July 27, 2007

The white gamer's burden

Is it just me, or does the new trailer for Resident Evil 5 have disturbing overtones?

Yeah, I know they're zombies. And I know Our Hero shoots hordes of white people (sorry, zombies) in other games (and most likely other levels of this one), but just watch the trailer and see what you see: A heavily-armed white foreigner strides through an impoverished African nation like he owns the place, despite the wary and hostile looks of the savage dark-skinned natives. As often happens in response to colonialism, violence breaks out. But though the locals have the numbers and the passion, the white minority has the guns, and a bloodbath ensues. The scenes of the overwhelmed white man firing shotgun blasts indescriminately into crowds of men and women waving farm implements could be straight out of the Soweto uprising. Ditto the white enforcer's explanation: I'm just doing my job.

That said, the graphics are freakin' awesome.

Posted by Daniel Radosh


Holy shit! Reminds me of "Black Hawk Down."

Did you play RE4? I thought it raised similar questions -- ethnically/culturally "othering" the zombies you're in charge of slaughtering. (For non-geeks, Resident Evil 4 is set in Spain, and all of the zombies speak Spanish, or speak English with hilariously cheesy Spanish accents.)

As is often the case, the trailer is made up of cut-scenes, which are prerendered and can look as good as they want them to look, since the console just plays them like a movie. The gameplay might look like Pong.

I'm pretty sure all the shooting parts are gameplay, no?

no, i think with the advent of the 360 and ps3 were seeing a lot less pre-rendered trailers. The models in the shooting scenes look the same as in the "dramatic" shots and IMO the whole trailer is actually in game graphics. of course we won't know until the game comes out, the whole thing could be pre-rendered...

... but I certainly know what your talking about with implicit racism sneaking into games, especially first person shooters. I'm still hooked on rainbow six vegas, and the first three or four levels take place in Mexico where you get the pleasure of taking out a nest of narco-terrorists. Anti Mexican racism is certainly on the rise in this country (pushed by political motives of the right) and game makers are more than willings to tap into that. But then the question arises of who plays these games? I think there are probably as many non-white gamer as whites, though i'm sure the audience for fps is more angry/violent than those of us playing Super Monkey Ball Banana Blitz. But wouldn't you love to play as an African-American marine back from Iraq to clean up all the racist crackers in Alablama? Or how about a Jewish Kucinich support let loose with a chainsaw at a Promise Keepers convention? Where are those games?

and... speaking of the soweto riots, if you haven't seen it yet, you must, must, rent the movie, "STANDER."


In fact, when I said this looked like Soweto, what I meant was it looked like the Soweto scenes from Stander. Great movie.

Related: "Off the top of your head, name 5 black video game characters. Now, exclude any characters that were not main characters. Now exclude any that appear in a sports game or hip-hop based game. Finally, exclude any characters that embody stereotypical representations of African Americans. (Yes, that means excluding CJ from Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.) How many are left in your list?"

She poses the same question about Latinos, which allows me to mention that Gina asked me the other day if Marcus Fenix from Gears of War is Latino. I don't know. How could you tell?

Also, somebody wrote a paper on this a year ago but it's flimsy to say the least.

And of course, there's a hisory of racist games featuring the oft-overlooked Black Super Mario.

Not sure it's Africa -- so far all they've said is that it's supposed to be "a desert location", which could probably apply to a few places in the Caribbean as well as the Sahara. Haiti comes to mind. It'll probably be fictional anyway.

Wherever it's set, though, it doesn't really change the white hero / brown devil dynamic. And I find that a little disturbing too.

FYI, the developers were pretty explicit about wanting to evoke Black Hawk Down: http://cube.ign.com/articles/635/635139p1.html

I don't think any of that was prerendered.

To answer an earlier question, no I haven't played any of the previous games (only once in the series' lifetime did it and my system overlap) which is one reason I specifically restricted my comments to this trailer.

Over at Ezra's blog, someone who has played the game writes, "One last thing, about that "job" the white character wants to see through. It's the complete destruction of a US bio-weapons developer which presumably has been intentionally infecting Africans with the alien parasite they've been experimenting on...."

I don't think this changes much overall, though it does indicate that a fan of the series would hear that line differently than someone watching without context.

The deeper question is the one raised in the comments of the post I linked earlier: "Chris Mottes talks about how much effort went into lending some authenticity to the Mexican culture that he stereotypes but it seems that a good question to ask might be “Why did you pick Mexico in the first place?” Was it out of a genuine attempt to explore Mexican culture or was it simply a case of “consuming the other” by placing it in an “exotic” location?"

Also, I can't let stand Jake's strangely right-wing comment that FPS players are more violent and angry than others.

well I'm not saying all fps players are school shooters, I'm just saying they are more violent/angry... which is mostly based on my experience that a number of my video gaming friends refuse to play them because the violence is a turn off. does that make me a right winger?

that was an interesting blog... the only games I can think of that are really inclusive are the fighting games, soul calibur, doa, etc, but as far as sexism, well is it NAMCO's fault only hot chicks with silicon tits like kung-fu?

but I do think Latoya missed it on one spot, most of the RPGs I play are pretty good about strong female characters; FF, the Disagea games, sukidon. And the new trend, not just in KotR, is make your own character; morrowind, wii.

but I just checked my whole collection and the only minority character lead I could find is shenmue...

the developers were pretty explicit about wanting to evoke Black Hawk Down:

Thanks for the FYI, that's very interesting.

My mind is trying to wrap itself around this passage:

The enemies are meant to come after players in great numbers, conveying the sense of insanity of hoards of natives that Takeuchi took away from Black Hawk Down. We can apparently expect something along the lines of the primary enemy in Resident Evil 4, who spoke a language that you were unable to understand and were more advanced than the zombies that have appeared in previous survival horror games.

most of the RPGs I play are pretty good about strong female characters.

And non-stereotypical non-white characters. (E.g., the grumpy old Jedi in KOTOR). Off the top of my head, Half-Life 2 had non-stereotypical black characters, though not playable ones.

Haven't played an awful lot of video games in the past few years, but I do remember a really strange decision to make the one black character in Final Fantasy 7 speak in a ridiculous slang dialect while everyone else who grew up in the same area (including the main -- white -- character, Cloud) spoke without the dialect.

My mind is trying to wrap itself around this passage:

btw, in case it wasn't clear, the linked interview with Takeuchi is from two full years ago ... so I'd assume the enemies have now been revealed in this latest trailer: Hordes of fast-moving zombie natives.

I don't think any of that was prerendered.

Yeah, the footage looked pretty standard for a PS3/360 title. The newest consoles have mind-boggling amounts of power. Witness Gran Turismo 5.

apparently others have the same idea:

complaint about racism in RE5


Sheesh, I'm glad I don't suffer from the crippling malady known as Liberal Guilt.

I can enjoy something and not feel even remotely bad about it afterwards. Try it!

And I'm glad I'm not a total douchebag.

You're right! That felt great!

...and honestly.. he is in a third world country i mean there aint no white guys there in real life so why change it for racial circumstances its more realistic.

god, this trailer makes me sick. I almost tear up a little when I think of how hard some of us are working so that this imagery doesn't keep getting shoved down our collective throats. Doesn't it suck when racism is disguised behind such beautiful workmanship, i.e. the incredible graphics? hmmm I just hope more people voice their dissatisfaction with the way Capcom has decided to do business.

ps. it's good to critique what you care about... in fact, it's probably more important to think critically about what you love than for other things.

It'd be great if you could take a second to check out what I linked to in my name. More writing about RE5 that I'm interested to hear your thoughts about.

thanks you so much for posting,

Sir, Madam,
When is a matter of research about "The Lost Colony", what about the shipwreck of a Croatian ship at Hatteras in 1498?

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