Resident Evil 5 and Racism in Video Games
Posted by The Situationist Staff on February 13, 2009
Hilary Goldstein of IGN has an interesting piece on possible evidence of racism in the upcoming video game Resident Evil 5, which will be sold for the XBox 360 and PlayStation 3 and is expected to be one of the most popular games of the year.
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What’s drawing the ire of many outside the industry (and raising the eyebrows of some within it) is who you kill in Resident Evil 5 (“RE5”).
Set in Africa, your primary targets are native Africans. With the release of the first full RE5 trailer in 2007, numerous journalists and social commentators raised concern that RE5 depicted Africa as a nation of savages and that the game itself would reinforce unhealthy stereotypes. When Resident Evil 5 releases this March, those concerns won’t subside.
I’ve played the first half of RE5 and through those three chapters gamers spend a good majority of time shooting people with dark skin. There are moments that some will never connect with racism, but that others will see as clear use of racist iconography.
The game begins with Chris Redfield walking through an African village that appears uninfected. He sees some men kicking something in a sack. The implication is that even before the infection, these are bad people. If RE5 were set on another continent and these characters had white skin, no one would give it a second thought. Typical “village full of bad guys” gaming clich?. But these characters are black. And as such the imagery can be perceived to have racist undertones. Later, there is a cutscene depicting a white woman being dragged into a house by an infected black man. In its recent hands-on, Eurogamer criticized this moment in particular for playing into traditional racist fear-mongering. To propagate fear of blacks from the time of slavery and through the Civil Rights movement in the United States, white society was warned that big black men are coming for your daughters.
Do these images and the fact that the core gameplay has you shooting black men and women make RE5 racist? The answer is going to vary greatly from one person to the next and, perhaps more significantly, from one region to the next. In Japan, for example, it’s unlikely that the events depicted in Resident Evil 5 will be viewed as racist in any way. Japan and other Asian nations never experienced centuries of racist oppression against blacks. In Europe and America, where racism continues to be an issue to this day, and where, less than two centuries ago, slavery was legal, the imagery will likely resonate more substantially.
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The storyline, which has non-native white men experimenting on the African populace, is not much of a stretch. From 1932 to 1975, 400 African-Americans in Tuskegee, Alabama were unwillingly participants in a government study on the affects of syphilis. A 2005 Fortune Magazine article revealed that “Pfizer administered doses of its experimental drug Trovan to children [in Africa] without their parents’ consent.” There are numerous other documented incidents of pharmaceutical companies setting up shop in the poorest areas of Africa to conduct low-cost experiments. Is it racist for Resident Evil 5 to create a similar, fictionalized account?
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For the rest of the article, click here. For related Situationist posts, see “Encourage Your Daughters To Play Violent Video Games?,” “The Situation of First-Person Shooters,” “Suing the Suer: Video Game Company Sues Jack Thompson,” and Michael McCann’s “The Intersection between Tort Law and Social Psychology in Video Games.”