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Resi Racey Redux
June 12, 2009 2:28 PM   Subscribe

In the wake of the Resident 5 racism flap (previously), and with the final game released, one of it's chief detractors, N'Gai Croal, talks to its producer, Jun Takeuchi (Part 1, Part 2). Meanwhile industry magazine MVC takes a look at Africa as a games market.
posted by Artw (137 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
That a two-to-three-week trip to unspecified African countries and looking at a number of movies set in Africa alongside pop-cultural inspirations like the Indiana Jones series simply hadn’t been enough to sufficiently educate him or the team about the legacy of the imagery that they were tapping in to...

Got that everyone? No more games set in a fantasy version of lands populated by oppressed minorities, unless they show sufficient deference to pre-approved values.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 2:34 PM on June 12, 2009


No more games set in a fantasy version of lands populated by oppressed minorities, unless they show sufficient deference to pre-approved values.

what a bizarre take on the article. a couple of points:

- "fantasy version" is a copout. That's like saying any offensive content is okay so long as the story involves a zombie apocalypse.

- he never says they shouldn't have made the game.

- in Africa, blacks are the majority not the minority.

- pre-approved values? come on. enough with the orwellian imagery. Croal only says that the developers were clearly ignorant of the cultural impact the game would have on people sensitive to the issues of race and african culture.

in fact, for everyone who hasn't read the article yet and is assuming you've quoted the article in sufficient context, here's the rest of the passage you snipped from:
And as Takeuchi went on to explain that the enemies with the grass skirts and spears were seeking to defend the ruins from intruders and that he’d been inspired by the Indiana Jones movies, I felt like I once again understood where he’d been coming from. That a two-to-three-week trip to unspecified African countries and looking at a number of movies set in Africa alongside pop-cultural inspirations like the Indiana Jones series simply hadn’t been enough to sufficiently educate him or the team about the legacy of the imagery that they were tapping in to and, as a result, they’d lost control of their message. That’s my take on it, of course; I doubt that the man who sat across from me and thoughtfully answered all of my questions would agree. But if his muse should inspire him to set another game in an African country – or any real-world location, for that matter – my only wish is that he do so in as fully informed a manner as possible.
which is far more reasonable than you're trying to make it sound.
posted by shmegegge at 2:48 PM on June 12, 2009 [10 favorites]


Got that everyone? No more games set in a fantasy version of lands populated by oppressed minorities, unless they show sufficient deference to pre-approved values.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 2:34 PM on June 12 [+] [!]


If only there were some middle ground here.
posted by basicchannel at 2:48 PM on June 12, 2009 [6 favorites]


Haven't played it (don't have the hardware), but the game would probably have had a lot less baggage if it had been set in apartheid South Africa and the white people were the enemies (at least at the start).

Seems like a more interesting premise, too.
posted by Decimask at 2:48 PM on June 12, 2009


Randomly making South Africans bad guys in things sounds very 80s to me.
posted by Artw at 2:56 PM on June 12, 2009


Hmm. Probably true. I was single-digits old in the 80s, so I don't remember/wouldn't have seen that. My thinking was that if the game started in a caucasian community where everyone had gone nuts/zombie/whatever and spread to the african community, you wouldn't get the same "evil primitive tribal" vibe from it. South Africa was a convenient example of isolated (gated? segregated?) communities that would make that seem less odd.

Survival horror games generally aren't my thing anyway. Not the kind of frustration that floats my boat.
posted by Decimask at 3:05 PM on June 12, 2009


Wonder why there wasn't as much flak over Far Cry 2, another violent game set in Africa that I thought was pretty offensive. At least in Resident Evil 5 (I'm guessing, haven't played it) you're killing zombies. In Far Cry 2, you're killing black people. Who work for the stronger white bosses. In a story that manages to both glorify the violence and simultaneously sanitize the bloody history of African civil wars. Is it because Far Cry 2 is a "shooter" and so we expect narrative to be de-emphasized? Maybe it's the way the story itself hews to very safe territory intended to "justify" the game's violent content. Or maybe it's just because Far Cry 2 kinda sucked and no one bothered finishing it because to do anything in the game you had to drive for five freakin' minutes and fend off fifteen random attackers just to get to the mission...
posted by BitterOldPunk at 3:06 PM on June 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


They could set it in Spain, and save themselves the bother.
posted by Artw at 3:06 PM on June 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


Nah, they should have gone with DC. Nobody objects to shooting zombie politicians and lobbyists.
posted by Decimask at 3:08 PM on June 12, 2009


I haven't played it yet, but the plague is spreading worldwide, hence the new location (and not setting it in Spain again).
posted by cmgonzalez at 3:10 PM on June 12, 2009


Wonder why there wasn't as much flak over Far Cry 2, another violent game set in Africa that I thought was pretty offensive.

Man, I really had my issues with that game, too. Although I didn't finish it for the reasons you outlined. But yeah, the whole "I'm trying to stop an evil arms dealers by killing africans and stealing their blood diamonds so I can... buy... illegal... arms... huh" thing was really bothersome to me.
posted by shmegegge at 3:11 PM on June 12, 2009


Randomly making South Africans bad guys in things sounds very 80s to me.

I'm not sure what you mean by "in things," but I can remember a bunch of movies from the 1980s with white South Africans as bad guys (not to mention the De Beers/mercenary bad guys in contemporary films like Blood Diamonds). There was a moment where apartheid was clearly on its way out, but they were still hanging on to minority rule, where it was really easy to portray them as BAD BAD BAD with no nuance or complication added.

Regarding video games, I don't see "but it's only a game!" as a really good defense. Games can (and should) be smart, creative, and nuanced. Just because you are mindlessly shooting zombies doesn't take the onus off the designers to try and make the details both interesting and complex. I'm all for offensiveness -- but it should be intentional offensiveness, not stupid and lazy offensiveness.
posted by Forktine at 3:11 PM on June 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


Oh, duh, rereading I get the meaning of "in things." Moving on...
posted by Forktine at 3:12 PM on June 12, 2009


Geez guys, if you're going to make a racially inflammatory game, at least do it without breaking all of the stuff that worked in your far superior previous game.
posted by Rangeboy at 3:14 PM on June 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


Did anybody here play RE5 all the way through and beat it? You had to kill white people too. Well... you had to kill Wesker anyways, and he was white.

My wife and I played it rabidly and beat it on all the difficulties save the insane one, where you get killed by just getting sneezed on. I guess we were too busy counting bullets up and having fun to notice that we were being racist or playing a racist game.

There's always next time!
posted by Bageena at 3:15 PM on June 12, 2009


Forktine - It was a bit mental at times, like in the ET rip-off Skizz where an alien lands in the Midlands and chased by the county council, who for some bizarre reason hire an evil hunter with a Seth Effrican accent to track him down. Yeah, local authorities in Britain are always hiring South African big game hunters...
posted by Artw at 3:17 PM on June 12, 2009


Then:
"Please don't make movies like Birth of a Nation"
"ZOMG! You hate all movies! You are trying to kill cinema! Look at how great the directing is!"

Now:
"Please don't make yet another piece of media about the hero's journey of white men shooting brown ones!"
"I don't see the problem! I mean, I play games where I shoot koreans and arabs all the time and it never seems hateful to me! Besides, next you're going to tell me police shoot your people all the time too! Never happened to anyone I know!"

Clearly it's more fun to shoot Africans than strawmen...
posted by yeloson at 3:19 PM on June 12, 2009 [6 favorites]


Amazingly all the white South Africans I've met since have been loud and obnoxious, and big drinkers, rather than racist nazis played by Steven Berkoff. It's probably like how all the Klingons changed between TOS and the first Trek movie.
posted by Artw at 3:21 PM on June 12, 2009


Haven't played it (don't have the hardware), but the game would probably have had a lot less baggage if it had been set in apartheid South Africa and the white people were the enemies (at least at the start).

I haven't played the game either, but I'd like to see a representative array of folks in the game. Show once well-to-do business people in with the working class, the random tourists running at you from the countryside, along with the rest of what is seen in the trailers.

The end of NGai Croal's first post comes across really clearly:
“Perhaps a better way to explain it without using race, ethnicity or country of origin would be this: Imagine a sequel to the 1999 movie Fight Club, in which a woman was throwing punches and getting beaten up by men. We could say: “Well, it’s the same thing: Fight Club showed Edward Norton getting beaten up; now we’re showing a woman getting beaten up.” But the history and imagery surrounding women being beaten by men is not the same. You cannot simply say that they’re equivalent.”
Violence in certain settings has more baggage than others. It'd be great to say "we've moved beyond all that, this game is just a representation of the 2,000 or so pictures we took in Northern Africa," but the history remains.
posted by filthy light thief at 3:25 PM on June 12, 2009 [9 favorites]


Clearly it's more fun to shoot Africans than strawmen...

But it's easier to get multikills with strawmen than real people. Which could be a plus or a minus.
posted by filthy light thief at 3:30 PM on June 12, 2009


Randomly making South Africans bad guys in things sounds very 80s to me.

Diplomatic immunity!
posted by bpm140 at 3:31 PM on June 12, 2009 [6 favorites]


filthy light thief - Isn't that Girlfight?
posted by Artw at 3:32 PM on June 12, 2009


There is something to be said about a white dude and a sexy ethnic lady shotgunning their way through traditionally-dressed blacks in Africa at the behest of a multi-national pharmaceutical organization, but this is a game which also includes giant slug men and ogres that use telephone poles as clubs, so if you're getting really worked up over it, you could be missing the point.
posted by GilloD at 3:34 PM on June 12, 2009


Ok, maybe I am one of those people who doesn't get all the oppression and repression and being minority and what not - but all I've gotten from this writer on this topic every time they've taken keyboard to fingers has been: "Using this imagery is BAD. ALWAYS. It will always be racist to have white people shooting brown ones, and men beating up women, and and and and OUTRAGE that people dare question this position." I get that these are sensitive topics, I get that on first glance, this might not look too great of an idea to use as a video game setting, but for fucks sake, at least they tried to do research, and tried to explain what was going on via this thing video games have CALLED A PLOT. If you're going to judge a video game on two trailers (early production trailers, at that) and call it racist, you've got bigger fish to fry than one video game.
posted by strixus at 3:46 PM on June 12, 2009


Ah, but you don't have a patch of automatic moral highground in your knapsack.
posted by Artw at 3:47 PM on June 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


No more games set in a fantasy version of lands populated by oppressed minorities

Yeah, the treatment of the Jews err 'Darksen' in the semi-fantasy / WWII strategy game Valkyria Chronicles struck me as a bit ham-handed at the best of times.
posted by FatherDagon at 3:54 PM on June 12, 2009


"Its," please. "...its chief detractors." Not "it's."
posted by ethnomethodologist at 4:01 PM on June 12, 2009


this comment is kind of awesome in that I think he's being serious, but it reads like a parody.
posted by shmegegge at 4:08 PM on June 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


"Its," please. "...its chief detractors." Not "it's."

I'll gert right on that with my editing tools THAT I DON'T HAVE.

Game Developers! Invent a game where you get to violently murder typo trolls. No fucker would miss them or care about them being oppressed at all.
posted by Artw at 4:11 PM on June 12, 2009


Games not to invent: Somali Pirate Tower Defence
posted by Artw at 4:14 PM on June 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


also Metafilter Typo Tower Degate.
posted by shmegegge at 4:16 PM on June 12, 2009


Wait, WESKER'S ALIVE?
posted by ciderwoman at 4:21 PM on June 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


I don't see what would be so offensive about Fight Club With Women. Okay yeah, Female Jack would get punched a lot. But she would also punch back. In fact I think the movie would be fairly feminist, a story about a female who could keep her own, and even lead, a bunch of testosterone laden males.

And I say this as a Korean: I would not be immediately offended by the idea of a zombie game where Japanese protagonists go around shooting Chinese and Korean zombies. As long as they didn't spout nationalist slogans, as long as they didn't go around killing non-zombies, as long as they didn't enjoy the brutality. It only has racist undertones if you choose to play the game with that historical context. Although I'm confident the Korean government would overreact and ban such a game regardless.

Maybe I think these things because I mainly grew up in the post-Civil Rights era, and black and white and yellow don't seem all that different to me. World War II and racism, both these things are very real, but at the same time they feel remote.
posted by rq at 4:22 PM on June 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


Randomly making South Africans bad guys in things sounds very 80s to me.

Lethal Weapon 2 (1989).
posted by ericb at 4:23 PM on June 12, 2009


Capcom, a Japanese company, released 1942 about destroying the Japanese air force on your way to Tokyo. So maybe the company has a different take on how to handle historical wounds than I do.
posted by I Foody at 4:24 PM on June 12, 2009 [3 favorites]


More outrage from the white elites living in their cushy homes far from the daily reality of the 3rd World?
posted by tarvuz at 4:25 PM on June 12, 2009


Before I even read this, I was made uneasy by the title "dark continent" - now, I understand that it may be used ironically and what not, but it just doesn't sound like it's keeping up with the times.
posted by VikingSword at 4:27 PM on June 12, 2009


Doesn't being able to do "bad" things in games mean that you actually have less of an excuse, not more, to do them in reality? After all, the better the simulation, the more it can replace the real thing.

One of these days there are going to be widely available, fully-immersive "hate simulators", within which you can freely indulge in all of the evil excesses that are inseparable from human nature. And it is on that day that there will no longer be any excuse to pollute reality with those excesses.
posted by PsychoKick at 4:27 PM on June 12, 2009


It only has racist undertones if you choose to play the game with that historical context.

I think that Croal would argue (and I would agree) that it's impossible to divorce some imagery from its historical context.
posted by martens at 4:28 PM on June 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm tempted to write something here about the subtle effect of institutionalized racism and how it pops up in multitudes of things mostly due to the way that people have been socialized and educated. However, it seems that every time I say something here about race, some dimwit either intentionally or through sheer ignorance misinterprets/twists/restates falsely whatever I say in order to accuse me of being a.) reverse-racist b.) pc-police c.) hypocritical or d.) all of the above. So . . . fuck it. Metafilter just doesn't do anything regarding ethnicity, sex or gender very well at all.
posted by anansi at 4:28 PM on June 12, 2009 [6 favorites]


Or maybe it's just because Far Cry 2 kinda sucked and no one bothered finishing it because to do anything in the game you had to drive for five freakin' minutes and fend off fifteen random attackers just to get to the mission...

What a beautiful game too! I liked burning things the brush to flush out enemies. What I really couldn't believe is that even with cheats I couldn't stand the game long enough to get to the hang gliding mission. Even with cheats! I kept asking myself it they even played the game before releasing it? Poor voice acting, poor game play, beautiful engine. Also what did it have to do with Far Cry 1? I was very confused.

In any case it seemed like someone really got into the movie Blood Diamonds and wanted to make a game out of it.
posted by geoff. at 4:40 PM on June 12, 2009


Hmm. 1942 would be much better if you dropped the bomb on a city at the end though.
posted by Artw at 4:45 PM on June 12, 2009


First, for ArtW: Close enough.

After playing the game, I have to say that the game itself is definitely fun, albeit shallow fun (this game makes me nostalgic for the older, clunkier Resident Evils).

As for the racism, the game does try to explain a lot of it away (these black folks are victims of a gigantic evil corporation, etc), but even accounting for that we're still left with some pretty damn offensive imagery. Early in the game, there is even a drawn-out scene where a pale-white blonde girl is dragged off by some Africans who you have to hurry and save. Regardless of how conscious the developers were of the implications of a scene like this -- something I wouldn't dismiss, seeing how over-the-top that particular scene is -- it still has an extremely visceral impact for people even casually acquainted with its cultural baggage.

By the time you start gunning down tribesman in grass skirts you're pretty hard-pressed to say that the game is using racist stereotypes except as a shorthand way of signifying exotic Africans. This post just sort of reconfirm the idea that the game ended up this way because the Japanese don't have the same experience with the history of colonialism and Western race relations that Americans and Europeans do.

When the trailers came out, I was willing to give RE5 the benefit of the doubt. While I didn't expect Shakespeare, I did think that maybe Capcom was becoming more ambitious with its narrative -- a viral outbreak in Africa is a meaty premise (uh, no pun intended), and there is a tradition in the B-movies that Resident Evil patterns itself off of in dealing with these type of subjects (Night of the Living Dead still feels downright radical as far as race relations go). This dovetailed with the fact that the industry in general has been getting more thematically ambitious with its games (Bioshock and the latest Grand Theft Auto immediately come to mind). Unfortunately none of that came to pass. What we have is a fun action game with some undeniably racist imagery. But hey, it's not exactly a phenomenon that exclusive to games. Raiders of the Lost Ark is probably one of the best action movies out there, but it's pretty damn racist as well.
posted by Weebot at 4:46 PM on June 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


Metafilter just doesn't do anything regarding ethnicity, sex or gender very well at all.

It does it about as well as most of society. Which is to say, all such discussions will inevitably end with both sides calling the other racist, no matter how much people may try to have a reasonable discussion before that. There's too much emotion on the issue for people to keep the discussion from degenerating, I think.
posted by wildcrdj at 4:49 PM on June 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


Anyone else see the irony in making blanket accusations of racism based on a game trailer, then claiming that the game's developers failed to do enough research?
posted by chrisgregory at 4:50 PM on June 12, 2009


On the opposite end, I give you wow-why-hasn't-anyone-thought of that Left 4 Dead 2 Trailer.

You got your political consciousness in my zombie video game! You've got your zombie video game in my political consciousness!
posted by The Whelk at 4:52 PM on June 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


my only wish is that he do so in as fully informed a manner as possible.
which is far more reasonable than you're trying to make it sound.


Croal's final line is above. Shmegegge's final line, the second.

My take: No, it's not reasonable.

The argument is that, if the game developers were only more "fully informed," then they would have reached some magical state of enlightenment, and wouldn't have made a game that was patently offensive to all right-thinking people.

This is the textbook definition of ham-fisted political correctness.

It is a heaping pile of smug, pseudo-intellectual bullshit.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 4:55 PM on June 12, 2009


You know, I get tired of this topic, but this is the second time it's popped up today, so I'll give it another shot.

Look, I get that ethnic stereotyping doesn't affect everybody in America, and if it doesn't affect you, you probably don't think it's a huge deal.

So someone says, "It's just a video game, what's the big deal!" Somebody else thinks that we need to evaluate whether something is racist or not based on "Is this website intended to incite racial hatred or not?"

I get it; if you're not affected by it, sometimes it can be a little tiresome to hear about it. But if you are affected by it, you don't get to choose when and when you're not going to talk about it. It pops up all the time, and you don't say something every time, because that's a good way to get known as a killjoy, but it's annoying every time.

Look, you can still reinforce ethnic stereotypes without meaning to 'incite racial hatred'. When Betty Brown (R-TX), said that Asian people need to change their names to something more pronounceable for Americans, I believe it was a stunning display of ignorance, not an attempt to incite racial hatred.

When people tell racial jokes, they may not be trying to incite racial hatred, they may be just going for a cheap laugh. But, generally speaking, I don't think racial jokes are a good idea. I think racial jokes very often reinforce ethnic stereotyping, which I find unpleasant.

I think there are ugly racial memes that run around. We see depictions of how certain kinds of people are like, in books, in movies, on TV. We get used to them. Movie producers reach for them, because they're easy, and right there. And sometimes people have to stand up and say, "Do you see what's going on there? That's really messed up!"

So I think saying "You're missing the real point, which is: that game is fun as hell." is kind of missing the point.
posted by Comrade_robot at 4:56 PM on June 12, 2009 [14 favorites]


This is the textbook definition of ham-fisted "I am so cool and well-informed I can do whatever I want without giving a shit how other people feel" political incorrectness.

Anybody will tell you I am NOT a right-thinking person, and I'm not offended, just disturbed that the gamemakers designed a game skillfully-targeted to the racist stormfronter demo. But then, how many games in the last few years were targeted to the arab/muslim-hater demo?
posted by wendell at 5:13 PM on June 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


just disturbed that the gamemakers designed a game skillfully-targeted to the racist stormfronter demo.

You're a little late for the Godwin. Someone beat you to it several posts up.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 5:18 PM on June 12, 2009


I read the post earlier about the stromfront reaction to it. If I hadn't, I wouldn't have come to the same conclusion. Besides, "offending some people who wouldn't play them anyway" has been an element of marketing games since they made Mario Italian. It's nothing new or novel, and that demo of L4D2 had some racial stereotyping: the African-American narrator/protagonist was big, strong, barrel-chested and intimidating even without the big gun. Of course, they couldn't have made him Urkel.
posted by wendell at 5:26 PM on June 12, 2009


One thing that I've never seen established in these conversations is what, if anything, people suggest be done about it.

The only "solution" I can imagine requires outright censorship- works would have to be checked and cleared through a committee before being published. This must be distinguished from ratings boards like the ESRB, which are voluntary: unlike those boards, this committee would have to have the power to ban publication entirely. (Getting an AO rating from the ESRB is a practical ban, since most stores refuse to carry such titles, but it could still be sold through other channels.)

If the goal of this article is public awareness and a potential call for boycotting, that's fine by me. Beyond that, I think it becomes a constitutional question.
posted by Maxson at 5:32 PM on June 12, 2009


A couple things on far cry---

First, i'm pretty sure you kill as many white people as black people. There are a lot of white mercenaries in thew war.

Second, you're meant to start questioning what you're doing there. It may not be entirely successful at it, but the game is morally ambiguous, and I think you're supposed to feel guilty for taking the missions that you take.

Third. The Far Cry 2 team bit off more than they could chew, and I think they released the game before it was really finished. They really should have done a Valve-style complete rethink of the game once playtesters pointed out how fucking boring and tedious it got about 8 hours into it (someone must have told them!)
posted by empath at 5:36 PM on June 12, 2009


On RE 5, I don't think the problem is really that it was racist, it was that the creators had no clue about the connotations for an American audience of what they were making. I think that there is no problem in theory with making a videogame about going to Africa and killing shitloads of black zombies. You just have to be aware of the connotations of what you're doing and compensate for it in the games story. IE, you have a sub-plot about racism, and subvert players expectations.
posted by empath at 5:39 PM on June 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


For the record, I've never played a "first-person shooter" but might consider it if they DID make your character Urkel. Or Buster Bluth. Or Kenneth the Intern. Of course, Hiro and Chuck are already living that fantasy.
posted by wendell at 5:45 PM on June 12, 2009


Six of one, half a dozen of the other, shmegegge (bonus points, btw, for assuming I'm male). I'm toothgrindingly tired of people not being able to take a middle ground on this issue.

Comrade_robot'a probably right on the mark here - but has some fundamental assumptions that irk me as someone who self identifies as a gamer, and as someone who isn't normally considered a minority.

I might be pasty dead fish white, but that doesn't mean racism doesn't affect me - I KNOW it does. Even if someone isn't walking up and spitting in my face because of the color of my skin (would you believe this actually happened to me in middle school?) or not giving me equal opportunity for a scholarship or job (hey wait, I've had that happen to me too) because I'm not the right color/gender/born under the right star sign, I know that racism affects those who I live with / work with / am friends with / share the bus with / take the train with / share the interstate with / share my city / county / state / country / planet with.

At the same time, I honestly don't think RE5 was that great of a game. I did think it had a pretty interesting story, but it failed miserably on other points (such as game play, controls, and graphics). Yet whenever a game comes out that catches media attention for some controversial reason, you either have to profess utter hatred that such a vile thing could be produced, and how DARE people enjoy it on its own self contained merits, or you "Don't get it" and are somehow thick and dim witted.

The problem, I think, is that the judgments about RE5 that this author made were based on very limited knowledge of the game content itself (two preview trailers) and they were phrased in such a way that they gained INSTANT media feeding frenzy status. This happens with any media form, rather more frequently than the sun rises - probably due to some of the ways media coverage of anything other than prime time big four TV programing works, and probably due to the sensationalist tone nearly all main stream journalism has taken in the last 10 years. The author may not have intended to start such a media shit storm, but they did. It happens. America does race and gender issues very badly as a society, much the way metafilter does fat very badly as a community. We get shrill, we get emotional, and no one stops to listen to anyone else after the first thirty minutes of conversation.

My point is (yes, this is reaching TL;DNR status) I'm tired of being told that a game is one I shouldn't enjoy, or play, or even look at sideways, because it MIGHT possibly be racist/sexist/someother-ist. "White people shoot brown people" isn't enough context for me to judge if the actual game, itself, is racist, any more than "man punches woman" is enough for me to judge if a game is sexist. Will I be on high alert looking for these problems in a game which contains such imagery? Hell yeah. But I'm on alert for that in ANY media. If RE5 was really the "brown people rail shooter" that this author and so many others tried to make it out to be, I'd be RIGHT up there with them saying this game is racist. But if you actually bother to watch the opening cinematics, and play the game for a few moments, you'll realize there is a very interesting story here, that if ANYTHING it makes you deeply angry at Umbrella in a matter of moments once it clicks that they have done this ON PURPOSE to the victims of the outbreak. But if you are going to label the game as racist, as many writers did once the cat was out of the bag, without playing it, touching it, or watching more than early trailers, you're grossly oversimplifying things in almost the same way Jack Thompson did.

You want me to realize the world is complex? I do. And guess what, it is more complicated than just YOUR little island of complicated. Do that, and then we can have a conversation.
posted by strixus at 5:50 PM on June 12, 2009 [4 favorites]


empath gets it so-o-o right! What the game makers really need is to set up focus groups among racists, other bigots, paranoid conspiracy nuts, narcissists, the self-proclaimed Politically Incorrect (including Bill Maher) and other antisocial assholes and make sure that all of them end up seriously disappointed in the game before it is released.
posted by wendell at 5:58 PM on June 12, 2009


Metafilter just doesn't do anything regarding ethnicity, sex or gender very well at all.

Truthfully, knapsacking doesn't seem to do any of that very well, either; what it seems to do smashingly is art criticism. I am always keenly aware that my deficient taste in books and video games could be corrected with a PhD in Lacanian post-werewolf cosmetology. I'm saving up.
posted by kid ichorous at 6:09 PM on June 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


that demo of L4D2 had some racial stereotyping: the African-American narrator/protagonist was big, strong, barrel-chested and intimidating even without the big gun. Of course, they couldn't have made him Urkel.

Well, sure, but in the last L4D, the big, strong, intimidating guy is white and the black guy is a skinny office worker. The cast of the new one looks to be pretty diverse, though I have to say I'm a bit surprised there's still only one female character. i for one, really dig the idea of the zombie apocalypse as a metaphor for Katrina, which it looks like they're getting at here. Valve just keeps impressing me.
posted by EarBucket at 6:40 PM on June 12, 2009


One thing that I've never seen established in these conversations is what, if anything, people suggest be done about it.

It would be nice if instead of equating concerns with "censorship," people would say "Oh that's offensive? Shit, sorry, didn't mean for it to be. Could you explain how it is offensive and maybe offer some suggestions on how to make it inoffensive, please?"

The argument is that, if the game developers were only more "fully informed," then they would have reached some magical state of enlightenment, and wouldn't have made a game that was patently offensive to all right-thinking people.

Well, considering that Capcom said they were surprised by that reaction, it might have done them some good to be "fully informed" , "marginally informed" or even something beyond "Whaaaa?"

But if you are going to label the game as racist, as many writers did once the cat was out of the bag, without playing it, touching it, or watching more than early trailers, you're grossly oversimplifying things in almost the same way Jack Thompson did.

Over in AskMetafilter there's a black guy asking about his resume. He wants to know what people think about including a scholarship that clearly marks him as black on his resume and whether that's a good idea or not, will it hurt his chances, etc, etc.

I mention this to point that what you call gross oversimplifying is a reality that people have to leave with, deal with and frankly you get a little tired of the stereotypes. So what if it's just a game trailer, does that make it ok to depict (insert horrible image here) just because it's trailer and everything will be explain later. Of course not.

My point is (yes, this is reaching TL;DNR status) I'm tired of being told that a game is one I shouldn't enjoy, or play, or even look at sideways, because it MIGHT possibly be racist/sexist/someother-ist

I'm sorry to hear that someone complaining about racism/sexism/someother-ism is ruining your fun. I really don't want to do, I'd just like to see some games that recognize these things exist and then try to avoid them.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:51 PM on June 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


Very good job, Brandon Blatcher, not reading ANYTHING else of what I said other than what you wanted to read. Very good job.

I get a little tired of the people who aren't even vaguely interested in providing solutions or who aren't even interested in the media being produced shrilling in my ear every few months. Because after a point, you come off about the same as people who want to ban Huck Fin because it has racist language (oversimplification to make a point on my part, but that seems to be the only things that get read by some people around here).
posted by strixus at 7:07 PM on June 12, 2009


BB: I'm sorry to hear that someone complaining about racism/sexism/someother-ism is ruining your fun. I really don't want to do, I'd just like to see some games that recognize these things exist and then try to avoid them.

BB, many such games exist. The subject of this thread is not the failure of a medium, but rather of one single game, a game that seems to provoke offense in such categorical ways as to capture the eye of the Jack Thompson fringe. One game of an infamously bad series is hardly a loss. Solid games with Black protagonists go back as far as Solar Winds and Planetfall (yes, check the novelization).
posted by kid ichorous at 7:20 PM on June 12, 2009


I haven't played the game -- I have only a few friends with next-gen consoles, so co-op games really don't interest me. However, I do keep myself fully read on games, and I think Weebot's analysis is pretty spot-on.

The game has sold more then 5 million units world-wide. I think it's worth talking about Capcom's relative tone-deafness here.
posted by graventy at 7:21 PM on June 12, 2009


Very good job, Brandon Blatcher, not reading ANYTHING else of what I said other than what you wanted to read. Very good job.

I read it, got it, just answered the parts I thought needed answering. What would you preferred be said or done?

I get a little tired of the people who aren't even vaguely interested in providing solutions or who aren't even interested in the media being produced shrilling in my ear every few months.

I provided a solution in the first part of my post and play Halo a couple times a week, so I'm not sure what you're talking about.

If I wasn't clear about solutions, let try again: There is a long history of white people treating black people like crap, we're talking centuries here, ok. Hell, you can find memento like postcards of of scenes from lynchings, with a somber white crowd and dead person or two swinging gently from a tree. Based on such a long and horrific background, I'd like game developers, at least at this point in history, to stop and think twice before crafting trailers or games about white males shooting up a whole lotta black people, be it zombies or otherwise. I'm not saying it can't be done or don't do it, but please put some thought into and be aware of the image you're projecting.

To be clear, I don't think you or Capcom or anyone else are terrible people. The racism that I've experienced the most, white on black, I don't even really take personally, it's just a function of the dominant culture setting the norms and being, you know, dominant. If the races were reversed, I have no doubt that blacks would be treating white terribly, there just seems to be a shitty gene in humanity that enjoys power a wee bit too much.

That said, as a member of minority, I do feel it's important to bring up views from my particular subcultures viewpoint just so they have a voice, you know?

So that's where we are, right here, right now, with this specific problem. There's some racist imagery in a trailer and a game. Some people are saying it's not a big deal. I'm saying it is and trying to articulate why, and offer suggestions on how it can be avoided in the future so everybody can down to fragging each other and we don't have have to have these intense discussions over and over.

As for Twain, he was a great writer.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:24 PM on June 12, 2009 [5 favorites]


Oh, and Redguard. Way back when Elder Scrolls games didn't require an ENIAC.
posted by kid ichorous at 7:26 PM on June 12, 2009


I get a little tired of the people who aren't even vaguely interested in providing solutions or who aren't even interested in the media being produced shrilling in my ear every few months.

Uh, I think several solutions were already provided in this thread, and even in the article. Capcom made changes to the game pre-release because of the outcry.

From Penny Arcade: 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 much farther than you might believe possible.

Perhaps they should have removed the white woman captive scene mentioned above, or avoided the tribal outfits entirely. Maybe even considered a nonwhite protagonist.
posted by graventy at 7:30 PM on June 12, 2009


Solid games with Black protagonists go back as far as Solar Winds and Planetfall (yes, check the novelization).

That's cool, but I'm not really looking to make lists of video games with black characters. I'm bringing these points up because others seem to be saying, in various ways, that the racist images in Resident Evil 5 are no big deal. I disagree and I think that line of thinking isn't helpful for avoiding this stuff in the future.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:32 PM on June 12, 2009


I get that. I'm also kind of sorry for taking the hide out of the entire RE series, but we're talking about an arc of cultural massacre here: from butchering the English language in I, to rustic extras cribbed from a Bertucci's / Olive Garden menu in IV. Yes, I know they're supposed to be Spanish. They spun a wheel and Africa came up.
posted by kid ichorous at 7:44 PM on June 12, 2009


Maybe even considered a nonwhite protagonist.

Was this sincere? Player 2 is an inoffensive non-White, non-male, who inoffensively shoots people in the head.
posted by kid ichorous at 7:56 PM on June 12, 2009


Brandon Blatcher said: There's some racist imagery in a trailer and a game. Some people are saying it's not a big deal. I'm saying it is and trying to articulate why, and offer suggestions on how it can be avoided in the future so everybody can down to fragging each other and we don't have have to have these intense discussions over and over.

Basically, education? Because I'm right there with you on that. That's not sarcasm, either- education is clearly important. If we take Capcom's word for it, ignorance is at fault here, not malice.

With that said: what if Capcom, for whatever reason, actively decided to make an overtly racist game? One could argue that what really happened with Resident Evil 5 was exactly that, since we as a community did have this discussion before the game came out. I'm just worried about what people advocate if a company is clearly aware of such problems but goes ahead anyway.
posted by Maxson at 8:00 PM on June 12, 2009


Meh. Look, I think we were both talking past each other, Brandon Blatcher. I never, at any point, said the imagery wasn't a big deal. But I'm also quite a bit edgy thanks to this recent attempt (recent several attempts) to make video games the next victim of something like the comics code (even self inflicted as it was) or any of the other zillion moral panics that have hit every wave of media. There have been a lot of attempts to make people who play video games out to all be a uniform mass of white, dumb, males, who like violence and not much else. And well, that doesn't sit very well with me in much the same way comic book guy on the Simpsons doesn't sit well with many comic book fans (also, me).

Education all around would fix so many of our constant bouts of shrilling at one another like enraged birds, yet so many people don't seem to be able to get beyond step one "Educate myself about ANYTHING" and step two "Educate others about my culture and plight" to step three which is "Educate everyone about as much as possible, including myself". Honestly, I think step one and two do almost as much damage some times as they try to undo. But meh. What do I know?
posted by strixus at 8:22 PM on June 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


recent attempt (recent several attempts) to make video games the next victim of something like the comics code (even self inflicted as it was) or any of the other zillion moral panics that have hit every wave of media

Underscored.
posted by kid ichorous at 8:35 PM on June 12, 2009


I think one thing that's a serious problem is that lots of times we treat racism like a digital thing. Not like computers or anything high tech but on or off. As in as opposed to analog. I think that's counter productive because it shuts down conversation. You say something or someones racist and you just called him or it one of the worst things you can call someone. Let's get this out of the way Resident Evil 5 is sort of racist. I've played parts of it and watched other people play the rest. It is definitely more racist than not at all racist. But let me make this clear, it isn't very racist at all. It is just a little bit racist. Things can be a little bit racist and we can say all told they should have still been made, it would have been nice if it wasn't racist at all, but on the plus side it has many good qualities. There that's how things work. Being a little racist isn't the worst thing in the world and noting that something is a little racist ought not be a devastating attack. It should go more, like "that was a little racist" "really, how?" "well you had the grunts be black but any sort of organisation be white for example" "well we were trying to tell a particular story about a corrupt business that was based in a primarily white first world country" "well why that particular story?" etc.

Now I'm not saying that this article did anything wrong, in fact I think this article was a very good representation of how to handle these sorts of things. But I do think most people handle this wrong. Racism is a quality that varies in magnitude but because of the way our language works accusing anyone of even a little racism is a serious thing. So people get defensive. But really no. It shouldn't be ok per se to be a little bit racist, but it should also be far less bad than it's treated. I'm sure in my life I've done some racist shit. I try not to but it is hard. Not like right and wrong hard but like math can be hard hard. I can't always figure out how not to be racist. Most people try. Hell even Bill O'Reilly with the stupid Ice Tea Mother Fucker thing was trying. And yeah he was racist, but realistically he wasn't sooo racist. I think two extra o's is exactly right there. If you know what I mean.

Um. I've rambled.
posted by I Foody at 8:35 PM on June 12, 2009 [3 favorites]


There have been a lot of attempts to make people who play video games out to all be a uniform mass of white, dumb, males, who like violence and not much else.

That may be so, but I'm picking up, perhaps wrongly, that you're implicating that when bad stuff like like RE 5 happens, then oh well, there's all this other stuff we have to deal with. I suppose it's a different matter of priorities. Apologies if I've misunderstood something.

And well, that doesn't sit very well with me in much the same way comic book guy on the Simpsons doesn't sit well with many comic book fans (also, me).

Eh, I went to college for Sequential Art and the Comic Guy is funny as hell as well as being uncomfortably true in some aspects. Two, not one, but two classes had the teacher mentioning the important of hygiene and the only problem was that it wasn't brought up more often.

Being a little racist isn't the worst thing in the world and noting that something is a little racist ought not be a devastating attack.

You're alright with me, dude. Have some watermelon.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:55 PM on June 12, 2009


Wait, is this something I would have had to flood a science lab with sharks to understand?
posted by cowbellemoo at 9:25 PM on June 12, 2009


Brandon Blatcher, yeah, you've really missed quite a bit of what I'm saying - there is far more going on here than I seem to be able to convey to you. You seem so much to want me to be saying something that I'm not, and I really honestly have no clue how to tell you that I'm NOT saying the things you seem to think I am, when, upon reading back over what I wrote to make sure I didn't say anything crazy, I can see no way you got out of what I said what you think I said. Thus why I said I think we've been talking past one another.

Let me try this.

The problem is that some people tried to do something with some imagery they didn't quite get all the connotations and denotations of, some people tried to make a point about this, the media began shrilling whatever would make the most outrage form, someone in PR didn't get the message back through the translators that there was a problem, a game got made, people took one look at the imagery, made assumptions about the INTENT of the imagery that were unfounded and unsupported by the rest of the context of the work, many people can't get past the connotations and denotations that are there in those images, and well, now here we are shrilling at each other about it again because of all of the interpretative baggage we've all brought to the circus.

And now that I've committed the WORST run on sentence in human history, let me try to say that simply. I don't know what to do about RE5. I don't know what to do about racism in this context any more than I know what to do with American game companies that make butcheries of Japanese history, or film companies that make movies like Braveheart or The Passion of Christ. Once they are done, they are there, and we have to cope with them, but also acknowledge that the only thing we can do is try to do better next time - EVERYONE. I do think humanity as a whole can change and move past the horrors we've committed on each other (and I mean ALL of them, not just the recent ones), and eventually be rid of even the last echo of the social and political mess that's come about because of them. But we have to acknowledge that it Will NOT happen any time soon. We have to keep lines of communication open, and NOT let emotions, high though they might run, get in the way of actually talking about these things. But we also shouldn't give up the whole thing, baby and bathwater, when they do, because they will.
posted by strixus at 9:29 PM on June 12, 2009


In Far Cry 2, you're killing black people. Who work for the stronger white bosses.

I'll defend Far Cry 2 as an example of how you can set a game in Africa, with lots of black faces involved, without it turning into RE5. FWIW, I played it all the way through, and quite enjoyed it; and because I played it after RE5 hit the news, I was paying a bit of attention to how race was handled.

The narrative framework in which you play is a civil war in a post-colonial African country where there's heavy mercenary involvement. The average citizen on the streets of the cities tends to be black, but not exclusively. When you encounter randomly generated mobs that you can kill, there's a wide mixture of ethnic backgrounds--if they're black, you can assume they're local; if they're not, then they're a merc. That's it--you're not just shooting a bunch of black people working for white people, and the narrative framework isn't implausible. It's not War and Peace or Things Fall Apart, but it's a decent enough plot.

You play a mercenary, and select an ethnicity at the start from a list of places that pretty much covers the globe (I played a Sikh). You don't pick an ethnicity per se, you pick a merc with a backstory and an origin, and those origins are widely scattered. Later on, the mercs you don't choose to be become friends, allies, and enemies, so first off there's a wide racial sampling for villains.

Throughout the game the villains you work with and against are frequently local warlords (who are black) or their mercenary advisors (who are white). There are betrayals and reversals. The overarching villain is a white mercenary who *SPOILER ALERT* turns out at the end to be an ally. And along the way there are sub-missions where you work with local black figures in the community to, say, smuggle passports so refugees can escape.

So overall, as far as race goes, Far Cry 2 does an excellent job of neither using race as a proxy for faction, nor tokenizing races as counterexamples. It's a very nicely racially mixed game that doesn't appear to make a significant effort to be so, it just works out that way thanks to a reasonably useful premise.

And then you kill them all.
posted by fatbird at 9:42 PM on June 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


I'd like game developers, at least at this point in history, to stop and think twice before crafting trailers or games about white males shooting up a whole lotta black people, be it zombies or otherwise.

Did I miss something, was there a whole slew of these?

I know it's Capcom, but was it strictly a Japanese team?

Is the game racist or are the people who made it in turn racist?
posted by P.o.B. at 10:09 PM on June 12, 2009


One of the things that I think might explain the reaction among parts of the gaming community with regards to RE5 is that we've been kind of conditioned to take cultural criticism about this or that game as an attack on the entire medium and of gaming culture.

In the past, I would say that when the gaming community circled the wagons when, say, Joe Lieberman was holding Congressional hearings about the negative affects of games on children in the early-90s, they were right to do so. Back then many people feared that those hearings would lead to government censorship -- it wasn't clear whether games were considered free speech at the time -- and people who followed the industry were rather dismayed at that prospect. The industry, despite growing so big so fast, didn't really have any lobbying clout. If I recall correctly, they had thrown their lot with the trade organizations that represented Computer Software and Consumer Electronics, both of whom regarded the gaming industry as something of a step-child. It also didn't help that, at the time, Nintendo and Sega were using the hearings as another arena to cut at each other instead of providing a unified front to Congress. Frankly, the fact that they were able to escape those hearings with only a voluntary industry-wide rating system is pretty amazing.

(The industry has a lobbying organization now, but is nowhere near as powerful or high-profile as the RIAA or MPAA, despite representing an industry of comparable size. That may be for the better, since their lobbying efforts as of recent have moved away from fighting censorship and more towards copyright enforcement.)

Since then most of the outrage directed towards gaming and the gaming industry has pretty much followed that same sensationalistic, won't-somebody-think-of-the-children moral panic template. Each time it is pulled out, it becomes more transparently political (Hillary Clinton in 2005) and hysterical (Jack Thompson, a Florida attorney who made it a personal crusade to censor games). And each time, the specter of gaming censorship raises its head. So the gaming community developed a knee-jerk hostile dismissiveness towards these critics, with a certain degree of justification.

Now we have something like RE5, which poses a different set of issues that only look similar at first glance. The difference between previous outcries and what faces RE5 now is that RE5's criticisms don't really stem from a traditional moral panic, but comes from a critical theory and identity politics angle, and less from outside the industry (though there has been some outside commentary) and more from people within the gaming community and industry. But because of this industry history, and the fact that the gaming industry and community don't have anything similar to the political culture that music and film have, these racial criticisms against RE5 generated this sort of dismissiveness that these criticisms really don't warrant.

(And honestly, the decibel level of the criticisms against RE5 is far milder than previous outcries, but that is neither here nor there.)

Gaming as a medium really has grown at an astonishing pace, and developers up until recently have been more concerned with what new gameplay mechanics could be introduced than with the thematic content. This preoccupation with form is understandable in that what was possible in gaming was constantly being completely reshaped by each new innovation (the control pad, 3D graphics, the internet, motion sensing, etc). But I get the sense that a lot of developers are starting to move away from simply altering the form and exploring more thematic possibilities. I mentioned a couple games from the last few years that stood out for how thematically airtight they are -- Bioshock created an Ayn Rand world taken to its logical end, the latest Grand Theft Auto features a more complicated morality than usually seen in games, and someone mentioned Valve's latest offering. So the fact that Capcom was so willing to stuff one of their flagship games with this type of imagery without giving a thought to how it would be interpreted feels especially like a step backward.
posted by Weebot at 10:43 PM on June 12, 2009 [7 favorites]


Did I miss something, was there a whole slew of these?
There are the two mentioned in the thread of course. Delta Force: Black Hawk Down springs to mind too.

I found the demo for that too uncomfortable to play. But what was wrong with it? Somalis are mostly black. It wasn't gratuitous; the conflict had received a lot of attention. An easier explanation for it than racism existed. After all, the humiliation of the defeat had given us the term "Mogadishu Factor" so the idea of the game as a revenge fantasy makes more sense than outright racism. The film Black Hawk Down had made lots of money. It was pretty easy to explain the existence of the game without reference to any racist motivation. Yet the imagery involved was too uncomfortable for me at least.

Sometimes, for historical, sociological, or other reasons, some images just do say things we would really rather they didn't say. The inability of a business to see this and walk away from it suggests a lack of sensitivity (being unable to see it) or something like greed (not being prepared to walk away from it). Neither one is a good look.
posted by GeckoDundee at 10:49 PM on June 12, 2009


Delta Force: Black Hawk Down, FarCry 2, and Resident Evil 5 all take place in Africa. Therefore all these games are racist?
Or are they racist because black people are being shot?

Sometimes, for historical, sociological, or other reasons, some images just do say things we would really rather they didn't say.

I get that. The whole save the white women from the black zombie plays into that, and was over the top. I haven't played any of these games and don't plan on it, although I contemplated FarCry 2, but to start laying down the idea that any imagery of black people being shot falls into racist category is a bit much for me. I'm sure there are other games that set up their backdrop as killing a race of people. Call of Duty? I'm not saying this holds the same historical, sociological, etc., but we are talking about the same subject as defined by you (AFAICanTell). If your going to talk about racism in games then let's start calling them all out.

We got a lot of work to do.
posted by P.o.B. at 11:44 PM on June 12, 2009


Delta Force: Black Hawk Down, FarCry 2, and Resident Evil 5 all take place in Africa. Therefore all these games are racist? Or are they racist because black people are being shot?

It's not being set in Africa. It's that, in Delta Force and RE5, race feels like a proxy for the enemy--if it's black, shoot it. Far Cry 2 doesn't have that problem--you got to shoot lots of white people too, and someone's race wasn't at all indicative of the role they played in the game--and didn't elicit the same responses.

It seems to be more cluelessness than malice on the part of the designers, but one can't deny that the imagery of a white person facing down hordes of black people and killing them has certain resonances with a lot of history.
posted by fatbird at 11:49 PM on June 12, 2009


The whole save the white women from the black zombie plays into that

I might be crazy, but I was pretty sure that in that scene (2nd level I think) the white woman up in the building was being attacked by one of the white zombies (which were occasionally scattered throughout the game).
posted by Jezztek at 12:54 AM on June 13, 2009


This whole painful question can be avoided if we stick to shooting imaginary Germans. They're still thoroughly evil, at least Disney relinquishes the copyright.

RE5's criticisms don't really stem from a traditional moral panic, but comes from a critical theory and identity politics angle

My quibbles with identity politics aside, sometimes theory is just the shadow of yesterday’s moral panic. Sometimes it’s an institutional reflex, an antibody to yesterday's crisis. Either way, it’s a sort of memory that can change at the speed of paper and tenure. It is very good at saving the former generation's world.

And our vigilance against certain images of historic racism, and certain kinds of 20th century fascism is, at least among educated people, as hair-trigger as any well-maintained weapon. We don't like to see these spectres reappear. They make us uncomfortable; but not just for ourselves, because we're not afraid of being twisted into monsters by a picture, by some basilisk in the TV. No: we're uncomfortable for children, and for our neighbors, and in equal measure. Hell, they still have Sarah Palin stickers on their car, and magnetic victory ribbons leeched to the back. They believe Obama is a Muslim; they are credulous of email attachments, of chain letters, rumors. And of new diets, and gold standards, homeopathy, chi gung, no money down. We feel a legitimate discomfort. What are they going to do next, and how will it affect us?

Is art advocacy? Is it just a more complicated commercial, full of sleight of hand and hidden payload? What happens when the unwary are struck by the passions the artist somehow cages and releases? Can their senses be concussed out of them by a mantra, or by a terrorist blast, a news-reel run riot in the mind? What will happen when they all pull the voting levers in unison?

If we really do think of art as a powerful form of advocacy, we should be extremely uncomfortable. We should be uncomfortable that Law and Order and Cops and 24 play out as free and regular as the coming and going of daylight. As the same cast, some racially-calibrated starship Enterprise, sails right through our neighbor's sleepy vigil; as the same bulletproofed Galahad breaks the arm of the same witness to the same ticking clock; and the same rights obstruct the righteous hand of the law: not moving against some racial bogeyman of old, but against that pervert, that terrorist.

I am somewhat torn on the idea of equating art and advocacy. I think art is a form of second-hand thought that only in rare instances speaks directly into the ego. It is no more like a commercial than Pat Robertson is a Gerard Manley Hopkins, or every megachurch a Chartres. I'm not comfortable saying that some artist bears the same onus as the advertiser or the politician, if his/her right work is to skewer and dismantle those things. But that doesn't mean I'm correct.

But if I'm wrong, and if we need art like our politicians, filtered and spayed and controlled, careful of what they say, edited and distilled down to the holy and harmonious sound byte, we've got a lot of work to do before Resident Evil 5 gets its turn. Nighttime TV alone is an ant farm, a fascist cross-section: Cops, DEA, 24, Law & Order (every flavor). If something needs to go, that first.
posted by kid ichorous at 1:05 AM on June 13, 2009 [4 favorites]


The argument is that, if the game developers were only more "fully informed," then they would have reached some magical state of enlightenment, and wouldn't have made a game that was patently offensive to all right-thinking people.

Have you noticed that you have to rephrase everything he says so that it looks more offensive to you before you respond to it? It's telling that you can't or won't discuss what he said without rephrasing it, as though he were speaking some kind of code that you're translating for us. I assure you, at no point does Croal think that he's on the side of "all right-thinking people."

Seriously, when you have to make someone sound like more of an asshole than they actually sound to make your point, it's time to reevaluate your point.

strixus: I'm toothgrindingly tired of people not being able to take a middle ground on this issue.

you know, this is sort of the call to arms of apologists on issues like this. here's the thing: there is a middle ground, and Croal is taking it. Have you read the article? Or anything else he's written about the game? He never once accuses the developers, the game, or anyone who plays it of being racist. Not once.

you either have to profess utter hatred that such a vile thing could be produced, and how DARE people enjoy it on its own self contained merits, or you "Don't get it" and are somehow thick and dim witted.

again, this is what bothers me in your comments. no one is saying that. this is more of that "let me translate this otherwise reasonable comment for you" stuff that is a red flag for a poorly constructed argument. if someone says "how DARE people enjoy this game," then you can bust out arguments like this. but if someone says "the imagery in this game makes me wonder how in touch the developers were with african culture and the history of racist imagery" you don't then get to act like they're leveling wild accusations and tell everyone that you wish they had taken a more reasonable middle ground. that IS the middle ground.

The problem, I think, is that the judgments about RE5 that this author made were based on very limited knowledge of the game content itself

no this is not the problem. if someone notices some curious imagery in a trailer, it's ok to mention it. there were no judgements by croal or anyone in legitimate games journalism (and I include blogs like kotaku in this) that were made about the game based on that trailer. they asked questions, and they were good questions to ask because the imagery in that trailer was questionable. then, when the game came out, they played the game and continued the discussion in a reasonable tone while taking the developer's position in mind - and in Croal's case even talking to him about it directly. I don't know what you imagine he should have done to appease you more than that. Should he have apologized to you directly for implying that something could be wrong with the imagery in a game? What exactly would a middle ground have looked like to you, if not that?

and they were phrased in such a way that they gained INSTANT media feeding frenzy status.

by all means, quote the phrases that you think were so objectionable. I suspect they were phrases you invented in your head when you translated his articles into the unreasonable tone of voice that you and Cool Papa Bell have been giving him in this thread.

I'm tired of being told that a game is one I shouldn't enjoy, or play, or even look at sideways, because it MIGHT possibly be racist/sexist/someother-ist.

which is a really weird thing to take away from this discussion and most others on this topic. has someone told you not to play this game? again, you're looking for a middle ground of "we can look at offensive imagery without censoring or telling people not to play games" and that's what we're already doing. no one is telling you this thing that you're tired of hearing. has it occurred to you that you're shadow boxing, here? you're inventing a bad guy to fight who doesn't exist.

If RE5 was really the "brown people rail shooter" that this author and so many others tried to make it out to be, I'd be RIGHT up there with them saying this game is racist.

did you use quotes there because you're quoting somebody saying "brown people rail shooter?" I'd like to know if someone called it that before you did. Also, and I'd like to make this plainly clear to everybody:

nobody is saying that it's racist to shoot black people in a video game. that is not the problem people have with Resident Evil 5.

It's a more nuanced problem of questionable imagery that has a history in american and international media. things like the tribesmen in grass skirts (which was not in the trailer and which croal had to discover by playing the game, btw) raise questions because they don't represent modern africa and are just black stereotypes grabbed to seem alien and frightening when african tribal culture has a more sophisticated history than that. the zulu spear carrying savage is one used by racists historically to denigrate blacks, so it has a certain resonance when it's used so carelessly in a video game. that's all people are saying. it's not that radical an argument, and it's not some crushing blow to video games, gamers or the developers. It's just pointing out a problem. why is that so offensive to you?

And guess what, it is more complicated than just YOUR little island of complicated. Do that, and then we can have a conversation.

this is another trait of apologists: "you think that's bad? well YOU'RE bad! what do you think of that!" look, there's no reason to turn things around and act like anyone who disagrees with you is an asshole. the fact is that, in this discussion, you're the one who's way out on one extreme lashing out at the other side without really listening to them. if you want a middle ground, and some kind of compromise, come over here cause we're standing on it. No one is calling you a racist, and no one thinks you're wrong for liking the game, or not thinking it's racist. I promise.

well, in all arguments there's always that dude who really wants someone to be racist so he can act all self-righteous. but you can ignore those guys. other than them, no body is calling anybody else a racist.
posted by shmegegge at 8:08 AM on June 13, 2009 [12 favorites]


The problem is that, long before this discussion, "that dude who really wants someone to be racist" successfully made this entire issue about how terribly racist Resident Evil 5 is. The reason why this became a big issue in the gaming community is not the carefully nuanced question you mention; this post comes after many other forums have had far more condemning and charged arguments. Suddenly disregarding all that and talking in a theoretical vacuum is difficult at best.

Adding to that are the very real calls for censorship the videogame industry went through in the 90s, which Weebot raised earlier in the thread. When people talk about how terrible videogames are, most gamers still react like their hobby is going to be pushed through a Decency Grater. Politicians and policemen continue to discuss videogame regulation in lopsided terms, so it's not an archaic response just yet.

Finally, even an intelligent discussion like the one you advocate will inevitably raise questions about censorship. Pointing out questionable imagery is very important, but it would be disingenuous to do so without addressing the other big issue: what to do about it. It's too easy, especially on the internet, to be pessimistic and assume anyone who speaks about problems secretly wants to go out and "fix" them. When people talk about how terribly insensitive Capcom was, reading between the lines tends to come up with "and they shouldn't be able to do that again".

Assuming the worst is a bad habit, but it's one gamers may be justified in given the uphill battle the medium has had gaining acceptance. It would help if level-headed discussions about these issues went hand-in-hand with level-headed discussions about future repercussions.
posted by Maxson at 1:26 PM on June 13, 2009


Nobody has suggested anyone censor games for being racist, or indeed, to censor anything for being racist in this thread.

It's still perfectly legal to buy/rent/watch Birth of a Nation and Triumph of the Will, after all.

Those 'against' the game have merely pointed out that it indulges in racial stereotypes and that buyers should be made aware of that, and that Capcom should be made aware that we don't think that's cool.
posted by empath at 2:55 PM on June 13, 2009


Yahtzee's take:

Capcom are not bad people, they're just idiots.
posted by empath at 3:02 PM on June 13, 2009


empath said: Nobody has suggested anyone censor games for being racist, or indeed, to censor anything for being racist in this thread.

Yes, that's true. But as I said earlier, this is only the most recent post in a year-long issue that has raised a lot of calls for everything, so it's strange to separate this discussion from all that. Just look at the FPP title: "Resi Racey Redux", explicitly stating "here we go again".

It's still perfectly legal to buy/rent/watch Birth of a Nation and Triumph of the Will, after all.

Those are movies. People have separated the two many times before; calls are still made to censor videogames without censoring movies. It would be unnatural to restrict the discussion of racism in videogames to "we don't like this" when this problem is clearly part of a larger picture.

Those 'against' the game have merely pointed out that it indulges in racial stereotypes and that buyers should be made aware of that, and that Capcom should be made aware that we don't think that's cool.

I believe those points were made before the game was out, when it came out, and after it came out. Am I to understand that the only relevant discussion here is something that has been said many times already, while simultaneously ignoring the real effects these discussions have on possible censorship?

Oh, and Yahtzee is a funny guy.
posted by Maxson at 3:52 PM on June 13, 2009


Am I to understand that the only relevant discussion here is something that has been said many times already, while simultaneously ignoring the real effects these discussions have on possible censorship?

You know, it's very easy to read that statement as "Why are you still talking about this, can't you see it's giving ammo to those who want to censor the industry?" which would be a weird argument to make particularly since it fails to address the issue of racism in RE5.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:27 PM on June 13, 2009


I am saying that talking about this problem should be done while talking about the effects it will have.
posted by Maxson at 5:39 PM on June 13, 2009


It's still perfectly legal to buy/rent/watch Birth of a Nation and Triumph of the Will, after all.

Film was ruled as protected speech under the first amendment by the Supreme Court since the 1950s. Though there have been many lower court cases that have ruled that the regulation of video games is unconstitutional, there has been no similar ruling for video games from the Supreme Court.

This article, linked upthread, details one 9th Circuit decision regarding a 2005 California law that may make it to the Supreme Court.

That said, there really is little chance that they would find games to not be protected speech, considering how many lower courts have ruled as such. It certainly shouldn't be used as a way to cut off conversation about the troubling aspects of the game.

My quibbles with identity politics aside, sometimes theory is just the shadow of yesterday’s moral panic. Sometimes it’s an institutional reflex, an antibody to yesterday's crisis. Either way, it’s a sort of memory that can change at the speed of paper and tenure. It is very good at saving the former generation's world.

What?
posted by Weebot at 6:14 PM on June 13, 2009


I am saying that talking about this problem should be done while talking about the effects it will have.

Not following you. What effects will talking about this have?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:40 PM on June 13, 2009


Weebot said: [The possibility of videogame censorship] certainly shouldn't be used as a way to cut off conversation about the troubling aspects of the game.

I fully agree with you. However, I feel that various statements against strixus were doing the exact opposite- namely, cutting off conversation about the possibility of censorship by restricting discussion to the troubling aspects of the game. Both are valid discussion points here.
posted by Maxson at 6:41 PM on June 13, 2009


On preview: When discussing (as empath put it) that "[Resident Evil 5] indulges in racial stereotypes and that buyers should be made aware of that, and that Capcom should be made aware that we don't think that's cool.", we also have to think about how making Capcom aware of these things will in turn affect the videogame industry. How are we going to go about making Capcom aware?

Education was one answer, and one I endorse, but it has problems- namely, that people can be educated but can also choose to ignore it. For all we can tell, that's what happened here- Capcom heard about the problems, shrugged, and released the game anyway under the cover of "we were ignorant". That would definitely not be cool, but it sold very well and made them a lot of money.

Is education the only option? Or will we demand more upon failing to see results? I think that's a vital part of this discussion, and one that strixus was (admittedly obliquely) raising.
posted by Maxson at 6:52 PM on June 13, 2009


Isn't the preferred outcome of this conversation fairly obvious? The next time a game publisher is thinking about a game set in Africa, they remember the shitstorm this time around and say to themselves "let's make a concerted effort to understand the source material, avoid racist stereotypes and suggestively racist imagery, and generally follow the examples of other games that were set in Africa that didn't cause a ruckus on the cultural theory front."
posted by fatbird at 7:05 PM on June 13, 2009


Does anybody have a link to the original trailer that had the racist imagery in it? I've tried looking and can't find what people are referring to.

A weird argument to make consists of constantly batting around others statements while explicityly avoiding making one yourself. All the while mainting a moral high ground with which to lob down insults.
posted by P.o.B. at 7:08 PM on June 13, 2009


fatbird, that's the preferred result. But it didn't happen here, even after Capcom was warned about the material before publication. They professed ignorance, made some small changes, and made a lot of money. That raises the question of what to do when education fails.
posted by Maxson at 7:34 PM on June 13, 2009


Yes, they professed ignorance and made money on the title, largely because they underestimated the post-release furor and probably thought the cost of a significant retooling was too large. But I bet when Capcom makes RE6, a lot of this episode stays in their minds when they're developing the concept, when it's a lot easier to do an "is this racist?" check and change it if it is.
posted by fatbird at 7:41 PM on June 13, 2009


... "let's make a concerted effort to understand the source material, avoid racist stereotypes and suggestively racist imagery...

But will they actually do this? The game sold well and made a lot of money, so why should they listen to such complaints if it didn't effect the bottom line? I'd like to think that fatbird's point would happen, that companies would seek to avoid the shitstorm, but isn't that free publicity? Then what do people do, that's what Maxson is getting at I believe.

Fine, no one here is talking about censoring the industry if it chooses to continually put out games with racist imagery. Expect to be called out on it though and have to deal with the shitstorm that comes up about the subject though.


A weird argument to make consists of constantly batting around others statements while explicityly avoiding making one yourself. All the while mainting a moral high ground with which to lob down insults.

I was pretty explicit in my first comment in the thread. Later comments are trying to focus on particular points that people seem to want to ignore i.e. "Ok, that the imagery in the RE5 trailer wasn't too hot, but dammit, what about the possibility of censoring?!" Frankly, if that's the attitude the industry wants to take, fine, but if so, then it can't complain when those outside the industry see it as "a uniform mass of white, dumb, males, who like violence and not much else".
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:57 PM on June 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


But will they actually do this? The game sold well and made a lot of money, so why should they listen to such complaints if it didn't effect the bottom line?

It's not really possible to decide whether or not the bottom line was affected--counterfactuals are true by definition. However, the saying "there's no such thing as bad publicity" holds less true in business, especially when you're a game company. Unless being badass and over the line and racist is part of your schtick, I doubt that anyone will be itching to repeat this spectacle. Also, I think they're guaranteed that when RE6 is announced to be in development, some enterprising game reporter will be ready to ask "So, is this one going to be racist, too?" And unless the Capcom execs are total morons, they'll have an answer ready.

Then what do people do[?]

Same thing as now, if they care: don't buy the game.
posted by fatbird at 11:11 PM on June 13, 2009


Although I used your statement, what I said wasn't squarely aimed at you BB.

"Ok, that the imagery in the RE5 trailer wasn't too hot, but dammit, what about the possibility of censoring?!"

After checking out the original trailer, I had to go back to some of my original questions to try to figure out what people initially thought was racist about the trailer/game and incidentally it looks like it has to do with the simple fact of white guy shooting black people. That in itself doesn't make the game racist, unless the games premise was racist. Bypassing that from what I've heard there are two scenes in particular that have racist imagery associated with them. One being the random white women needing to be saved, which I suppose could be a possibility, but the more likely scenario should have inspired a simple pigmentation change in the abducted. Two being the grass skirt incident, which although is part of the vaccine storyline, is a serious W. T. F?
So I do think specific things should've been brought up and made a big deal, but I can understand Capcom's position of why they went ahead anyway on the basis of "well you misunderstood the premise." Of which Croal admitted to in his article.

Yes, even now I think these things are a big deal and should be brought up but I wonder how that can be constructively done in front of a successful international corporation?
posted by P.o.B. at 11:39 PM on June 13, 2009


Another option besides public awareness would be welcome because some companies really do think "there's no such thing as bad publicity" is true. Consider EA's recent decision to stage a fake protest to drum up talk about their upcoming game, Dante's Inferno. It did succeed in getting more people to react to the game, which is pretty unfortunate.

I feel that people who want to encourage more sensible gaming experiences are currently trapped between a rock and a hard place. No one wants censorship, but public awareness produces controversy-based free advertising. Alternatives must exist: the ESRB was one such alternative, and I think it's helped responsible parents choose games for their children. Of course, it does nothing for irresponsible parents, but that's the downside of a measured response.
posted by Maxson at 12:20 AM on June 14, 2009


"stage a fake protest" was supposed to go here.
posted by Maxson at 12:22 AM on June 14, 2009


After checking out the original trailer, I had to go back to some of my original questions to try to figure out what people initially thought was racist about the trailer/game and incidentally it looks like it has to do with the simple fact of white guy shooting black people.

No, it has to do with the long history of white people shooting black people, and some people being tired of that sort of imagery.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 1:46 AM on June 14, 2009


Well if your position is that unrefined, then you have much bigger fish to fry my friend.
posted by P.o.B. at 2:28 AM on June 14, 2009


All right, I'll give this another shot. I didn't originally respond because I saw my name in a comment under mine, but apparently I was making all sorts of underlying assumptions which I never said, so I wasn't sure if that was aimed at me or Imaginary Comrade Robot Arguing Friend or whomever.

First of all, we've all got troubles, right? It's just that for some of us, continual portrayal of our ethnicity as an unsavory ethnic stereotype is ours. And really, I'm sorry to hear that somebody made a comment about you being white and spat on you in middle school, but honestly, if video game censorship or 'anti-gaming' is a bigger deal for you than racial stereotypes ... no offense, dude, but I doubt that racism affects you as much as it affects other people.

And I'm not saying that this makes you a bad person or anything, it's just one of those facts of life in current American society; some people have to think about race all the time, some people don't.

One of the reasons some people have to think about race all the time is because there are pervasive ethnic stereotypes which show up over and over again. That's why, even though I don't like doing it, really, I feel like I have to say something. Because, look, I don't care what kind of storyline justification you come up with, 'white dude mows down hordes of African savages, some of whom are so savage that they are wearing grass skirts' is messed up.

I'm not arguing for censorship or anything like that. I spent hours playing Team Fortress 2 yesterday. I like video games. I do believe, however, that understanding is the cornerstone of compassion, and that is why I am writing this. You want to play the game, play the game. All I'm hoping for is that when some people are like, "Hey, this is kind of jacked up", other people won't be all, "I am tired of discussing race!/No, you're just being crazy!/Despite the fact that this portrayal of an ethnicity plays into various established racial stereotypes, the intent clearly was not to ..."
posted by Comrade_robot at 5:46 AM on June 14, 2009 [3 favorites]


Well if your position is that unrefined, then you have much bigger fish to fry my friend.

It would have been awesome if someone had said "You know what, you got a point, the scenes of the white guy shooting demonic hordes of black people is a bit f'ed up. We can and should do better than that and if it keeps happening, I'll have to rethink whether I'm going to buy and/or play those games."
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:24 AM on June 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


This is exactly what I thought that this thread would turn into. There is a certain subset of mainstream (as in white) Americans who are so convinced that racism is a negligible factor in today's society that they are incapable of accepting that other people with different viewpoints and experiences have a different opinion.

The idea seems to be that if you find stereotypical imagery offensive you are just wrong. I truly do not understand this viewpoint. I mean, I think that I understand how it comes about; many people do not experience racism in their daily lives, or they have had a few experiences and they come away feeling that it is not such a big deal. Because of this life experience they assume that other people are affected in the same way. The part that I don't understand is the whole extrapolation of one's own experiences onto everyone else. I mean, that is such a leap of faith to assume that other people have not experienced life in a different way and that there perceptions are not valid. It would be like me saying that homophobia has never been a large problem in my life, therefore homophobia must be dead.

Many of the posters here are so attached to their little parcels of righteous indignation that they cannot see that just because one finds these images offensive does not mean that we are calling for censorship. The same rights to free speech that allow people to create these images also allow me to call out the stereotypical and offensive imagery.

As has been stated above by other posters, some people have to deal with the pressures of racism everyday. No we're not being lynched, or enslaved or whatever. There has been progress in the last 400 years. But it has taken 400 years to get to this point, and there is still quite a ways to go. And dealing with the pressures of institutionalized racism is very fatiguing.

As an aside, I find the willingness of Brandon Blatcher and others to continuously, civilly, and eloquently debate these issues amazing. I seriously get so tired and fed up with the argument that I want to scream. I never seem to have these conversations IRL. Outside of out and out racists, I never encounter people who want to debate that racism isn't much of a problem. I'm not saying that anyone here that has argued this is a racist. I do think that many of the "oppressed majority" feel a freedom on the net that they do not feel IRL. And I think that says something about the argument being made. It seems that many people would not be comfortable making this argument to a real live ethnic person for fear of giving offense. Well, that should be a hint and a half for you right there.
posted by anansi at 8:19 AM on June 14, 2009


Oh, and I cannot favorite this enough.

Because, look, I don't care what kind of storyline justification you come up with, 'white dude mows down hordes of African savages, some of whom are so savage that they are wearing grass skirts' is messed up.
posted by anansi at 8:21 AM on June 14, 2009


As an aside, I find the willingness of Brandon Blatcher and others to continuously, civilly, and eloquently debate these issues amazing.

Hee, I spoke up because you said you weren't going to. You can have the next round!
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:30 AM on June 14, 2009


BB, my issue with a stance that "white people shooting brown people" is by defintion racist is that it is
a) extremely reductionist, reducing all things to a simple race-based calculus in the same way that Soviet thinkers tended to reduce all issues to class, and;
b) denies the possibility that the setting of the game may artistically require the enemy to be largely black African.

Would you be inherently against the Black Hawk Down game, despite that being a recreation of a historical event? Moving one step further, is it racist to set a game in Rourke's Drift, where a nation who genuinely looked somewhat like the stereotype of the African tribe swarmed on to a small British Army post? That would certainly be white people shooting black people. Would it be racist to be part of the 'demonic wave' (your words, not mine) of fighters for Shaka?

It is hard to see a justification for withdrawing the possibility of the accurate portrayal of wide swathes of history, and even harder not for me to see your position as itself racist if we are limiting this to 'white people shooting brown people' and thus making different determinations based on the races of the protagonist in *exactly the same situation*.
posted by jaduncan at 1:06 PM on June 14, 2009


jaduncan: You are right; if it was just "white people shooting brown people", it would be reductionist. But it's not that, it's that the game is clumsily appropriating specific, racially-charged images that have historically been tied with the oppression of blacks.

While it certainly is possible to create a game that uses these bits of imagery intelligently and in a manner that isn't racist -- as I mentioned upthread, that was what I was initially hoping -- I promise you that RE5 isn't that game.
posted by Weebot at 1:24 PM on June 14, 2009


When you strip away context from a situation then you can redefine it anyway you want.
posted by P.o.B. at 1:52 PM on June 14, 2009


You are right; if it was just "white people shooting brown people", it would be reductionist. But it's not that, it's that the game is clumsily appropriating specific, racially-charged images that have historically been tied with the oppression of blacks.

Where was that in the trailer? And yeah that is the argument being made as far as I can tell.
posted by P.o.B. at 1:56 PM on June 14, 2009


It's not IN the trailer. It's in the game.

It's got everything but them saying "OOGA BOOGA"
posted by empath at 2:28 PM on June 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


FFS! What'd I say? the grass skirt incident, which although is part of the vaccine storyline, is a serious W. T. F?

But I gues that's not gonna matter because next someone is going to argue about white people shooting black people being intrinsically racist. Or I should say the imagery of that. Because like I said once you take away the context you could find racist imagery in mundane everday occurences, but I guess that doesn't hold for this because outrage is more important.

And it also doesn't matter the initial hooplah was over the trailer (which is or isn't full of racist imagery? I can't keep track.) and that would have a determining factor over whether the company took serious consideration in continuing with what they had.

I'm not going to keep this up because it's getting annoying when the arguement is changing fronts everytime someone decides to speak, and with the addition of someone coming in and basically saying you're racist because you don't agree it's a bit wearing.

I agree with some things and then others I disagree.
posted by P.o.B. at 3:10 PM on June 14, 2009


It's... kinda silly looking. Assides from anything else is that not a bit of a mood breaker?
posted by Artw at 3:17 PM on June 14, 2009


Because like I said once you take away the context you could find racist imagery in mundane everday occurences

It is interesting that you make such a point about context. The context that I and other posters see this in is a legacy of centuries of racism and ethnic stereotypes that color the way that much of the world views black people. It is precisely this context that I feel is being ignored.
posted by anansi at 3:24 PM on June 14, 2009


and with the addition of someone coming in and basically saying you're racist because you don't agree it's a bit wearing.

And I truly hope that that wasn't directed at me since I clearly stated the opposite.
posted by anansi at 3:26 PM on June 14, 2009


It's... kinda silly looking. Assides from anything else is that not a bit of a mood breaker?

I agree the grassskirt scene is so fucking ridiculous they might as well have rounded it out with Betty Boop tied to a post.

It is interesting that you make such a point about context. The context that I and other posters see this in is a legacy of centuries of racism and ethnic stereotypes that color the way that much of the world views black people. It is precisely this context that I feel is being ignored.

What specifically anansi? And why is it being done at the expense of stripping context from the source of this agitation?
posted by P.o.B. at 3:32 PM on June 14, 2009


Would you be inherently against the Black Hawk Down game, despite that being a recreation of a historical event?

Yes, because it's in bad taste, IMO. I personally dislike the video game recreations of historical events where the goal is to go around shooting people because there were real people in these situations, there for a number of complicated reasons and the reduction of reasons and situation to "kill as many people as you can" isn't for me. I can and have spent a day killing alien beings or humans in fantasy/scif scenarios but the realistic simulations hit a bit too close to home for me.

my issue with a stance that "white people shooting brown people" is by defintion racist is that it is
a) extremely reductionist, reducing all things to a simple race-based calculus in the same way that Soviet thinkers tended to reduce all issues to class, and;
b) denies the possibility that the setting of the game may artistically require the enemy to be largely black African.


a) Never said that. What I said was "No, it has to do with the long history of white people shooting black people, and some people being tired of that sort of imagery." We've been there, we've done this, the imagery of indiscriminately harming black people has been around for centuries. I'd like to see less of this and when I do see it and complain about it, I'd like to hear something other than "No YOU'RE the racist" or "What's the big deal" etc, etc.

b) Out of all the game scenarios and plots possible, it's just absolutely necessary that it be set in Africa where the white, male hero is shooting black people, mostly males, eh? There's just no way that could have done different? Like, oh say, have the secondary character be a local who winds up helping the hero after his time has been slaughtered? A black hero?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:15 PM on June 14, 2009


What specifically anansi?

Please clarify because I state specifically what context I'm talking about in the post.
posted by anansi at 4:38 PM on June 14, 2009


"b) Out of all the game scenarios and plots possible, it's just absolutely necessary that it be set in Africa where the white, male hero is shooting black people, mostly males, eh? There's just no way that could have done different? Like, oh say, have the secondary character be a local who winds up helping the hero after his time has been slaughtered? A black hero?"

Please note you have (intentionally?) ignored the fact that the example I gave was a historical recreation of Rourke's Drift. That would indeed require by design that a white male shoots at a black male, and that the black male aggressively charges the position. I did however explicitly state that it was possible to imagine that scenario game from the perspective of a black protagonist, and asked if that would change your view.

It's also not a necessity that video game simulations centre on 'shooting for no reason' - I think Sid Meyer, for instance, would find that a somewhat patronising description of Civilisation IV. Rather, a game can show by parable the roots of conflict in the real world, and indeed it is extremely possible to envisage a game that involved the player taking the Shaka role in political negotiation.

Is the artistic value of that historical simulation/gameplay outweighed by the imagery of inter-ethnic conflict in your view? If so it seems like we are pushing games into a subset of the range of expression widely accepted in films (such as Rourke's Drift, for example). I don't see what is inherently racist about the retelling of what are, in the main, stories of colonisation and death (and not just in Africa) that are too frequently unmentioned.
posted by jaduncan at 5:47 PM on June 14, 2009


But I gues that's not gonna matter because next someone is going to argue about white people shooting black people being intrinsically racist.

You're missing the point, P.o.B, as others have observed. It's not just white people shooting black people, it's white people shooting only black people--hordes of them, zombified, to save a white woman. What's troubling about the imagery is that 1) skin color is a proxy for 'enemy' or 'target', and 2) that resonates with a long history of racism against black people.

As I spelled out about Far Cry 2, you shoot lots of black people in that game, but you're not shooting them because they're black.
posted by fatbird at 6:00 PM on June 14, 2009 [2 favorites]


Please note you have (intentionally?) ignored the fact that the example I gave was a historical recreation of Rourke's Drift.

I specifically stated that I do not like video games that do historic recreations where the object is till to kill a bunch of people.

I did however explicitly state that it was possible to imagine that scenario game from the perspective of a black protagonist, and asked if that would change your view.

Just to be clear, are you asking, if the scenario was reversed, black protagonist killing mostly or all white people, would I find that racist?

It's also not a necessity that video game simulations centre on 'shooting for no reason'

Well, yeah, but most of the games seem to be different settings for kill as many people as you can.

Rather, a game can show by parable the roots of conflict in the real world, and indeed it is extremely possible to envisage a game that involved the player taking the Shaka role in political negotiation.

Curious, can you cite examples that do this? It's not that I don't believe you, just that most games do not do this.

Is the artistic value of that historical simulation/gameplay outweighed by the imagery of inter-ethnic conflict in your view?

That really depends on the implementation. It's not immediately racist if a game involves whites shooting blacks, but I'd argue that in order for it to work, the designers have to be aware of the racial connotations and take steps to avoid them

If so it seems like we are pushing games into a subset of the range of expression widely accepted in films (such as Rourke's Drift, for example). I don't see what is inherently racist about the retelling of what are, in the main, stories of colonisation and death (and not just in Africa) that are too frequently unmentioned.

Like I said, it all depends on how it's done. If the company can't be bothered to get into the nuisances and background, then they really can't complain about a public backlash if screw up some details.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:37 PM on June 14, 2009


You're missing the point,

No, I'm not. Beside the fact that this is your point, which each person here seems to have a bit of a different view on this, I totally understand what this is about. I understand, I get it. I actually support the idea that people have a right to be outspoken about this if they so choose. My only point of contention is that I don't think it's too farsighted for other people to see that this is Resident Evil 5, and take it as it is. And as anansi says "It is precisely this context that I feel is being ignored."

1) skin color is a proxy for 'enemy' or 'target'

Exactly. You aren't shooting them because they're black, you're shooting them because they're zombies. Which negates your second reason. I really don't see how this is a hard idea to comprehend and that this is that far fetched for some people to view as such.
If any of you want to see it as more than that, like I said, than there is definitely bigger fish to fry than this conversation.

From what I can see most people who hold this idea are ignoring the simple questions to advance their idea, but again that's their prerogative. So have at it, and expect those questions to be raised by others.
posted by P.o.B. at 6:59 PM on June 14, 2009


My only point of contention is that I don't think it's too farsighted for other people to see that this is Resident Evil 5, and take it as it is. And as anansi says "It is precisely this context that I feel is being ignored."

So you're basically saying "it's just a video game, it's not Birth of a Nation." Because the narrative context of the game justifies treating every black person as a target, it's not racist. Is this what you're saying?

Exactly. You aren't shooting them because they're black, you're shooting them because they're zombies. Which negates your second reason.

No, it doesn't. By making skin color a proxy for 'target', you're making skin color meaningful in game terms. Black = zombie = bad = shoot it. That's the basic source of the imagery that's troublesome here. In gameplay terms, you effectively are shooting them because they're black. No one's argued that this was an intentional aspect of the game by the devs, but it's there and it's troublesome.
posted by fatbird at 7:11 PM on June 14, 2009


So you're basically saying "it's just a video game, it's not Birth of a Nation."

Nope, don't want to be pedantic but with such a topic I'm going to have to go with exactly what I said.

Because the narrative context of the game justifies treating every black person as a target, it's not racist. Is this what you're saying?

Nope again, the zombies are the target.

No, it doesn't. By making skin color a proxy for 'target', you're making skin color meaningful in game terms. Black = zombie = bad = shoot it. That's the basic source of the imagery that's troublesome here. In gameplay terms, you effectively are shooting them because they're black.

I would disagree.
posted by P.o.B. at 7:15 PM on June 14, 2009


If any of you want to see it as more than that, like I said, than there is definitely bigger fish to fry than this conversation.

What does that mean, "bigger fish to fry" in the context of this conversation and your meaning?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:16 PM on June 14, 2009


By the way, you do realize there are other people of color that you work with don't you? You don't shoot every black person. Again I haven't played the game, but from what I've seen you play with secondary characters that are not the same race as you.
posted by P.o.B. at 7:17 PM on June 14, 2009


As I said before when I was going to bow out, this conversation is wearing me down. This really isn't something that I hold dear to my heart and don't feel like putting that much of a fight into it. Especially since Capcom obviously, without a doubt, did put some racially charged imagery in there.
posted by P.o.B. at 7:21 PM on June 14, 2009


I'll answer your question Mr. Blatcher since you have actually maintained a rather even balanced point of view. (That doesn't mean as opposed to everyone else.)

What does that mean, "bigger fish to fry" in the context of this conversation and your meaning?

You say it has to do with the long history of white people shooting black people, and some people being tired of that sort of imagery.
What I mean is that this imagery is ubiquitous in a lot of other places, therfore I would gather your concerns would extend to these other places also.
posted by P.o.B. at 7:29 PM on June 14, 2009


What I mean is that this imagery is ubiquitous in a lot of other places, therfore I would gather your concerns would extend to these other places also.

Sure, but that doesn't mean I'm going to let these smaller fish get away.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:53 PM on June 14, 2009


It's not just white people shooting black people, it's white people shooting only black people

Technically speaking, they're not black people, they're black former people whose fleshy shells are being used as a host by a bioengineered life form. As has been pointed out, some of the ex-people are/were also white. It's also black people shooting the former people, the female protagonist is black and at various points in the game both are rescued by other black characters.
posted by biffa at 2:48 AM on June 15, 2009


and at various points in the game both are rescued by other black characters.

Oh, I didn't know that. Pretty cool and certainly fleshes things out a bit.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:58 AM on June 15, 2009


To add a little more context, the idea is that the protagonists are members of a global police effort to counter bioterrorism, with Africa as the setting on the basis that multinationals practicing bioengineering and bioterrorism have moved there as it has become too difficult to operate in the developed world. You could certainly make an argument that the storyline represents MNCs as exploitative colonialists and that the protagonists are actually fighting against that. Now, that could be interpreted as depicting the Africans as victims but as noted there is a black African protagonist. The main bad guys are all white (though again, not really human). It may also be worth noting that previous titles in the series have seen the zombification and nuclear sterilisation of a US city and the conversion of a Spanish community.
posted by biffa at 9:46 AM on June 15, 2009


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