because escapism doesn't work if we can't escape from the same old shit we have to put up with everywhere else.
posted by hydropsyche at 4:05 PM on February 16, 2009 [10 favorites]


a person can pretend something in a game and not do it

eccnineten, are you suggesting I can pretend to affirm a hierarchical scale of the differential worth of human beings in a game without actually affirming a hierarchical scale of the differential worth of human beings?
posted by dougmoon at 4:05 PM on February 16, 2009 [4 favorites]


Doublewhiskeynoice: Yeah, I don't really care about that. If D.W. Griffith looked up at me with pleading eyes and said that he didn't really *mean* it I would still tell him to fuck right off.

What I meant is that Griffiths was trying to convince people of the rightness of his racist views. I have played some questionable games but I can't think of one that clearly intended to turn its audience into racists. Hell, a strong case can be made that Birth of a Nation is responsible for the birth of the Klan. I don't think any modern game aspires to anything like that.

Not that it excuses racist bilge in computer games, but there's a difference in intent and effect between something like Resident Evil 5 and Birth of a Nation.
posted by Kattullus at 4:15 PM on February 16, 2009


well that is the problem right there isn't it?

and it's the main reason i don't live around white people anymore.


Because you're stuck in one of those "slightly dangerous neighbourhoods", right?
posted by turgid dahlia at 4:18 PM on February 16, 2009


(I'm not a murderer - some of my best friends are alive.)
posted by turgid dahlia at 4:18 PM on February 16, 2009


Joe Besse: While lamenting the game's insensitivity, I would argue that it does far less to support the racist framework of our society than "the black best friend" who ministers to the white hero's emotional needs in shit like The Legend of Bagger Vance or the Sex and the City movie.

The big difference is, that critics who point out the racial politics of that role usually don't have their blogs slammed with "lol it's just a movie."

eccnineteen: Around 30 years later 'the right' has accepted that a person can pretend something in a game and not do it. Now it's 'the left' that claims that if something exists in a computer game it is a danger in real life. To have ugliness in a game is to promote it in real life. The game will magically contaminate the player and make them be/do bad things. What 'the right' doesn't do any more in the name of Jesus, 'the left' does in the name of anti-racism. Sticks and stones break bones, and words (pictures) now do as well.

Well no, quite obviously if you think that is the argument coming from 'the left,' well, you've not been reading.

The argument is that games, are a part of our culture. We have these conversations about games because we love them, and want to have the same kinds of discussions that we can have about cinema, theater, music, or literature.

No one argues that playing RE5 is going to make everyday ordinary people go out and kill African Americans. But we do make the argument that racism in media desensitizes people to the racism around them. It's the combination of a lot of little things that add up to institutional racism and discrimination.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 4:21 PM on February 16, 2009 [10 favorites]


well that is the problem right there isn't it?

Absolutely. It's an existing "bug" in the 'white software.' It's being revised and incremental bug fixes are coming out frequently. (my metaphors are not intended for close examination, cf. plate of beans)

This game exploits that bug, and though I think somewhere along the production line the points posted here should have been brought up, quite strongly, I doubt that the racist angle this game can be perceived as was consciously intended as such by the developers.
posted by chambers at 4:23 PM on February 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


The key to fun online play, in my opinion, is to find a group of friends and stick with them.

Free with your MeFi account!
posted by Pope Guilty at 4:27 PM on February 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


So after reading this thread and posting a comment in it, I left my computer to find that a copy of House of the Dead: Overkill was waiting on my doorstep. And I dropped it into the Wii and gave it a spin.

It has a clean-shaven badass character in it that's straight out of blaxploitation movies by way of Samuel L. Jackson, and there's probably something more in the spirit of this thread to be said about that once I think about it, but more to the point--the game is so much fun that after a half-hour with I'm not even much interested in Resident Evil 5 anymore. I don't even want to tell you any of the things that make this game so entertaining (other than that it plays much better than Resident Evil: Umbrella Chronicles, which was pretty fun in and of itself), but if you like killing zombies, then go to your local purveyor of video games right now, and pay whatever the merchant chooses to charge.
posted by Prospero at 4:34 PM on February 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


Read any video game review and see how much time they spend on the technical aspects in contrast to the storytelling.

The reason for this is simple: video game plots are awful. AWFUL. Even the ones designed around and praised for plots (Indigo Prophecy, for instance) are still incredibly weak.

I finished Gears of War 2 recently, a game of the year candidate in many places, and the plot is laughably bad.
posted by graventy at 4:34 PM on February 16, 2009


geoff.: The key to fun online play, in my opinion, is to find a group of friends and stick with them. Otherwise you're going to get the 13 year old kids who get a kick out of saying fuck and are generally bored and alone, waiting for their parents to come home.

I think this may work particularly well in PC gaming. I usually play on a well-administrated server run by a clan, and there are a few women in the clan (and a few others on the server) who never seem to have problems with people bothering them. Presumably, everyone who has tried this has been banned from the server. It also works with racists and general jackasses in general. The banhammer, it is swift and decisive.

Consoles don't work quite as well in this regard, because they tend to use small non-dedicated servers that aren't as easy to administrate and aren't subject to persistent bans.
posted by Mitrovarr at 4:40 PM on February 16, 2009


dougmoon: eccnineten, are you suggesting I can pretend to affirm a hierarchical scale of the differential worth of human beings in a game without actually affirming a hierarchical scale of the differential worth of human beings?

Well, yeah. That's basically the whole idea behind RPG character classes/racial bonuses/etc.
posted by PsychoKick at 4:43 PM on February 16, 2009


What about games that penalise you for having missing limbs? WTF? Nazis!
posted by Artw at 5:01 PM on February 16, 2009


Although she talked about racism, It seems to me the main complaint was just that there was no character she could identify with. And since a lot of the game developers are white they might not realize this, since they would by definition have no problem identifying with the main characters.

Maybe she should direct her comments to the company owners rather than the developers, since their goal is to make money, and having characters in the games that would broaden their customer base would certainly make them more money. Then maybe the owners would make an effort to hire some developers without such a narrow-minded perspective on main character creation.

The sexism in geek boards she talks about can mostly be explained by the age and maturity of the people in those boards. But maybe the solution is the same. If the company owners realized that half the human race is feeling alienated by comments on their website blogs, then maybe they'd be more motivated to add some policies and moderation to stop it.
posted by eye of newt at 5:04 PM on February 16, 2009


The reason for this is simple: video game plots are awful. AWFUL. Even the ones designed around and praised for plots (Indigo Prophecy, for instance) are still incredibly weak.

Planescape: Torment.
posted by Justinian at 5:04 PM on February 16, 2009 [7 favorites]


I meant half the human race -would- feel alienated--I don't mean to suggest they have such a large audience--that's the whole problem they need to work on.
posted by eye of newt at 5:08 PM on February 16, 2009


Ha, wow, I'm sort of on the Blue. One of my pieces leads off that Escapist issue.
posted by cmgonzalez at 5:27 PM on February 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


Oh, I do want to mention that Birth of a Nation was specifically intended as a pro-racist tract and I do not believe that Resident Evil 5 or any other modern computer game is intentionally meant as pro-racism.

Actually, that's not true at all. In fact, these situations are very similar in many senses. Griffith made a mainstream film that was a blockbuster success - the Star Wars of his time - and he, as well, as the large numbers of people who went to see the film and enjoyed it, were surprised by the reaction to the film that a minority of Americans had. Namely, that it was a racist screed. That interpretation of the film was not the dominant intepretation upon its release - as a country we had to learn to see the film's blatant racism. It's been a process.

The same defenses people are making of this game were also made by Griffith. That there was no intention to be racist, that, in fact, he had tried to present a very balanced portrait of Reconstruction. And indeed, many southerners would have bristled at certain aspects of the positive presentation of the northern army. Griffith also argued that he presented "good blacks" and "bad blacks" - nevermind that the 'devoted slave' as an example of "good blacks" was, in itself, racist.
posted by macross city flaneur at 5:29 PM on February 16, 2009 [5 favorites]


turgid turgi turgid dahlia: "Because you're stuck in one of those "slightly dangerous neighbourhoods", right?"

well, apparently, like, yeah; i do. central district seattle, washington. yoooooo!
we got the only real murder rate happening around here.
course it's all just high school kids in gangs trying to take each other out so i don't have to worry about it. i mean barring the stray or random bullet.

you got any rooms available in your house?

(and if all of your friends are still alive you guys aren't having enough fun!)
posted by artof.mulata at 5:29 PM on February 16, 2009


I can't say whether non-white people were similarly excluded but girls were kept out of geek culture because they were girls. They weren't "smart enough" or "liked girly things" and didn't fit in (I'm talking early years here, 9-12 years old). I have heard similar stories from geeky female friends in the U. S. so I'm assuming that this kind of behavior was fairly common of pre-teen geeks in my age group (I'm born in 1981).

Well, as a Hispanic woman born in '80, I actually experienced none of that. I never felt weird for being a gamer or being into sci-fi/fantasy and Star Trek. At the same time, I wasn't tomboyish at all.
posted by cmgonzalez at 5:37 PM on February 16, 2009


Hay guys so like isnt RE5 like how the world works, liek africun nations get in trouble n the UN come along an rescue em from demselves?
posted by pyrex at 5:44 PM on February 16, 2009


The reason for this is simple: video game plots are awful. AWFUL. Even the ones designed around and praised for plots (Indigo Prophecy, for instance) are still incredibly weak.

Unfortunately, most designers just see plots as a means to an end. That's sort of true, but what often happens is design works from an outline and writers are brought in later to bridge scenarios. It can feel as disjointed as that sounds.

Sometimes the writers are allowed to work first and create something rich, but with so many games wanting to be the prettiest and the most addictive, and with the heavy modern focus on multiplayer, solid writing is low priority.
posted by cmgonzalez at 5:46 PM on February 16, 2009


I did play a lot, I mean a lot of Halo 3 when it came out. I don't think I ran into more than a dozen females over that time period. It was seriously very, very rare. When they did play, it really wasn't a big deal.

And you know it went well for them, how, exactly? I learned early on in gaming to hide the fact that I was a woman, otherwise I would be hunted down and sexually harassed almost every single freaking time. Soured me on gaming, to be sure, if there were that many assholes out there not willing to play fairly simply because I was a woman.
posted by agregoli at 5:51 PM on February 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm pretty intrigued to play RE5 because of its setting. In RE4, Umbrella Corp had publicly collapsed and vanished, and yet we discovered that zombie-formulating bioweapons were still being developed by (possibly) the skeleton of Umbrella and/or other pharmaceutical companies. RE4 also sets the stage in suggesting that pharma is only the guise Umbrella has used to develop bioweaponry specifically for criminal/immoral enterprises. And this leads, far more rationally than most video game plots, to RE5's chaotic spot somewhere in Africa that is a battleground for warlords and pharma alike.

In some ways, racist imagery is inevitable and incidental to the story the Capcom team wants to tell. (Note: It's inevitable/incidental for many, many stories that have been told without controversy.) Does that mean it shouldn't be told? Maybe that's a yes, maybe that's a no... Does interactivity with the plot make Resident Evil 5 inherently more dangerous than Black Hawk Down, Lord of War, The Constant Gardener, that 2-hour special of 24, or any other film dealing with the exploitation of conflict, disease, and/or poverty in regions of Africa (and featuring heroic white males fighting for survival)? I dunno... Is gaming culture itself able to maturely deal with these topics? ...Honestly, probably not.

But at this point, we're only guessing at what could be contained within... Although killing the tall guy with the chainsaw is far more tedious than killing a tall guy with a chainsaw should be.
posted by pokermonk at 6:12 PM on February 16, 2009 [2 favorites]


Unfortunately, most designers just see plots as a means to an end.

Ah, but when you get designers who see gameplay as a means to the end of dumping their plot on you, now that is painfull.
posted by Artw at 6:18 PM on February 16, 2009


From what I've heard, RE5's problem isn't going to be the racism as much as the lack of moving and shooting at the same time. While hardcore series fans argue that the original Resident Evil's awkward ass control scheme's and dodgy cameras "heighten the suspense", it has always seems just poor gameplay decisions. A lot of this was taken care of in RE4, but it still clings to making you a moveable turret, which will hurt the reviews, I think.

And also, there's some racism.
posted by graventy at 6:32 PM on February 16, 2009


The reason for this is simple: video game plots are awful. AWFUL

Look at the quality of the story in your average Hollywood (or indie) movie. Writing these kind of stories is very very hard and very very few people are good at it. Video games plots are basically movie plots now, but you're not going to see Charlie Kaufman signing on the write a "Resident Evil" anytime soon I don't think.
posted by drjimmy11 at 6:38 PM on February 16, 2009


I am surprised that the (important) discussion of historical racism here in America has precluded a discussion of the insensitivity of the game regarding current global events.

This is a game that takes place on an African content full of zombies beset with infection. The white protagonist goes there to find "the source of the virus" (And what is the "virus" exactly? A microbe? Or is it the people/zombies themselves, as an inconvenience to our first world consciences?). Its developers have explicitly stated that the game is at least partially inspired by Black Hawk Down (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Resident_Evil_5).

I will make what I think is a fair assumption here - that this game has no intention of grappling seriously with the political context of the humanitarian crises facing Africa, or the political implications of the western relationship with Africa. Not even on a level as sophisticated as the movie it's aping (which was only as sophisticated as Hollywood audiences to begin with). I am going to assume that, as in most video games, the story is a shallow setup for a shooting gallery. This will not be The Constant Gardener of videogames.

And so, in some sense, the people who cry racism in an abstract way (that white males shooting black males always has racist overtones anywhere in the world, because of global colonialization) may be missing something. What this game more strongly attests is the specific disregard of the world community for the plight of Africans in the present; that we see them as implicitly subhuman (when/as we don't see them at all), their holocausts as negligible, and even entertaining. If this game falls short of an indictment of the western failure to intervene in the myriad African humanitarian crises - and I'm quite positive it will do so - then it damns our neglect by repeating the neglect in the form of artistic numbness.

What this game says is that we are capable of not simply ignoring African suffering, we are capable of turning it into entertainment. Thus, while real African women are being raped and murdered in Sudan, while children are dying of preventible diseases, starvation, and HIV, we will be entertaining ourselves by turning it into a couple rounds of Duck Hunt.
posted by macross city flaneur at 6:40 PM on February 16, 2009 [13 favorites]


Look at the quality of the story in your average Hollywood movie.

LOL.
/sorry
posted by pyrex at 6:41 PM on February 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


well, apparently, like, yeah; i do. central district seattle, washington. yoooooo!

Oh, I wasn't having a go at you, honestly, it just appeared to me that you instantly interpreted chambers' comment about people locking their doors in dodgy neighbourhoods to mean people locking their doors in black neighbourhoods, dodgy or not.

Australia doesn't really have culturally-defined suburban areas - I mean, sure, you can find areas where the population is predominantly one race/culture or another, or significantly so, but never exclusively, which is my (perhaps mistaken) impression of certain areas in the States - but if I'm travelling through, for example, Inala in Brisbane, on foot or otherwise, I sure as hell keep my wits about me because it's a fairly dodgy place, but it's not any more one race than it is another.

Of course, the dodginess of Inala is probably a reflection of median income and unemployment, housing prices, facilities, etc. For example, at their McDonald's, you get the triple-beef-patty Quarter Pounders and stuff, which, in my experience, you don't find in other more "affluent" neighbourhoods (though I'm sure they would accommodate you if you asked them).
posted by turgid dahlia at 6:54 PM on February 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


"I remember once playing 'Perfect Dark' on the N64 - all of a sudden I came to the realization that Ms Dark is a rubbish secret agent because all she seems to do is massacre people in the most unsubtle possible way - most FPS games are quite horrendous things when you think about them... if they were in the real world they would be classed as outrageous massacres, even war crimes."

Man, that's nothing. One time, I utterly destroyed wave after wave of alien invader spaceships. Not sure if they were just trying to be friends, but I didn't really have time to think about it. And another time I killed a lot of gorillas, but I was trying to rescue an elusive princess, so I somehow justified this awful carnage in my mind so I could live with myself.
posted by krinklyfig at 6:57 PM on February 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


And I should add that the trailer creeped me out and made me cringe for the producers. It's pretty charged imagery. I can't believe nobody could see it who was involved in its production.
posted by krinklyfig at 6:59 PM on February 16, 2009


I remember about the third or fourth time I played Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance, I felt kinda sad when I went into the mines to kill Drow, because I realized what I was doing was genocide. Shouldn't have taken me that long to figure out.

Still, I like to clear the mine out without destroying any powder kegs, because I like to pile them all up in the middle of a hallway and blow the whole heap at once. The rendering anomalies alone are worth it.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 7:01 PM on February 16, 2009


If this game falls short of an indictment of the western failure to intervene in the myriad African humanitarian crises - and I'm quite positive it will do so - then it damns our neglect by repeating the neglect in the form of artistic numbness.

I for one would not play Resident UNESCO 5: Operation Rice Drop!

The only purpose the African setting serves is as a carrier mechanism for the plot and, more importantly than that, the graphics engine and gameplay. From my limited knowledge of the background of the Resident Evil games, basically there's this big nasty corporation called Umbrella which does bioengineering or something, and then there's this virus they create, which gets released, and turns people into zombies, and it was whitey who caught it all first, in Raccoon City, and then something something, I think there was an explosion, something, now it's wound up in Africa, it could just have easily been China or India, but it's Africa because traditionally Africa is where you go if you want to fuck entire populations in the ass, and it follows that the evil Umbrella Corp. would want to fuck some populations in the ass because they're all about chemical weapons testing and what have you, and it's precisely because we are so numbed to the suffering of Africans in general that this makes perfect sense within the context of the game's storyline. In the "world" of RE, who's really going to notice if another hundred thousand Africans hit the dirt, or another half million African babies go hungry another night?

Do we even notice it now?
posted by turgid dahlia at 7:04 PM on February 16, 2009


"more important than that", ffs. edit window plox!
posted by turgid dahlia at 7:09 PM on February 16, 2009


They should replace the black zombies with zombie Ted Dansons in blackface so everyone's happy and feels good. As long as I don't have to be Leon again.
posted by Hoopo at 7:12 PM on February 16, 2009


Hollywood scripts and game scripts are bad for different reasons. In the former case, a rich and vibrant theatrical tradition has been steadily eroded and steamrolled by a celebrity-and-focus-group-driven production culture. In LA, destroying scripts is a active vocation for hundreds of enthusiasts.

The videogame world is largely ignorant of the fact that a vibrant literary tradition exists. It doesn't even respect the science fiction that furnishes most video game "plots" - plots that are so slight that calling them "derivative" of that tradition is a compliment. Videogame writing is terrible because game studios mostly don't even try, and don't even know how to try.

Yet, in perhaps the most painful irony, books based on videogame plots now fly off the shelves of your local mega-bookstore. Some of the best-selling sci fi is now based on games. The distinguishing characteristic of these authors seems to be their willingness to ignore and whore their own sci-fi tradition, to sell the most deracinated and tepid dogshit to some of the most self-satisfied cola-swilling dolts on the planet: gamers.

Those of us who enjoy games aside from, or despite, their writing, and who occasionally complain about it, are cheerily ignored like the loveable 'pretentious' guy in the frat house, or we're called out as effete whiners.

I guess that we can all take comfort in the fact that these two wonderful media institutions are deciding to meet together in a pool of sewage. But we should be mindful that the news is not so much that game writing is "getting to be" as good as Hollywood writing, but that Hollywood producers have finally become indifferent to whether the writing in their movies is as bad as that in video games.
posted by macross city flaneur at 7:19 PM on February 16, 2009 [2 favorites]


I for one would not play Resident UNESCO 5: Operation Rice Drop!

Yes, that would be so boring, wouldn't it? And what use is the third world if it's not entertaining you?
posted by macross city flaneur at 7:23 PM on February 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


UNESCO trail!
posted by Artw at 7:30 PM on February 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


Yeah, you kinda skipped over the rest of my comment, didn't you, macross?
posted by turgid dahlia at 7:31 PM on February 16, 2009


it follows that the evil Umbrella Corp. would want to fuck some populations in the ass because they're all about chemical weapons testing and what have you

You do realize that the United States is the world's largest exporter of weapons, yes? Where do you suppose this problematic corporation resides?

And has it occurred to you that, if the world community really wanted to put an end to Umbrella Corp's nefarious activities, it might do so by more effective means than sending someone in with a gun? But maybe it doesn't want to end Umbrella Corp. Maybe it likes Umbrella Corp. right where it is.

Perhaps Umbrella Corp. has a powerful protector? Perhaps it's the United States? Perhaps in the end of the game, Leon realizes the only way to stop Umbrella Corp. is to assassinate the US president.

But then, in a surprise twist ending, he realizes the truth - there are simply too many douchebags in America. You can cut the head off, but it just grows back.

Ah yes, but my problem is that I'm taking games too seriously. It's just a game, right? Yes, just like the world economy and the global political situation. It's just a game.

Sorry, turgid, I'll get off of your cloud now. Didn't mean to disturb your little game.
posted by macross city flaneur at 7:34 PM on February 16, 2009


this is so not Gemmy.
posted by Busithoth at 7:34 PM on February 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


And what use is the third world if it's not entertaining you?

But, yeah, I'll still take the bait: you are comparing the "third world" existing in a fictional videogame with the real actual Third World right on our doorstep, which does a serious disservice to the latter. Perhaps a shooter with biting social and political commentary would thrill the pants off many gamers, but again I raise the old, but true, argument that people play video games as a means of immersive escape. Same reason they take opium. Same reason they drink.
posted by turgid dahlia at 7:36 PM on February 16, 2009


You do realize that the United States is the world's largest exporter of weapons, yes? Where do you suppose this problematic corporation resides?

Uhh, yes, that's kinda the point I was trying to make, though I suppose you can be forgiven for deliberately misinterpreting, or simply ignoring, what I said because I did not explicitly state that this fictional corporation is from a fictional US.
posted by turgid dahlia at 7:39 PM on February 16, 2009


Macross, stop being a loveable pretentious effete whiner, or I'll be forced to ignore you.
posted by Hoopo at 7:53 PM on February 16, 2009


Man, macross, the success of videogames as a genre relative to books just burns you, doesn't it?
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:55 PM on February 16, 2009


No, turgid, it is you who are missing the point. I did not say or imply that you thought Umbrella Corp. was from the US - just the opposite. I was pointing out that you failed to see the likelihood, and thus the hidden irony of the game's putative global corporate villain. You failed to see it because, like so many Americans, you have a hard time implicating yourself and your country (and your hobby) in any wrongdoing on the global scene.

You have a hard time seeing beyond the abstract fact, for example, that bad guys treat Africa as a likely place "to fuck some populations in the ass" to come to the understanding that your own country has in the past, and will continue in the future, to see it as such a place. Why, for example, is your hometown not understood as a likelier place to "fuck some populations in the ass" than Africa? (Of course, multi-national corporations being generally indiffierent to everyone's welfare, your hometown may well be next on Umbrella Corp's hitlist!)

And why, may I ask, are "gamers" always so fond of ass-fucking metaphors? Anal sex talk seems to abound on every game forum I visit. Obsess much?

I am not misinterpreting you, turgid, but I am interpreting you.
posted by macross city flaneur at 8:01 PM on February 16, 2009


Man, macross, the success of videogames as a genre relative to books just burns you, doesn't it?

I love games. But it doesn't preclude me from seeing what's wrong with them.

What burns me is the success of garbage relative to food. I don't need to have a grudge against garbage to be perplexed that so many people seem to prefer it to food, nor do I need a grudge against garbage to be disappointed when the popularity of garbage in the marketplace starts making food scarcer and scarcer.

I just have to like eating food.
posted by macross city flaneur at 8:04 PM on February 16, 2009


There is no "hidden irony" in the Resident Evil series. Any irony found there is unintentional, purely, as is any other complex literary -y term, except absurdity.
posted by graventy at 8:12 PM on February 16, 2009


Why, for example, is your hometown not understood as a likelier place to "fuck some populations in the ass" than Africa

I though the first one took place in Yourtownsville, U.S.A., and I assume they're trying to do basically the same game with a new background. As for Turgid Dahlia's video game hobby causing "wrongdoing on the global scene",

...what?
posted by Hoopo at 8:15 PM on February 16, 2009


You failed to see it because, like so many Americans, you have a hard time implicating yourself and your country (and your hobby) in any wrongdoing on the global scene.

YOU RAISE SOME INTERESTING POINTS AND I SHALL TAKE THEM UNDER ADVISEMENT, GOOD DAY TO YOU SAH!
posted by turgid dahlia at 8:19 PM on February 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


macross, macross, macross...

1. Umbrella Corp's assets were frozen by the US government after Umbrella threatened civil order (and existence) by showing zero ability to control its strains of weaponized virus. The company soon collapsed. Stop pretending like it still exists in any kind of effectual commercial capacity.

2. Turgid's hometown was already affected by Umbrella Corp. It was called Raccoon City; its razing was documented in half-a-dozen games in the series. To ignore that [Japan] implicated America first in the crimes that were/are the T and G Viruses for the sake of your cartoonish argument is disingenuous in the least.

3. We already covered presidential assassination in Resident Evil 4: the President's daughter was infected with Las Plagas in the hopes that the parasite could be transmitted to her father. Of course, the plot was ridiculous and the product of men who were so inbred and psychotic as to have no concept how anything outside of their fantasy monster world functioned. This ultimately lead to their demise. Don't point out the irony; BECAUSE WE ALREADY KNOW.

4. Umbrella Corp doesn't have a protector, because the nefarious elements of the world know that should it collapse--as it did (see item #1)--two more heads will rise up. In fact, whatever bioweaponry is being used on the communities in Resident Evil 5 is the product of the presumably insidious pharma co Tricell. It is possible that yet another exists ("S"), as well as a completely unidentified player that has the only known sample of Las Plagas.

I mean, come on, man.
posted by pokermonk at 8:20 PM on February 16, 2009 [5 favorites]


"Japan's national culture is racist to a degree that would shock most Americans."

Well, sure. White Australians like myself have nothing to be proud of either. But the difference is...well, I think if RE5 was designed by Anglo Americans it would be offensive to Africans. In that context it would be unacceptable to most people. That's the difference. There's no way that Japanese people can be held responsible for slavery in America. The context is different.

Imagine if an American developer made a survival horror game set in the Australian outback featuring aboriginal zombies. Would that have negative connotations? To an Australian it might be in poor taste. But I think an American could be forgiven for treating it as an entertainment and nothing more...

Again, if I was Jewish I'd find some of the characters in Shakespeare offensive...but we allow for historical context.
posted by chrisgregory at 8:23 PM on February 16, 2009


There is no "hidden irony" in the Resident Evil series. Any irony found there is unintentional, purely, as is any other complex literary -y term, except absurdity.

And you know, much as absurdist theatre absolutely thrived on the holocaust, Africa is actually the perfect place to set an absurdist shooter videogame. Because horror and absurdity are such perfect bedfellows. Danny Ledonne tried to justify SCM along similar lines, but only after he got heavily negative reaction. This is the problem: these kinds of games basically do what they want and their developers could care fuckall for who gets hurt. But then, after the death threats and sanctions come, the postmodern justifications come spewing forth. They claim they intended it as profound commentary all along. Horse hockey.

The problem is that Capcom is precisely not going to see why the pairing of absurdity and horror makes perfect aesthetic sense in a game set in Africa. RE5 will precisely not be plumbing the depths of the absurdities of African suffering as a specific expression of African identity or indomitable will in the face of tragedy. Rather, it will serve up a shallow absurdity meant to entertain a non-African audience.

Again, I have not played the game, and it remains to be seen - but my experience with past REs tells me that Capcom simply doesn't have the chops, intellectually and imaginatively, to make an absurdist shooter set in Africa work in a way that empowers and lifts up Africans. They might do it unintentionally - but the chances are slim - and they still deserve criticism for their insensitivity.

This is precisely the point. There used to be something called shame. If you didn't have any sympathy for someone's suffering, or if you simply weren't aware of it, that was a sin, but a minor sin. Taking the step of setting a story in a world of suffering you don't understand, and don't really care about, is not just insensitive. It's ugly. It's a major sin. And it deserves to be condemned.
posted by macross city flaneur at 8:31 PM on February 16, 2009


well, I think if RE5 was designed by Anglo Americans it would be offensive to Africans. In that context it would be unacceptable to most people. That's the difference.

Don't worry, guys! This horror story about monstrous negroes mindlessly attacking embattled white women may appear racially problematic, but its designers were Japanese, thus rendering it inert. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to get back to work on my movie about the Japanese superhero who rapes and murders Korean embezzlers. Calm down -- I'm Australian!
posted by stammer at 8:33 PM on February 16, 2009 [10 favorites]


Seriously man give the Japanese a break, we should be glad they get a chance to do any programming at all, what with all the whale butchery and panty sniffing they all get up to, all the time.
posted by turgid dahlia at 8:38 PM on February 16, 2009


Video game writing also sucks because you can't use the old tricks movies use: things like long loading times and crappy AI destroy all those carefully developed pacing techniques that are essential for telling a gripping story. Throw in the inevitable crashes, constant updating of the medium itself, and the tendency gamers have to go poking around in the scenery instead of advancing the plot and you've got all the problems of a GM and a director at the same time.

Now attach this to RE5, and it becomes easier to believe the programmers really were focused more on trying to get your AI partner to stop running into certain death and less on cultural insensitivity.

On preview: A "major sin" that "deserves to be condemned"? If it's that amazingly terrible a thing, I don't see why stories committing such major sins should be pardoned because they're old, or even because they're good. Let's go burn Shakespeare and Twain.
posted by Maxson at 8:49 PM on February 16, 2009


...so what you're saying is that the game is in bad taste, right? I don't think anyone is arguing with that. I'm not sure how a video game is supposed to "empower" and "lift up" Africans, though. There's bigger problems in Africa than what's playing on your average American X-Box, Macross.

You know, I never really thought much of it when people claimed that games like D&D and GTA and the like warped minds and made people lose touch with reality. Reading some of these later comments is making me wonder whether there really are people who can't distinguish between the fantasy of the games and the reality of the outside world.
posted by Hoopo at 9:03 PM on February 16, 2009


pokermonk, I like how you roll.

1. Umbrella Corp's assets were frozen by the US government after Umbrella threatened civil order (and existence) by showing zero ability to control its strains of weaponized virus. The company soon collapsed. Stop pretending like it still exists in any kind of effectual commercial capacity.

Ah, but the move to have the US seize the assets and kill off Umbrella Corp. is an ideal cover. If I were a conspiracy theorist, I'd say that the Illuminati had to kill off Umbrella Corp. because it had become a liability. Since I'm acting the culture-critic, I would instead say the US government had to make a show of distancing itself from the corporation (corporate culture) responsible for the disaster in order to remain credible and retain moral authority. In reality, the idea that the US government and US corporations are morally distinct is quite questionable. They are routinely separated in the American media (and even corporations are separated from the corporations) - where the "evil corporation" and the "evil politician" are the source of the malfeasance, rather than the system itself.

2. Turgid's hometown was already affected by Umbrella Corp. It was called Raccoon City; its razing was documented in half-a-dozen games in the series. To ignore that [Japan] implicated America first in the crimes that were/are the T and G Viruses for the sake of your cartoonish argument is disingenuous in the least.


Actually, America implicated America first. In the zombie movie genre as a whole. It all happens here first. The question is what does it mean for it to be set here, and what does it mean for it to be set in Africa. This is an interesting question for many reasons. First of all, precisely because of the "sequel argument" - that Capcom is just churning out another RE and it needs a new place to set the game. The problem with this "sequel modularity" of course, is that, as N'Gai Croal points out, history is specific, as is geography. You can't just change the location of a zombie film and have it be the same. ESPECIALLY since "White Zombie", the original horror flick that started it all, was precisely about the horror of voodun zombies, cannibalism, etc. Effectively, it was a horror of African religion and the African "other".

Thus, arguably, the problems in Raccoon City always had a genealogical source in Africa. They were never "civilized" problems. They weren't invented here, even if their consequences played out here. So they weren't our fault. America was innocent. Thus, to truly innovate the genre, to truly set a zombie film "in America", you arguably have to implicate American identity. This is something that quite a few traditional zombie flicks do. And, as someone pointed out above, this often has led to a lead or important black male hero. Why? The answers are complex and numerous, no doubt, but suffice it to say that THE American problem has been slavery.

However, the RE series never has the chops to engage such problems on an interesting level and has been content to - again, in "modular" fashion - recycle horror tropes. The haunted house, the scary forest. There is no "content" here. It's the most generic kind of narrative and physical "ambience". Thus, I would argue, an RE game has not ever, in fact, been set in turgid's hometown. It has rather been set in an abstract world of generica that never, in fact, touched America, as such. Raccoon City might as well be on the moon.

3. We already covered presidential assassination in Resident Evil 4: the President's daughter was infected with Las Plagas in the hopes that the parasite could be transmitted to her father. Of course, the plot was ridiculous and the product of men who were so inbred and psychotic as to have no concept how anything outside of their fantasy monster world functioned. This ultimately lead to their demise. Don't point out the irony; BECAUSE WE ALREADY KNOW.

Ah, but the president wasn't the source of the virus. He was only threatened with infection. No. To associate the source of the evil so plainly with the American government itself would offend American sensibilities. But the corporation? There's nothing more American than that, even if it can be conveniently dissociated from America. It is only in the corporate milieu that the "lab" goes underground - and so many of the labs which are the soruce of the virus in RE are buried. In classical symbolist/psychoanalytic terms, this means they are the "fundament", the basis for everything. And so, as in the Matrix movies, RE suggests that science and scientific understanding is the true "source", our belief in our ability to control/simulate everything - including the traditional domestic/politicial/feudal scene (the European "mansion", or haunted house, so prominently featured in the RE series as the "cover" for the undeground lab). But ultimately this is masturbatory - "science" and "scientists" are simply metaformal stand-ins for the game designers themselves, who, in the world of the game, pull all the strings. Ultimately, however, the strings they are pulling are boring - highly tropic, as I've said already - a shallow mixing and matching of the conventions of the genre itself.

But the game never really takes the question of who pulls the strings in the real world seriously. It has an attention-deficit on this score. Which is why the president's infection is not truly implicative of American political foibles.

4. Umbrella Corp doesn't have a protector, because the nefarious elements of the world know that should it collapse--as it did (see item #1)--two more heads will rise up. In fact, whatever bioweaponry is being used on the communities in Resident Evil 5 is the product of the presumably insidious pharma co Tricell. It is possible that yet another exists ("S"), as well as a completely unidentified player that has the only known sample of Las Plagas.

Ah, but when this "head" rears up, what form does it take? Yep - another corporation. So the big mystery of the series is what is the source of these "heads"? In the world of RE5, it's only perfectly NATURAL and ORGANIC (if horrible) that corporations with an interest in using the general population for experimental purposes should be impossible to escape. No protector is necessary because the game, in effect, implicitly tries to naturalize the global economic order. Yet we should ask ourselves: how else might things operate if not through the corporate exploitation of helpless communities, not least those of the third world, who, as turgid eloquently pointed out, are so susceptible to exploitation?

When I proposed that the US was the protector of Umbrella Corp. - that it was perhaps the source of the plague and not the victim - I was making a meta-diegetic move. I was answering the question the game tries so hard not to ask - or to let us ask. Why are things this way? Why can't they be different? Is the zombie epidemic our natural state? Is it inevitable? Or can we take meaningful political action to change things?
posted by macross city flaneur at 9:28 PM on February 16, 2009


Reading some of these later comments is making me wonder whether there really are people who can't distinguish between the fantasy of the games and the reality of the outside world.

Fantasy is not distinct from reality. Social reality is often determined by fantasy, particularly racial fantasies.

Do you not think it's interesting that a major game company is selling the fantasy of black murderers surrounding and relentlessly attacking white victims for no reason? Why can they profit on the assumption that it is a typical and enjoyable fantasy for gamers?
posted by stammer at 9:35 PM on February 16, 2009 [2 favorites]


Do you not think it's interesting that a major game company is selling the fantasy of black murderers surrounding and relentlessly attacking white victims for no reason? Why can they profit on the assumption that it is a typical and enjoyable fantasy for gamers?

No more so than I wondered why the company that made 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand, where the eponymous rapper proceeds to punch, cap, and stab half the populace of a random Middle Eastern nation, which, of course, is entirely filled with terrorists, was selling the fantasy of being a violent black man shooting Arabs. And the fact that most gamers didn't give it a second thought -- N'Gai Croal included -- tells me that most people are capable of reading video games in context most of the time, which in turn makes the RE5 controversy seem more like a matter of selective sensitivity than anything else.

The funny thing is, there are absolutely some racist elements at play, but more in the dialog than in the actual game -- the same gamers who often complained the new multicultural African villagers are unrealistic* were often the same people who dismissed concerns about the new American-accented, blue-eyed Prince of Persia with "it's just a game" -- but that's not the case here.

These concerns aren't consistent enough to form a valid critique.

* And they are: I shot everyone who came climbing through a window at one point, and found a blond, a Saddam Hussein lookalike, an Asian male, and two Indian guys, all residents of the same African village, apparently.
posted by Amanojaku at 9:57 PM on February 16, 2009 [2 favorites]


Fantasy is not distinct from reality

ooookay.

Anyways, I'm pretty sure what I read was that the game takes place in Africa, and at one point a bunch of zombie-plague-infected black African guys take a white woman off into the woods. A disturbing image? Yes. But I think there's a distinction to be made between "the fantasy of black murderers surrounding and relentlessly attacking white victims for nor reason", and a bunch of zombie-plague-infected former-people attacking victims cuz that's what they've done in every other RE and zombie movie and this time it's set in exciting exotic Africa!!!!

And as for this "Raccoon City is actually Africa on the moon because it's not really a real American city and I know Turgid Dahlia totally doesn't really live there cuz everyone there would be dead from zombie-plague-virus-infected white guys that actually represent black guys cuz of Boris Karloff movies" stuff; I just don't know, man. Shit's too deep for me.
posted by Hoopo at 10:02 PM on February 16, 2009


Team Fortress 2's only black character is a one-eyed, foul-mouthed, alcoholic Scotsman with an explosives fetish.

Is it racist to be OK with that?
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 11:16 PM on February 16, 2009 [3 favorites]


That Socially Conscious Gamer magazine is trash. A manifesto of ten sentences? An article on ethics in games that claims "...morality is not an absolute; deciding what is and isn’t moral is the beginning of a slippery slope which at best leads to confusion..."? (What the fuck does it matter which videogames endorse which moral theories if you can't criticize them for it?)

And Kialio's piece isn't bad, but it's not good either. I was hoping for some discussion of actual psychological/anthropological research being done on gaming communities. There are huge gaps in the information provided by current studies, since most current studies focus on the (short-term) effects of videogame violence. (Incidentally, those studies -- even once you scrap the ones using flawed or dubious methods -- do support the hypothesis that violent videogames do lead to desensitization. That doesn't mean we should make them illegal or whatever asinine thing Jack Thompson wanted, but we shouldn't live in denial, here.) Instead, by way of criticism, the author invoked a stereotype of the stereotyping one might find in an online game. Just think about that: to combat the stereotyping occurring in a certain social environment, the author wrote an article stereotyping the stereotyping.

Comedy gold. Unfortunately, comedy isn't quite what's wanted here.
posted by voltairemodern at 11:26 PM on February 16, 2009



Fantasy is not distinct from reality

ooookay.


Burn patients find relief in Snow World.
posted by stammer at 11:33 PM on February 16, 2009


Stammer, the text of the articles you're referring to is about distraction, not fantasy. You know, like how playing video games where I shoot up zombies distracts me from the soul-destroying reality of working in insurance for a living. I and most other healthy people are more than capable of distinguishing between the video game zombies that aren't real and are OK to kill, and the zombies in the office that eat donuts and drink coffee and are actually pretty nice folks. I'm not sure why this doesn't hold true for fictional black zombies in a fictional African dystopia in a Resident Evil game, and the black guy that lives down the hall and totally doesn't eat brains ever.

I'm tired now so I'm going to put on my horned battle helmet and rape and pillage the neighborhood for a few hours.
posted by Hoopo at 12:08 AM on February 17, 2009


I disagree with the article that criticises the omission of the Holocaust from WW2-themed video games. It's difficult to imagine how to present such a subject via the video-game medium without seeming to trivialise it. Whether the video game medium is mature and sophisticated enough to permit a non-superficial treatment, it would no doubt be perceived as such by a large number of people, so its better left out. No-one mistakes video games for historical documents anyway. And they're typically more Indiana Jones in tone (which had Nazis but didn't mention the Holocaust) than Schindler's List.
posted by L.P. Hatecraft at 1:11 AM on February 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I read that article too, L.P.

"[Call Of Duty]...What does it tell us about that war?"

It doesn't tell us anything. That isn't it's function. He is looking for something that isn't there.

What does Moby Dick teach us about hunting for whales? What does Star Trek teach us about astrophysics? Nothing, in both cases. That isn't what they exist for. They are carrier mechanisms for the story the authors want to tell.

Am I comparing CoD to Melville or Roddenberry? No, but then, I guess I am. They are just stories. Some you read, some you watch, some you engage in. Searching for life lessons in Broken Sword or Notes Of A Dirty Old Man suggests to me a complete disconnect from common sense.
posted by turgid dahlia at 2:56 AM on February 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


Moby Dick has a lot to say about whaling, and plenty more besides. Have you actually read it?
posted by dydecker at 3:44 AM on February 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


Also to those arguing that videogames exist in the world of pure fantasy and therefore the morals of our world do not apply: this is why people do not take video games seriously.
posted by dydecker at 3:48 AM on February 17, 2009


Holy cow -- you guys forget your videogame history if you think this racism and/or rape videogame is anything either new or Japanese...
posted by Ogre Lawless at 4:24 AM on February 17, 2009


If a racist video game is OK because "it's only a game" then a racist joke is OK because "it's only a joke" and a racist movie is OK because "it's only a movie" and a racist comment by a politician is OK because "it's only a comment" and a racist policy is OK because "it's only a piece of paper". The only thing that's actually bad is....when a real live black person gets killed by a real live white person? Or is that "only a murder"?
posted by DU at 4:26 AM on February 17, 2009 [4 favorites]


Mmm, good point on how it might be playing to people's subconscious racism to disorient and scare them. I think Yahtzee actually went into that in his early "Console War" review. But then he remarked that he doubted Capcom was that smart, as RE has typically tried to shock people more than go for deep psychological fear. But anyone can expand their range...

A good example of a similar technique is probably Buffalo Bill in the Silence of the Lambs. Buffalo Bill is creepy to young men in the audience, probably the demographic the film was most aiming for, because it latches on to their insecurities about their own sexualities and maybe their homophobia/disgust at transsexuals. Wikipedia says that gay rights groups had a big problem with it, and I can see why.
posted by mccarty.tim at 7:03 AM on February 17, 2009


@starvosthewonderchicken: And the only female character is a disembodied voice. And everyone else is white.

Except for the pyro, the wildcard of the game. Any gender and any race are possible, thanks to the muffle of the gas mask and baggy suit.
posted by mccarty.tim at 7:06 AM on February 17, 2009


Also to those arguing that videogames exist in the world of pure fantasy and therefore the morals of our world do not apply: this is why people do not take video games seriously.

If you're expecting games to be taken seriously, then you're quite frankly expecting too much too soon.

People (rightly) don't take video games seriously because video games simply haven't had enough time to reach any semblance of artistic maturity in the first place. Heck, most people are older than video games. Stop and think about how young that really is; even moving pictures aren't that young! When it comes to the various art forms, video games are barely out of diapers, and while we can certainly choke away its growth with premature demands to be "serious" or whatever, no amount of beanplating nor hand-wringing will accelerate its maturation. If we want it to actually become a serious art form, then we have to let it blunder clumsily about for a few decades or maybe even another century, just like what every other serious art form had to do.

[thick accent]
You can't rush ART!
[/thick accent]
posted by PsychoKick at 7:13 AM on February 17, 2009


".... blunder clumsily about for a few more decades...", I meant.
posted by PsychoKick at 7:22 AM on February 17, 2009


People (rightly) don't take video games seriously because video games simply haven't had enough time to reach any semblance of artistic maturity in the first place.

Surely video games have been around for over 50 years now. How much more time is needed? By way of comparison, film graduated from being a fairground novelty attraction to having pretensions towards being a serious art form as early as 1915 with the Griffiths films and such. Certainly within 50 years it had produced dozens--and many would say most--of its masterpieces. By the end of WWII many would argue the Golden Age was even over and done with.

How many videogames worthy of serious thought that say something about the human condition have we had so far?
posted by dydecker at 7:48 AM on February 17, 2009


Also to those arguing that videogames exist in the world of pure fantasy and therefore the morals of our world do not apply: this is why people do not take video games seriously.

Good! They shouldn't, particularly Resident Evil -- which based on my experience with #4 has storylines and voice acting so terrible they're actually unwatchable past Chapter 2. There is absolutely no depth to the story there, not in the movies or the games. That they're black zombies this time is more than likely a stylistic choice to add some variety to the series.

If a racist video game is OK because "it's only a game" then a racist joke is OK because "it's only a joke" and a racist movie is OK because "it's only a movie" and a racist comment by a politician is OK because "it's only a comment"

I don't think we've established that the video game is racist. Just that people in the US where race is a particularly sensitive issue people object to some of the imagery.
posted by Hoopo at 7:55 AM on February 17, 2009


There are two sides as I see it here:

a - It is a game that takes place in Africa. The virus is spread through out the country it is in, which is mostly populated by... you guessed it! Africans. So the fact that all of the zombies are black is well pretty accurate. Not too many other cultures live there. This is where our hero from previous installments comes in, a white secret agent. He then does what he does in every game and shoots zombies. These just happen to be African zombies. See this side of the coin is easily explained. Hero shoots zombies, saves the world and gets the girl in the end. No racism at all.

b - A white man is shooting savage black people in Africa!?!?!?! Damn..... You can say whatever here but the premises is pretty fucking racist. I agree with DU. You cannot simply say "It's just a game." Where does this logic stop?

I doubt the programmers did this on purpose. They figured, we did the European town, house in the woods, American city... what's next? They then picked Africa. Could they have gone with South America or the Mid East, or even Somewhere in China? Sure but Africa has a mysterious 2nd/3rd world undeveloped charm to it that seemed to fit the story better.

Lastly I honestly did not realize nor did I see this game in a racist light until it was pointed out. I would have seen it as stupid zombies eat 12 gauge! But it doesn't mean that the subconscious wouldn't have seen it that way. Not going to lie about it. I love RE games. I get my shoot zombies fix from them. I will more than likely play this game but my nieces and nephews will leave the room beforehand. The racial undertones, among the hard core graphic violence is, I'm sure, bad for them.

Off topic here: I did see Birth of a Nation back in college. That movie is one of the most racist pieces of cinema shit I have every seen. Classic my ass.
posted by Mastercheddaar at 8:26 AM on February 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


DU: If a racist video game is OK because "it's only a game" then a racist joke is OK because "it's only a joke" and a racist movie is OK because "it's only a movie" and a racist comment by a politician is OK because "it's only a comment" and a racist policy is OK because "it's only a piece of paper".

Yet Constitutional protections exist in favor of racist movies and jokes, and against racist laws. Why do you think that is?
posted by kid ichorous at 9:02 AM on February 17, 2009


dydecker: Surely video games have been around for over 50 years now. How much more time is needed?

A LOT more time, because video games- unlike movies- constantly feature large changes to the medium itself. Movies have always been about sitting and watching a big screen. The biggest changes have been aspect ratio, addition of sound, and addition of color- everything else has been incremental. In contrast, video games have had to start with glowing balls on an oscilloscope. Let's see a movie producer create a tearjerker with that!

It's a testament to the tenacity of game programmers that any story actually gets through to the player. Final Fantasy 6, which is fairly recent if we're talking in 50-year history terms, tried to talk about a world getting (literally) torn to pieces. People try to save their loved ones and hold onto hope after failing to stop it. The cast? A bunch of tiny-yet-bigheaded cartoons who obviously fit into a tile-based sprite grid, so each "step" was shifting the sprite on the grid. No voices (enjoy your intruding text boxes!) and mediocre sound (they actually tried to simulate an opera with the equivalent of MIDI). Not only that, they had to stick in an entire story-stalling system of equipment-seeking and Magicite-leveling because, hey, gamers like that stuff. Your average FF6 player will take 40 hours to finish the game. Try to create suspense and climax with all of that going on at once- I bet even the greatest Hollywood directors would stumble at that task.

Also note that movies took hundreds of years of theatre techniques and adapted them for the screen. Video games cannot copy these same techniques because the player is in control of the flow of time- many gamers will refuse to hurry even when the game story makes it sensible to hurry, or will want to backtrack to previous towns to get that armor they were saving up for, or will want to go play the minigames some more.

Because of all this, most stories in gaming have been told as "movies interspersed with some free action". You play a bit, then sit back and watch, then play some more. The end result: you get a weird, crappy movie that stops playing every 10 minutes so you can spend an hour playing a game. A far better system would mix the best of table-top gaming and reality TV: a world designed by someone to adjust to the free actions of players and create a great story based on those actions. You'll notice that no one has created the Citizen Kane of Dungeons & Dragons or the Casablanca of Big Brother yet- now try programming a computer to do it for you!

So yes, a lot more time is needed. Video games have not even finished developing as a medium. Do not demand the greatest of books (millennia of development) and movies (hundreds of years of theatre adapted to a hundred years of existence) from it.
posted by Maxson at 9:20 AM on February 17, 2009 [3 favorites]


macross city flaneur: Actually, that's not true at all. In fact, these situations are very similar in many senses. Griffith made a mainstream film that was a blockbuster success - the Star Wars of his time - and he, as well, as the large numbers of people who went to see the film and enjoyed it, were surprised by the reaction to the film that a minority of Americans had. Namely, that it was a racist screed. That interpretation of the film was not the dominant intepretation upon its release - as a country we had to learn to see the film's blatant racism. It's been a process.

That's not really true at all. Birth of a Nation was an ideological film with a specific agenda. It was an adaptation of two novels by Thomas Dixon that were specifically racist. Here’s a relevant bit from an article in the most recent London Review of Books by Village Voice film critic J. Hoberman:
Indeed, as Stokes shows, The Birth of a Nation grew organically from Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Thomas Dixon, a lawyer, politician and Baptist minister born into a slave-holding family in the Confederate state of North Carolina three years into the Civil War, was enraged by the success of a stage version of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. His response was to write a quasi-autobiographical novel, The Leopard’s Spots: A Romance of the White Man’s Burden (1902), which was both a sequel and a corrective to Harriet Beecher Stowe’s story, extending it into the Reconstruction period. Among the characters who reappear in Dixon’s book is the sadistic slave-master Simon Legree, who opportunistically turns Republican, gets elected governor of North Carolina, steals a fortune and relocates to New York City.

The Leopard’s Spots sold more than a million copies; Dixon’s subsequent Civil War-Reconstruction novel The Clansman: An Historical Romance of the Ku Klux Klan (1905) was even more successful, and was turned into a hit play which toured for several years. Dixon even attempted to make his own movie version of it before joining forces with Griffith, who was another son of the South – indeed, the son of a Kentucky colonel. Griffith, who had been brought up on his father’s war stories and a belief in the nobility of the Confederacy’s lost civilisation, streamlined the melodrama by focusing on two families, the Stonemans of Pennsylvania and the Camerons of South Carolina, and simplified the narrative even as he expanded the story backwards to the eve of the war. He also invested Dixon’s material with his own family history, not to mention his fear, race hatred and sexual paranoia.

Among its other outrages, The Birth of a Nation presented itself as historically accurate. Stokes enumerates its most blatant distortions. Courts in South Carolina were never dominated by blacks, and ex-Confederates experienced only a partial and temporary disenfranchisement at the polls. Blacks held a majority of the seats in the state legislature but never controlled the state apparatus (and made no attempt to legislate on intermarriage). There was no period of corrupt black rule or black terror; the collapse of law and order had more to do with white attacks on blacks than vice versa. The Ku Klux Klan disbanded in 1869 and was moribund by 1871; it played no role in an anti-Reconstruction counter-revolution. The radical Republican senator Thaddeus Stevens, represented in the film as Austin Stoneman, died in 1868 and never visited South Carolina.
D. W. Griffiths wasn't naïve, he knew what he was doing.
posted by Kattullus at 9:27 AM on February 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


One difference between Birth of a Nation and Resident Evil 5 is the scale of its ambitions: Birth... had big big ambitions whereas RE has tiny little ones. Griffiths wanted to explain a society to itself through its history, whereas even the defenders of the RE series admit that even the racist African plot is probably an accident or thoughtless choice.

As far as why BoAN is important and why we've yet to see the equivalent in games, the reason is technical: Griffith almost singlehandedly invented classic psychological film grammar, ie using close-ups, shot distances and editing to enable an audience to follow along with a character's psychology. His films are classic because Hollywood has been using this method of shooting films ever since. I would argue that, as maxson says, video games have yet to find their Griffiths because they're still fumbling about with borrowed narrative techniques from (mostly) film, which don't fit the medium at all.
posted by dydecker at 9:45 AM on February 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


Well, that, and there is a strong argument to be made that just as photography by the end of the 19th century wasn't judged as just painting on a new media, that games shouldn't be judged as interactive cinema. Cinema is cinema and games are games. The analytical tools should work around this difference.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 9:59 AM on February 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


The videogames that come closest to defining themselves as part of a new art form, to me, are the ones that most seamlessly wed content to gameplay, whether said content is all that radical or not. For example, I like Braid very much, especially for the way its sorrowful mien and time-traveling gimmick brings an almost Proustian sensibility to the reliable old platformer. And the new Flower on PS3 is a nice piece of interactive art that doesn't rely on narrative to involve and enchant the viewer/gamer. Both of them seem like a good example of an experience that could never exist in another medium.

From a pure design standpoint, I have a lot of fondness for the games of the Dreamcast era, mostly Sega's, I guess, which seemed to be pushing at the boundaries of interactive narratives in interesting ways. Space Channel 5 is just a rhythm game, but what an amazing visual and aural sensibility. Ditto with the crazed puzzler Chu Chu Rocket (and its squirrely dial-up online multiplayer, which was the bee's knees at the time). Seaman, essentially a weirded up, voice-enabled, fish-centric take on Eliza is quite probably my wife's favorite game of all time. And then Shenmue wasn't exactly a good game, but it was an incredibly immersive experience. At least until you got frustrated with the amount of time you were sinking into it and stuck it on the high shelf. But I feel like I've actually visited the village where most of that game took place, with its little shops and video arcades etc. I've had dreams about it.

Resident Evil 5 I have no opinion on simply because I've only played the demo. It seems awfully problematic but I'd reserve judgment until I hear more. (For example, the addition of some friendly African NPCs later in the game could go a long way to mitigate the sense of violent other-ness pervading the first levels.) It's not exactly on my list, though.
posted by Joey Bagels at 10:22 AM on February 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


Moby Dick has a lot to say about whaling, and plenty more besides. Have you actually read it?

Ha! That's a good one.

Which is to say, no I haven't, but I know enough about it to know that it's not an historical document and wouldn't be very useful as a sort of guidebook to whale hunting.
posted by turgid dahlia at 3:38 PM on February 17, 2009


Which is to say, no I haven't, but I know enough about it to know that it's not an historical document and wouldn't be very useful as a sort of guidebook to whale hunting.

In other words, you know jack shit about it, don't know what you're talking about, and still feel qualified to comment.

Congratulations: you'll go far on the internet.
posted by happyroach at 3:47 PM on February 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


turgid dahlia: Which is to say, no I haven't, but I know enough about it to know that it's not an historical document and wouldn't be very useful as a sort of guidebook to whale hunting.

Uh... you might want to take a look at the Wikipedia page about Moby Dick:
The most important inspiration for the novel was Melville's experiences as a sailor, in particular those during 1841-1842 on the whaleship Acushnet.

[...]

Moby-Dick contains large sections—most of them narrated by Ishmael—that seemingly have nothing to do with the plot but describe aspects of the whaling business.
There even was a real life legendary white whale called Mocha Dick.posted by Kattullus at 3:48 PM on February 17, 2009


How many videogames worthy of serious thought that say something about the human condition have we had so far?

This is a big difficulty, and as much as anything it's a reflection of the lack of a place for an auteur in most mainstream gaming contexts. Take the mainstream studio setting, and require from there a visionary who knows what he's doing, who has sufficient pull to execute his vision, and who's vision has as much to do with "saying something about the human condition" as it does any other motivation. Then pray to god that whatever he ends up doing (a) doesn't get scuttled before release and (b) makes a really solid profit after it does get released.

That's a pretty narrow set of constraints. You could point to Hideo Kojima, maybe, though how effectively he has managed to use the Metal Gear franchise to convey a clear and poignant message to most of the people playing his games is a pretty important question. Or take a guy like Miyamoto, who fits most of the bill above but is more interested in generating delight through gameplay than in making a statement: Mario and Zelda are wonderful games but hardly social commentary, and it's pretty clear that that's a-okay with the dude.

Planescape was a great, literate, high water mark of a game, for the same reasons that it never got a sequel.

Where we are now, with increasingly mature toolsets and hardware and development libraries, it's getting to the point where auteurs can start to stretch their legs in commercially viable ways, which is great. There's increasingly a tiered market, one being supported not just by the scrappy indie guys themselves but by the majors—with Arcade and the Wii store and Steam and in general the rise of casual gaming infrastructure on the web, the old shareware ethos has made a weird indirect comeback where small teams or even solitary polymaths can create a small game worth playing and actually see it played and, in the best case, get paid enough money to keep at it if all goes well.

But even at that, we're probably stuck leaving the artsy and literary stuff on this (at least now some what less marginalized) margin of gaming. What one indie platformer developer (or an interactive fiction author) can design and execute on his own is not necessarily palatable to the folks in control of financing for seven-digit studio titles; big budget, big-market games featuring explicit and substantial social consciousness will remain outliers, the result of someone with money not having the good bland sense to quash something weird early on, for a while now I think.

It's the structure that needs to change—where the money comes from, or how much money is required, to accomplish these things. Because the suits will still be suits, and the audience will still be the audience. And the greatest indie film in the world still doesn't stand up to a well-marketed Bruckheimer flick, blow for revenue-generating blow, but in film at least we've gotten to the point where the auteur can at least make a reasonable attempt to plan and execute and market and distribute his idea to the subset of people who want that, and that's been going on long enough with enough visibility that those auteurs have collectively helped change (at least gradually and moderately) the face of the big cinema players.

Getting games to a similar place (and letting that dynamic stew for a sufficient amount of time) will probably be more important to the laying of a socially-conscious-gaming foundation than any amount of balking at specific boneheaded moments in Design By Committee.
posted by cortex at 5:13 PM on February 17, 2009 [4 favorites]


The best part about games being taken as seriously as plays or whatever will be that people will have to stop whining about games not being taken as seriously as plays.
posted by Artw at 5:33 PM on February 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


A white man is shooting savage black people in Africa!?!?!?! Damn.....

I promise this is the last time I say anything about it, but I don't think that's what this game is about at all. This isn't about "a white man" vs. "savage black people in Africa". It's a Resident Evil game set in Africa--where you're killing zombies, not "savages". That point of view is taking the entire Romero-inspired zombie mythos and previous Resident Evil game/movie franchise completely out of the context of the trailer and the demo.

But it's obviously been presented in an insensitive manner, and given its' audience is probably 13-year-old American boys, the reaction is understandable. I'll admit it's odd no one said anything during their market research.
posted by Hoopo at 5:59 PM on February 17, 2009


How many video games worthy of serious thought that say something about the human condition have we had so far?

I've found lots just by panning through abandonware (RIP, HOTU!). That games are now being cautiously recognized as art - after some decades of quiet contributions from poets, Hugo/Nebula winners, and inspired amateurs - because they've crossed some budgetary threshold, or reached some point of market saturation, is perhaps more a critique of our own flitting capacities than that of the medium.
posted by kid ichorous at 4:00 AM on February 18, 2009


Penny Arcade with the heh.
posted by cortex at 9:29 AM on February 18, 2009


Well, once again we have a bunch of white nerdy guys saying they see no problem with the racial context of a property. It doesn't matter if it's Buffy, your latest SF potboiler, comics, or video games, and it doesn't matter how often or patiently activists explain the problem; it's just another example of how These White Guys Just Don't Get It.

And of course these same people will come back and ask plaintively why people of color consider them to be part of the problem, when they aren't racist, oh no sir. *sigh*
posted by happyroach at 9:36 AM on February 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


Which white nerdy guys in particular are you talking about, happyroach? I don't exactly disagree that that dynamic exists, but that's a pretty broad and non-specific dismissal right there.
posted by cortex at 9:47 AM on February 18, 2009


I promise this is the last time I say anything about it, but I don't think that's what this game is about at all. This isn't about "a white man" vs. "savage black people in Africa". It's a Resident Evil game set in Africa--where you're killing zombies, not "savages".

There are parts of this statement I agree with, and parts I don't.

1. You're completely correct that this isn't a game about a white man vs. saveage black people in Africa. It's just not. But question that bugs people like N'gai Croal isn't whether that's what the game's about. What bothers him, me and others is what the imagery presents to the viewer despite what may be Capcom's best intentions otherwise. Ultimately, its a matter of insensitivity. Insensitivity of this sort can, and often does, exist simply because the creator in question doesn't understand the connotations and denotations of the material they've created. It's not necessarily because they themselves are overtly or even covertly racist, but there can still exist racist undertones to a work because the creator didn't know enough to be sensitive to the long and storied history of racist depiction in media. It's important to remember in this instance that what N'Gai Croal said wasn't "these guys are racist." What he said was "There's no way anyone black worked on this trailer." He meant, as i understand it, that someone black who had experienced the effects of that type of imagery would have had red flags going off in his head the moment he saw that footage. Someone who had been aware of the effect of that type of imagery would have seen the problems in the footage and presumably would have lobbied for a more sensitive approach to the material.

2. They're not zombies. It's a comic-book-guy style distinction to make, but it is nonetheless important. They're not zombies, they're infected human beings. This fact doesn't outright condemn the game, but it does inform its context, and that's an important thing to consider when discussing the game.

In the end what you have is difficult imagery, and a concern that imagery that loaded has not been given the treatment it deserves to differentiate the idea of "savage africans" from these particular fictional "infected africans." It's not unreasonable to hope for, indeed even expect, more sensitive treatment of the subject given its historical context. Even though the creators could very well have substantial reasons for not having perceived the problem, we can have issues with the work without having issues with the creators.
posted by shmegegge at 11:17 AM on February 18, 2009


I used to provide lists of games that said something about the human condition, but in my experience it immediately results in people who haven't played them screaming that no, they are incapable of doing so, blah blah blah.

The Roger Eberts of the world will continue to insist that video games have not gone anywhere since Pong. The only thing to do is to patiently wait for them to die out and leave the discourse.
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:23 AM on February 18, 2009


Here's what Tycho of Penny Arcade has to say:
It's more or less exactly what we want out of a Resident Evil game, but it's impossible for us to play it without the metanarrative of race providing a grim context for our every in-game action. It's clear when playing it that they've added a few caucasoids to the mix, and also what looks like zombie version of Saddam Hussein, but it's hard to tell what they're doing there. Playing the game does nothing to dilute the imagery people have found objectionable, the trailer wasn't out of context in any way - in fact I would say quite plainly that they go far beyond what you might have believed possible.

It won't be hard to find an authentic, devoted racist on Xbox Live to play as Chris - but is the game somehow less racist if I join someone else's game as co-op partner Sheva Alomar? I hope so. It's sort of like those Magic Eye pictures. You can't see it, you can't see it, and then wham. All you can see is the genocide.
It's from his commentary on the comic cortex linked to above.
posted by Kattullus at 2:23 PM on February 18, 2009


from cortex: "Penny Arcade with the heh."

artof.mulata responds with the meh.

that cartoon was teh stupid.
was it actually trying to say anything?
i sure don't see anything there worth passing into the argument.
out of it, though, yes.

'penny arcade in the carnival of small thoughts'
how 'bout that?

(no dis to the commenter, cortex, or to penny arcade as a whole.)
posted by artof.mulata at 2:45 PM on February 18, 2009


artof, buddy, that's not really how we format comments around here.
posted by Pope Guilty at 2:49 PM on February 18, 2009


"Heh" is a complex and many-times-overloaded expression. Sometimes it means, not "this is the funniest and most apt summation of the discussion yet", for example, but rather something like "I laughed when I read this because it was a meaningful if thin commentary on part of the debate and I get where the authors are coming from".

Tycho goes into what it means, more or less, in the newspost that Kattullus just linked (and which was not yet published when I linked the comic). He does not attempt to imbue the comic with any great pile of meaning or present it as a powerful statement on the racial dynamic of modern videogaming, and insofar as my "heh" managed to imply otherwise, I apologize for the gross misrepresentation.
posted by cortex at 2:51 PM on February 18, 2009


well now i feel stupid.

my pals keep warning me that email doesn't carry the same emotional transposition as say a phone call, post card or txtmsg; i send something intending to scowl at that which was pointed at and not the pointer and of course it doesn't work.

no apologies warranted! i'm sorry mister cortex. i had read the link posted by kattullus and assumed you had, too, by now; i just thought it was all pretty flimsy. i am by no means trying to poke you in the eye.

(pope guilty: "artof, buddy, that's not really how we format comments around here." i don't know what to say, but i will not be harmed by your guilt gun!)
posted by artof.mulata at 3:17 PM on February 18, 2009


I didn't really mean to come off as snippy as I did there either, artof.mulata. It's all good.

I think we may all the above aside just disagree about the intent (and hence the effectiveness) of the comic strip in question.
posted by cortex at 3:25 PM on February 18, 2009


Pope Guilty: artof, buddy, that's not really how we format comments around here.

I'd like to see you tell that to smedleyman :)
posted by Kattullus at 9:36 PM on February 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


it's a comic-book-guy style distinction to make

Worst. Distinction. Ever.
posted by Hoopo at 11:31 PM on February 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


As usual, Old Man Murray said it best:

Soldier of Fortune is a game that recreates the thrill of murdering people for money, and does it in demented forensic detail. Your troubling subtext - that some of the people are not white - is kind of overshadowed by the text, that all of the people you're slaughtering are people. In other words, although it goes against the secret messages composed by your own tireless, misfiring synapses, killing everyone you meet is, in fact, as bad as killing just blacks. It might even be worse.

Playing a game where you slaughter everyone in sight: Harmless fun!
Playing a game where you slaughter hordes of black zombies: Racist(dent) Evil!
posted by straight at 1:45 PM on February 23, 2009


Well, once again we have a bunch of white nerdy guys saying they see no problem with the racial context of a property. It doesn't matter if it's Buffy, your latest SF potboiler, comics, or video games, and it doesn't matter how often or patiently activists explain the problem; it's just another example of how These White Guys Just Don't Get It.

And of course these same people will come back and ask plaintively why people of color consider them to be part of the problem, when they aren't racist, oh no sir. *sigh*


Oh, shit -- didn't realize I checked the "White" box in my profile. Lemme go change that ... I mean, I realize I telegraph "nerdy," but if I think this particular controversy is much ado about nothing, I simply *must* be a white guy who just doesn't get it.
posted by Amanojaku at 11:29 AM on February 24, 2009


If the RE5 creators had any sense, they could have used the characters in the game to create a larger storyline that mirrored the concerns about racism within the framework of the game.

SCENE:

Protagonist, the caucasian zombie-killer dude, is going after what he assumes to be yet another zombie (or, if you prefer, "infected person"). Fantastic gunfight cut scene ensues, with lots of back and forth action, until zombie killer dude and his intended victim, New Character, realize at the same instant that neither one of them is infected. Both cautiously lower their guns.

Zombie-killer dude offers gruff apology: Sorry, thought you were one of them.

New character, bristling, still hot from the adrenaline charged gunfight: What do you mean, one of them?!

Zombie-killer Dude: You know, the zombies. Infected. Whatever. I'm here to get rid of them.

NC, a little sheepishly: Oh.

Then, after thinking about it a second, suspiciously, NC: Just them?

ZKD nods, brows furrowed like, WTF?

NC: Who are you, anyway? You're not from here.

ZKD, arrogantly: I'm the zombie-killer dude. This is what I do, man.

NC, sarcastically: Oh, yeah, you're the big zombie-killer dude. So I guess that means you can just come down here and take over our country, right?

ZKD, dumbfounded: What, are you kidding me? I'm here to help you guys!

New Character, heatedly: Yeah, well, what makes you think we need your help? Think we can't handle this on our own? It's a race thing, isn't it--

ZKD, sputtering: Race thing? Race thing?! You can't be serious. Look, I just came from Spain. These guys are killing people all over the world--

NC: Yeah, well, I've got this part of the world covered.

ZKD, scornfully: Look, no offense, but I've been doing this awhile, you know, and it's not so easy, so if you want to stay safe, just keep behind me, okay?

NC, now sputtering himself: Get behind you? What do I look like, your girlfriend?!

Big argument ensues, the two finally parting ways rather than (much more sensibly) joining together to fight the infected.

At this point, player now has the ability to play as Zombie Killer Dude or New Character.

(insert typical gameplay here, lots of gory zombie-killing.)

End of the game: ZKD is now infected himself. He once again faces NC. Another huge gunfight--only not a cutscene this time, but a boss level where the player takes part--ensues.

NC, to the amazement of Resident Evil fanboys, beats down ZKD.

NC would now become the new Resident Evil protoganist for the next franchise, set in, I don't know, somewhere in India or China if you follow the World War Z storylines.

END SCENE
posted by misha at 10:13 AM on March 11, 2009


The best part about games being taken as seriously as plays or whatever will be that people will have to stop whining about games not being taken as seriously as plays.

I'm just waiting for this stuff to reach critical mass and it all goes pastoral, waiting for a back-to-basics gameplay backlash to kick in. One that ends up with all sorts of earnest, huffy guys in catgirl t-shirts crowing about how backgammon is the literature of the 21st century and shit and you just don't understand, man.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 10:31 AM on March 11, 2009


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