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Resident Evil 5: Killing African Zombies is Racist

By Shamus
on Wednesday Mar 18, 2009
Filed under:
Video Games


Crispy Gamer has a review on Resident Evil 5 that’s making the rounds. It’s mostly a review on the percieved racism in the game, and only tangentially about the game itself. Scott Jones comes right out and calls the game racist, and I’m foolishly rising to the flamebait by responding to him.

If you’ve missed the story: The game takes place in Africa. Being a Resident Evil game, it’s about fighting “zombies”. (Not really zombies this time around, but zombies by another name.) Being set in Africa, most of the zombies are infected from the local population. (i.e. Not white people.) This is a Japanese game. We’ve have several titles in this series where we gunned down noting but lily-white Americans, and RE4 where we gunned down some slightly swarthy Spaniards. None of this raised any red flags for players.

So Japanese writing about white people killing white zombies was fine, but Japanese people writing about a mixed-race team of people killing African zombies is racist?

Read the whole thing for full context. I’m just going to cherry-pick a few comments.

If you’ve got a PC bone in your body, if you know the history of racism at all, Resident Evil 5 is not going to sit right with you.

This sounds like an ad hominem: If you don’t have a problem with the game then you are ignorant of the history of racism.

Thick-necked Chris Redfield, the protagonist from the original Resident Evil, and newcomer Sheva Alomar are the dynamic duo sent to subvert — you guessed it — another bio-terror threat. Both are so ridiculously hale and hearty, they appear to have just finished high-fiving after doing wheatgrass shots.

The African zombies, in contrast, look underfed and hollow-eyed. Their lips are puffed and cracked; their bloodshot eyes practically bug out from their skulls. The physical contrast between the game’s heroes and villains — light skin versus dark skin (even Sheva, who’s African, is light-skinned); civilized versus savage — makes cutting down hordes of the infected with a submachine gun a complicated and troubling act.

The fact that zombies are emaciated and disturbing is the entire point. How does this make it racist? Would it be less racist if the zombies were… healthy? If they didn’t look like zombies? What could the designers have done here? If they’d not made the zombies look like zombies, Scott could have just come at them from the other direction: What does it say that the white people in previous games are all dehumanized through discoloration and decay, but the Africans in Resident Evil 5 look just like regular Africans? Is the game saying that these people are already sub-humans?

Things get even more troubling once you encounter zombie natives wearing bone necklaces and grass skirts and, quite literally, throwing spears.

Would it still be “racist” if the game were set in Europe, and they came at you with longbows or pikemen? What about games where white people fight with primitive weapons? Because, that’s 90% of American RPGs, right there.

What about the previous game where the Spaniards (or whatever they were) carried pitchforks? Why is a spear and a grass skirt offensive, but overalls and pitchforks not?

Ironically, this is simultaneously the best and the worst localization job Capcom has done in its history. The English translation is better; the grammar and spelling mistakes (a longtime staple in Capcom games) are kept to a minimum. Yet the localizers and developers were profoundly ignorant of how Africans, and African-Americans, and big white dudes with liberal leanings, would process the game.

Imagine that. A Japanese writer wasn’t able to intuit how his writing would be received by large white liberal men in America.

I have no idea if anything I’ve written is offensive to short blond English Tories, or left-handed Australians with freckles who voted ALP in the last election. Perhaps I’m a racist.

I can’t believe I’m defending the writers at Capcom. I doubt I’ve ever seen anything they’ve written that I didn’t regard with contempt. But I don’t think it’s possible to write in such a way that your words won’t offend someone, somewhere.

That once-charming Japanese irreverence? (Example: the absurd pseudo-macho things that Street Fighter IV’s characters say before and after fights.) It’s not charming anymore; it’s annoying and small-minded; it’s lazy. It’s no longer acceptable to explain away a game’s shortcomings with the excuse that “it’s Japanese,” and therefore comprehendible only to Japanese people. The medium has become a global entertainment; it’s not the niche hobby it was five or 10 years ago. And that ever-expanding audience — different ethnicities, different tax brackets, different levels of education, different points of view — must be considered.

“Must be”?

I can only imagine the result if every story had to be carefully written and filtered by a multi-ethnic committee so as to not accidentally offend people of “different ethnicities, different tax brackets, different levels of education, different points of view”. It would not improve the world of fiction.

Zombies are usually “generic people”, but when all of them are of a different race, it might make them feel a little less generic. Zombies are supposed to make you a little uncomfortable because they inhabit the uncanny valley and are recognizable as both monsters and people. Perversely, the distaste Scott is feeling is something you’re supposed to feel when you’re killing zombies. We’ve been desensitized to gunning down white zombies in suburban shopping malls, and when a change of context restores that lost empathy for the victims the resulting revulsion is mistaken for some sort of malice on the part of the designer.

I don’t object that Scott Jones is uncomfortable with the imagery in RE5. If I ever end up playing the game I might have the same reaction. (But I’m sure I’ll be offended by the awful writing long before I reach the shooting zombies portion of the game.) Maybe after an hour of gunning down dark-skinned people I’ll feel the same sense of horror that he does.

I was sickened by the gunning down of kids in Prey. I can understand when a game crosses a line for you. But the goal of tolerance – if that word is to have any meaning at all – should be to tolerate it when we bump up against people with differing world views. This is the very opposite of what Scott is proposing here, which is to demand that other people know our culture before they have the audacity to speak to us, and to take deliberate offense when they mess up. Meticulously sorting and labeling people by ethnicities, income, and education level is probably a bad idea as well if your goal is for people to get along with each other.

I don’t think the writers at Capcom are Racist any more than I think the writers at 3D Realms want to kill kids. I have no problem with him not wanting to gun down mobs of Africans if it strikes him as disturbing. But hanging the label of racist on Capcom is absurd.

And finally, I’ll end with something Susan Arendt wrote a year and a half ago, when tackling the same subject:

Seriously, if we’re not all equal when we’re zombies, for god’s sake, when are we going to be equal?

Comments (134)

1 2

  1. Right on shamus! i think a main problem of these debates is that people become so uncomfortable when the issue of race even enters their peripheral vison they tend to overreact. Spanish is not a race you could identify in a lineup, while African is. What this guy also needs to consider is the context that the killing of these African zombies is happening in. It would be one thing if you were landing in a totally normal African village with your assault rifles and just kiling everyone who looked at you funny. But these guys are in a kill or be killed situation, and probably would feel remorse if Capcom could write charecters with emotions as complew as that.

  2. krellen says:

    Everything is racist these days, and it’s making nothing racist. Ironically, the outcry that sees racism in everything is making it far easier for people to get away with actual racism.

    The fact of the matter is, outside of certain regions of the South, there really isn’t a lot of racism in this country. There is, on the other hand, a lot of classism; poor folks are looked down upon (a universal truth of humanity, this one.)

    The only reason it seems racist is that, built upon the back of centuries of disadvantage, Blacks in America are disproportionally poor. The solution to this, however, is not to continue decrying racism and finding solutions to enforce racial equality, but instead to enact policies that benefit all poor – which, by extension, will “disproportionally” help Blacks, thus giving them the aid they need to get on more equal footing while simultaneously removing the spotlight from a perceived difference that “disadvantages” them.

    People – especially us big white guys with liberal leanings – really need to stop trying to find “racism” in everything. It only fosters and abets racism.

  3. MadTinkerer says:

    “If you've missed the story: The game takes place in Africa.”

    I think the real problem is the fact that in the first RE games all the zombies were Africans. Oh wait, they weren’t? They were the ethnicity of the people you would see in those locations? Hmmm… That would make… sense…

    If there was a real controversy, it would have happened earlier in the series.

    The real problem is that too many people have been conditioned to think that certain kinds of things are racist when applied to a particular ethnicity and not racist when applied to other ethnicities. If people would just frakking apply what Martin Luther King Jr. was saying back in the 60s (e.g. let’s not pay attention to peoples’ ethnicities AT ALL no matter who they are), they’d realize that RE5 is not racist just because it has African zombies.

    In fact, African zombies in RE5 goes to show that RE5 is reaching out in a spirit of broad cultural understanding by showing that people from all nations and cultures can become zombies, not just caucasians. Generally speaking African zombies are an under-represented minority in videogames. When’s the last time you saw an African zombie in a game?

  4. Tesh says:

    Racism is the art of taking offense when none is intended, or giving offense when it’s not warranted. If we’re ever to realize the dream of a “colorblind” society, both those who take offense and those who give offense need to grow up and stop seeing things along racial lines.

    The RE5 kerfluffle is just another place for people to play victim and get some attention. Those who embrace their victimhood are propagating racism just as much as someone who tries to cause trouble.

    Tongue in cheek, aren’t zombies more or less rooted in the voudou religion? That has some African roots, if memory serves. Why isn’t there a fuss over other cultures appropriating and warping their views? Have zombies been whitewashed to sanitize (PC-ize) their use?

  5. LafinJack says:

    But I don't think it's possible to write in such a way that your words won't offend someone, somewhere.

    This offends me.

  6. Greg says:

    Racist? Really? Are stupid people a race? If they are, then I’m a racist. Some people really should think before they express their opinions. If the game had you rounding up hoards of African zombies and enslaving them, torturing them, selling them, etc., then I would label it as an act of racism. But to kill African zombies in Africa is not racism. Would killing Martians on Mars be racism?

    I’ll throw in my PC idea for RE6: The game takes place in Blobonia. The tower of Bloble has been infested by zombie blobs. Everyone is a gray bloby thing. The bad blobs look exactly like the good blobs.

    But I’m sure someone would complain because this blob is grayier and blobier than that blob.

  7. MadTinkerer says:

    “If we're ever to realize the dream of a “colorblind” society, both those who take offense and those who give offense need to grow up and stop seeing things along racial lines.”

    Hear, hear! The problem is that Colorblindness is not Politically Correct. “Cultural sensitivity” is the antithesis of Colorblindness.

    “Tongue in cheek, aren't zombies more or less rooted in the voudou religion? That has some African roots, if memory serves.”

    I think it’s actually a Caribbean thing. There are people in real life who claim to be zombies brought back by voodoo (ore however you spell it). They’re black. Are they being racist?

  8. Neil says:

    I can never decide whether it is worth the effort to try and reason with the PC crowd, or whether it is best to not even dignify them with a response. They obviously haven’t reasoned this thing through so far, why would they start?
    Edit: Ok, thats pretty bitter, but I can’t help but wonder it when I see these sorts of controversies pop up.

  9. Gotelc says:

    All i read was the tittle of the article but having been here before i know what your argument will be “its not racists”
    (i did check to see your conclusion about this fiasco)
    and i agree I think it is racist to insinuate that black people cant be zombies! they are just as human as the rest of us and just as susceptible to zombification!

  10. Tim says:

    The grass skirts and spears don’t reflect well on the designers. Doesn’t it suggest that they believe some normal West Africans live this way?

    And I don’t get Shamus’s European comparison. If all the modern British zombies in 28 Days Later were using pikes, you’d wonder where the hell all the pikes came from and what the writers were thinking. These Kijuju zombies are supposed have once been modern West Africans, no?

  11. OEP says:

    What irritates me the most about this claptrap is that the entire outcry of “racism” is based on the racism of the writer. As others have already commented, all zombies are created equal. By insisting on special exemptions for certain races from zombiehood, the writer is perpetuating the very racism he accuses the game of portraying.

  12. mneme says:

    Game doesn’t sound offensive, in context. If anything, by adding a black character, it seems like they were making token effort to avoid accusations of racism (despite the lighter=good, darker=bad thing, which is an issue).

    OTOH, 2, 4, and 8 are pretty offensive, and 7 & 3 are kinda out of date (color blindness is really 70’s, but not so 00’s, where someone’s race/background is part of their cultural identity and somewhat offensive to ignore–“I don’t think of you as Indian” reads, not entirely unreasonably, as “you’re not like -those- indians”).

  13. Simon_Says says:

    All these controversies of racism in RE5 and no one mentions the alternate costumes for Sheva? The least the Morals Policeâ„¢ can do is be consistent.

  14. Dan Beck says:

    Shamus said, “We've been desensitized to gunning down white zombies in suburban shopping malls, and when a change of context restores that lost empathy for the victims the resulting revulsion is mistaken for some sort of malice on the part of the designer.” That struck me as being profoundly insightful and succinctly identifies the core of the problem, stripped of all PC rhetoric. Well done, sir!

  15. Strangeite says:

    I haven’t played the game but a personal pet peeve of mine is how most Americans think of Africa as one giant country. It is a continent with a greater contrast in cultures than exists in Europe.

    Saying that a zombie game set in Africa is racist because it depicts the zombies with dark skin, is stupid. However, it is fair to point out the sub-conscious racism in depicting west africans wearing bone necklaces and grass skirts. I agree with Tim that people would have found it bizarre if English zombies were walking around with pikes. West Africa has many many many problems but the vast majority of the population is not wearing grass skirts and using spears (unless of course they are entertaining tourists). A far more realistic depiction would be if they were wearing 15 to 20 year out of date American t-shirts.

    • Shamus says:

      On the grass skirts thing:

      The demo shows the zombies dressed just as Strangeite suggested: Out-of-date western clothing. So the spears & skirts stuff is probably just a section of the game, added for variety.

      But the grass skirt thing is still around. I’ve viewed many slideshows from missionaries in various parts of the dark continent, (I have both acquaintances and relatives who have lived in various parts of Africa for years in that capacity) and there are places where people still dress that way. I don’t know how often (I believe it’s ceremonial, not a daily thing) but their low-tech culture is mixed with their modern culture in strange (to us) ways, perhaps because of because of the abruptness of the transition. It’s not uncommon to see missionaries join them in dressing up like this. I wish I had some pics handy, I’d post them. It really is a beautiful and amazing thing.

      Another example is the anthropological movie on YouTube, where you can see Mike Wesch dressing up in that way:


  16. Jay says:

    @mneme – Really? You are nitpicking the responses of others as being offensive? Specifically, how did #8 offend you?

    I am kind of tired out by the thin skinned nature of people. I have no doubt that these whiners always existed, but it seems like more and more feel comfortable airing their minor offenses in the court of public opinion, where the offender is often tried and executed by people who have *no idea* what the source of the issue was about.

    This is the perfect example. People with no knowledge of this game in particular or videogaming as a whole (with the first four RE games included in that) will be jumping on some kind of boycott bandwagon, and making a huge issue out of nothing at all.

    In all seriousness, since mneme seems to be one of these, maybe he can offer a lucid explanation?


  17. krellen says:

    mneme, @#12:

    How are our comments offensive? I think we need a bit of context to understand where you’re coming from here; at least I do.

    It is an unfortunate fact that Blacks are disproportionally poor in the US. How is pointing that out offensive?

  18. R4byde says:

    I can't believe I'm defending the writers at Capcom. I doubt I've ever seen anything they've written that I didn't regard with contempt. But I don't think it's possible to write in such a way that your words won't offend someone, somewhere.

    Tis a dark day for us all when words such as these need be uttered. I still haven’t quite recovered from the stupidity that was RE4’s storyline.

  19. Hal says:

    This reminds me a lot of the South Park episode where they were debating the town flag. If you don’t know, the flag showed a bunch of white people hanging a black person, and there was a “history vs. racism” argument. The children were to hold a debate on whether to change the flag, and the “don’t change it” side argued that it shouldn’t be changed because violence was natural and part of our heritage. When Chef stood up and pointed out the racism, the boys were surprised; all they saw was an act of violence by four people against one person.

    It reminds me of that because I really think RE5 is going to seem racist if you want it to be. When you’re playing, do you see yourself as a soldier gunning down zombies, or do you see yourself as a white soldier gunning down black zombies? Even so, you have to answer why the latter would be a problem. If the answer involves the words, “historically” or “symbolic,” then you are making a mountain out of a molehill.

  20. Veylon says:

    Note on Scott Jones: Not Black. He’s the big white dude with liberal leanings, the most thin-skinned of thin skins.

    This whole issue reminds of a while back when some NFL teams were accused of being racist for using Native American (Amerindian?) imagery for mascots. Apparently nobody did their homework, as local tribes turned to often have close connections to these teams and approved of their usage, thus leaving certain liberals in the awkward position of trying to tell their ethnic neighbors how to think.

  21. Strangeite says:

    Shamus, you are right that grass skirts and spears are still used and you are also correct that they are most ceremonial.

    I agree with most of the commentors that people’s skins are too thin; but, it is fair to point out the absurdity if most of the zombies in the game are wearing outfits that play into people’s sterotypes.

    I live in Kentucky and my family puts on a very large bluegrass music festival. I have a picture taken last year of a guy wearing overalls, no shirt, barefoot and carrying a Mason jar full of moonshine. Taken out of context this picture plays into most people’s sterotypes of Kentucky and they wouldn’t realize that this man holds a PhD in Sociology and is a member of a United Nations committee on cultural awareness. Do Kentuckians dress this way? Yes, occasionally. Is this a fair representation of the dress of Kentuckians? No.

    As I said, I haven’t played the game, but if the African zombies are predominately pictured wearing bone jewlery, grass skirts and carrying spears, I believe it is reasonable to suggest that the game is reinforcing pre-existing sterotypes.

    Just my two cents.

  22. Maddy says:

    Well said, Shamus. Thanks.

  23. Derek K. says:

    The human race never fails to confirm my opinion of them. ;)

    I do wonder about the grass skirt bits – I know that there are still people in Africa that dress that way from time to time. I don’t know that, as a designer of a game that you had to know would get called out as racist, I would have used them. Even if the story is that the outbreak is localized to some indigeous tribe that Umbrella used “because no one cares about them” or some such, I might have held back. But I haven’t seen it, so I dunno.

    Racism is such a fun topic. I do agree *some* with mneme in that we’re sort of past the idea of a colorblind society, and in to one that accepts that people have different heritages, which make them who they are, but that there is no value judgement implicit there. That being said, if the worst you can say about someone is that they are treating you as a person, not as a person with a unique heritage, I think we’re good.

    And the idea that, some how, a person (is she African?) with lighter, but still dark, skin is different is a bit crazy.

    As a white liberal, I know how it goes. As a white liberal who now lives in Wisconsin (where they have all kinds of races – german, czech, norwegian, polish, (someone said that to me when I was interviewing here, not to be mean, or denigrate non-caucausians, but just because they just don’t see other races much)), I know that it’s hard not to feel guilt and shame every time you encounter someone who has, at some point in the past, been mistreated by white people. But you know what? Ain’t no race in the world (including caucausian) that hasn’t been mistreated by white people at some point.

    I’m reminded of an Onion article that came out shortly after Obama’s election: “Nation’s Blacks Creeped Out By All The People Smiling At Them” or something similar.

    Also, Re: Americans think Africa is all one country: It’s okay. We think the same thing about Europe (except for those stupid french people), Asia, Australia, and Antartica. Really, you’re American, or you’re someone else. And being from Texas, I know that it’s Texas, Mexico, South Canada in NA.

  24. Danath says:

    The games writing plays out very much like an action movies really, I didnt find the voice acting particularly terrible, theres no “master of unlocking” moments. Its cheesy action style voice acting, and personally I found the ending plenty satisfying, admittedly I watched someone ELSE play the game, as I dont have a PS3 of my own.

    I personally think the big problem is they made the zombies a little TOO lifelike, people are used to the crazed semi-brainless zombies, these ones use guns and cover and grenades, which makes it feel less like your fighting zombies and more like actual people. Not that it does these parts BADLY, the tone of the “zombies” is just generally different than the shambling undead we all know and love.

  25. Gregory Weir says:

    The racial issue with Resident Evil 5 is not that the game is racist, but that the game uses racist imagery. Disclaimer: I have not played the game. I’ve only seen videos.

    The zombies as portrayed in the game bear a striking resemblance to that of the brute, a common racist stereotype of black folks: http://youarelose.blogspot.com/2008/04/resident-evil-5-dangers-of-stereotyping.html

    By playing directly to this stereotype, the creators of the game have tapped into a lot of dark and nasty hidden prejudices. Black people are said to be savage, vicious, brutish folks. When they’re infected with the zombie juice, they become crafty cannibals who must be put down. Note that they don’t seem to become dumb, lumbering zombies; this is probably part of the RE mythos, but it’s still troublesome.

    The worrying thing here is that the creators chose to make a game that looks like the suppression of a slave rebellion. One has no excuse to be ignorant of these issues of racist imagery in this age, but the creators chose to go ahead with it. They chose to set the game in dusty shantytowns. They chose to have toothy, bugeyed black folks growl savagely and wield primitive weapons. They chose to have the protagonist be white and technologically superior.

    Does this make the creators racist? No. Does it mean people shouldn’t play it or have fun with it? No. But it is an embrace of an old, awful stereotype. If I wrote a book about a lazy, shiftless black woman who uses her kids to leech off of welfare, or made a movie where the villain was a black guy who raped white women, I’d be guilty of the same tactless disingenuity as the RE5 creators.

    It might be a good game, but the racist imagery is there. And it’s not cool to sit in a place of privilege complaining about how all those people get offended too easily and turn everything into a race issue. Racism is alive in America and in the world. Black folks still get bad service in restaurants in Indiana and Atlanta and Seattle. Black thug characters still outnumber black professionals in movies a hundred to one. Racism is a big issue, and pretending to be colorblind won’t make it go away.

  26. Strangeite says:

    Gregory Weir: Funny you mentioned Seattle. I have a good friend that is black and moved to Seattle about six months ago. He says he feels far more sub-conscious unease by people in Seattle than he ever did living in Kentucky. I told him that is probably not his skin color but the fact that he has a Kentucky accent and wears a UK hat everywhere. People love to hate on the Wildcats.

  27. Nargon says:

    in RE6 we’ll be shooting jewish zombies in SE of mediterranean and next morning israel nukes Japan…

  28. Kaitain says:

    I must say I’m quite offended by this review… but not for the whole racism issue… Everyone I know thinks I’m Caucasian, but in truth I’m actually Palestinian, just with really light skin. So I’ve been constantly told that I can’t take part in debates of race because I’m “white.” Judging someone by the color of their skin… that’s not racist at all [/sarcasm]

    Anyway, I found this guys review to be quite offensive, because from the look of the website, it seems as if he is supposed to be presenting a review of the game. He is not. He is simply complaining about the game (spending the first 2 pages and not even talking about gameplay or story (outside racism) is a sure sign of a bad reviewer…). Resident Evil has never been my kind of game. I don’t like the “tank” like controls for the character, so I’ve never really gotten into the series. But I realized that none of the review told me what I’d actually look for in a game. “Will I have fun?” All he did was complain like some whiny emo kid… When you are actually presenting yourself as a guide to buying a product, you should not be allowed to be so pigheaded.

    Also noted Scott’s second favorite game of all time is “Dead Rising.” Aparently he has no trouble killing hoards of suburbanites, since that’s not picking a location, and turning all of that class into zombies for the slaughter…

    Sorry for the rant… but people should really get over their own racism/classism before attacking on someone else.

  29. krellen says:

    I live in a state where whites are not the majority (and I suspect, in the upcoming census, we won’t even be the largest ethnic group, either.) That does a lot to colour one’s thoughts on racism; every other person I see around here is brown, so brown becomes just another skin colour, and not anything particularly special. We’re all a little Hispanic in New Mexico, regardless of skin colour.

    I come from a long line of Northerners, dating back to before their was a United States. My ancestors didn’t own slaves; my ancestors were abolitionists and those that sought to give equal protection under the law to all people at the formation of this country. My heritage is white, but it is not a heritage of oppression and slavery (with regards to Blacks. Native Americans are free to make me feel guilty; we did that, our bad.)

    So why, exactly, do I have to feel guilty over these stereotypes that, frankly, have as much to do with poverty as they do with race?

  30. Namfoodle says:

    The whole thing strikes me as a Tempest in a Teakettle.

    I agree with Shamus, you can handwave the traditional garb by assuming they had it around for ceremonies, or for entertaining tourists. Or evil bio-weapons manufacturers.

    If British zombies showed up with pikes, I’d assume they’d broken into some re-enacter’s garage. There are all sorts of re-enacters and LARPers here in the USA, you get Civil War, Renfaires, the SCA, etc.

    I’d always assumed that the medieval re-enactments were even more popular in the UK than here.

    What would be really funny is if a bunch of Boffer-wielding LARP fighters got zombie-fied and kept the boffers. Comedy Gold.

    On a very tenuously related note, have you ever seen Code Geass? I’ve only seen a few episodes, but I had trouble telling the “11’s” (Japanese) from the “Britanians”. They all look like generic idealized anime pod people to me. Whats up with that? I have to look it up on wikipedia to figure out who’s who. But some of the girls have really great boobs and the school uniforms come with super-short skirts, so, no complaints…

  31. Tesh says:

    krellen, maybe because seeking retribution and propagating hate is easier than forgiving and taking responsibility?

  32. Henebry says:

    Let me make a somewhat different case.

    Traditional zombie movies are about the dead of your own community rising up to kill you. The infection is a metaphor for corruption within society.

    Res Evil IV appears to participate in a very different tradition, one where an outsider, a traveller, a colonist faces an alien evil on its home turf. In that tradition, the evil to be faced is an expression of the primitiveness of the culture being visited.

    This is a familiar storyline not from mid-century American horror films, but rather from turn-of-the-century pulp fiction glamorizing the Colonial project through which Africans and other “primitive” people were subjugated to the benefit of white people.

    So let’s not say “racist” but rather reminiscent of an ugly literary tradition.

    If you want to see that tradition at its best, read Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. Conrad evokes the tradition, only to subvert it by suggesting that the white reformer brings his own darkness with him when he ventures into “Darkest Africa.”

    If you want to see that tradition at its worst, read King Solomon’s Mines or any of a host of other adventure tales. There are traces of this sort of “racism” in Lovecraft as well. I’m not condemning him, understand, but just trying to spell out why someone might find Res Evil’s evocation of this tradition distasteful.

  33. Saint Rising says:

    In the future, being black will be a state of mind…

    No longer will skin colour have anything to do with our race. No, instead, our race will be decided by our mindsets…

  34. Strangeite says:

    krellen: I am not going to attempt to tell anyone what they should or should not feel guilty for (although I suspect we see eye to eye) I want to second your statement that systemic poverty is a far greater injustice and a far greater risk to society than racial prejudice.

  35. Cineris says:

    People like the Crispy Gamer reviewer and Gregory Weird scare me. But, hey, I guess it’s cool to realize we’re survivors of a memetic zombie apocalypse, perhaps?

  36. Having completed the game I can confirm that the grass skirts and bone necklaces thing is only used for one or two chapters in the middle, and they are supposed to be a primitive tribe rather than the inhabitants of the town where you start off. There is even a diary that you can find in the village where the writer cites people dressing up in warrior gear as an example of the strange behaviour he has witnessed in recent days. Elsewhere there are characters wearing normal clothes and military uniforms as appropriate, as well as plenty of inhuman monsters.

  37. Shawn says:

    I’m actually very much in the “Resident Evil 5 Is Totally Racist” camp. I doubt that was the intent, but it’s absolutely a side effect, and the “Hur hur, I’m gonna gun down some darkies” mentality is sadly very present in some people who have bought the game, I’ve witnessed it first hand.

    I really think in a few decades this will be one of those things that pops up with a “You know, we didn’t know any better back then…”, like Mr. Yunioshi in My Fair Lady.

    You have a group of people who have traditionally been oppressed being gunned down by attractive foreign white folk. (Yes their zombies, doesn’t change the image of you the strong white guy gunning down Africans.) I don’t think the game should be banned or anything, but I can absolutely see how someone would be pissed off about it.

    If there’s anything I’ve learned when we were doing Chainmail Bikini, is you absolutely have to be aware of the difference between intent and reaction. We were certainly not thinking “Hey, let’s make fun of rape!” when ZOMGRapeGate exploded, but that was the reaction.

    I’m sure Capcom was thinking “Hey a RE game set in some remote 3rd world country would be cool!” but they’re a large enough company that someone should have realized there would be a backlash.

  38. Muttley says:

    The irony is that the Zombie myth originated in the framework of Voodoo superstitions in Haiti:

  39. Coffee says:

    Well, I found it worrying that the majority of the cannon fodder in Watchmen were Asian.

    I think that what we’ve come across here is very much about intent v. reaction.

    The intent was probably to show representative zombies for the region.

    But how it looks, if you pull out a screenshot, is two white(-ish) characters gunning down waves of black skins.
    If you take out the “zombie” aspect, it would be a game about two light characters defending themselves with guns against generally unarmed black assailants.

    Racism isn’t some made up term to hold everybody back, it’s a legitimate term to describe what has historically been true about race relations.

  40. krellen says:

    The people playing (in that way) RE5 are racist, Shawn. That doesn’t make the game racist.

    A recurring character (who happens to be white) going on his latest mission to a place that happens to be almost entirely populated by people that happen to be black does not make the entire model itself racist. However, it does lend itself to newcomers and noodle-heads looking at it and assuming racism, since it’s what they want to see.

    Out of context, it looks pretty racist. In context, not so much.

  41. Cineris says:


    Interpretively, I think it’s important to insist that reaction is grounded in [authorial] intent. If you’re not insisting that, then intent is irrelevant and everything just becomes a playground for people to vent their neuroses about. College professors across the world have shown us exactly how foolish and fruitless a chore that is.

    On other issues, e.g. games glorifying violence, or sex, the gaming community rightfully ignores idiotic grievance-driven interpretations. Meanwhile, throw race into the mix and Political Correctness takes over.

    In my opinion the [ironic/post-ironic] “Hur hur, I'm gonna gun down some darkies” mentality you reference is a direct reaction to the hypocrisy that Political Correctness has fostered on the race issue. I hardly think the game is actually manifesting real racism in people, merely allowing them to be iconoclastic when it comes to this sacred cow of PC.

  42. Sharon says:

    You are brave to tackle this. Or, you would need to be brave if your readership were not largly free of the types suseptible to such propaganda AND free of the types who propagate it for their own malevolent ends. You are preaching to the choir. But at least your message is true and good.

  43. Duffy says:

    And even if there was a backlash does that mean they shouldn’t do it? If anything that should confirm their actions.

    Hell, if you want you could claim that WoW is the worst game in the world. It has racism, genocide, religious zealotry, torture, necromancy, demon worship, general murder, environmental destruction, etc… All of which is performed by the player at some point.

    In context RE5 is pretty dam far from racism, and it’s insulting to hear these complaints. Racism implies an intent, show me the intent in RE5 and I’ll eat my own head.

  44. Strangeite says:

    Cineris: Congratulations. In three paragraphs I counted at least three distinct logical fallacies. Slippery Slope, Ignoratio elenchi and post hoc ergo propter hoc, respectively. That is quite an achievement.

  45. RodeoClown says:

    @Derek K. (#24): Just FYI – Australia is a single country (unless you count the Hutt River Province Principlity, but no-one does).

  46. SatansBestBuddy says:

    I remember talking with a friend of mine, who doesn’t play games, about our plans for the weekend; mine involved buying and playing RE5, to which he replied, “Hey, isn’t that the racist game?”

    I said, “No, it’s set in Africa, which has a majority population of…”

    And he said, “It’s set in Africa? I didn’t know that.”

    So, yeah, the game isn’t racist, but people have been calling it racist for so long that it’s pretty much already true to anyone who isn’t familiar with the game itself.

    Which, until not even a week ago, was everyone.

  47. Duffy says:

    @Strangeite: While in his short example Slippery Slope may not be valid, it is possible for it to be valid assuming you can trace the pattern. Thus Slippery Slope is “definitevly invalid”, however in such a short term forum that is not uncommon. The biggest problem with this is that most valid Slippery Slope arguments are hard to detect beforehand and usually require great thought, a general rule of safety is assume it can occur and keep an eye out for it.

    For example, there was a shooting in Germany that is being blamed somewhat on Far Cry 2. However, the proposed rating change was targeted at WoW, which had no relation to the case. You could perceive that as part of a Slippery Slope.

    • Shamus says:

      On the perception vs. intent issue:

      I suspect this debate would be a lot less intense if this setup was part of a more seriously crafted story and not (as is the case with Capcom) a borderline farce packed with nonsense and unintentional idiocy. If this happened within the confines of a serious or arty game people would be looking for meaning or allegory, or perhaps applauding it as something deeply disturbing or purposefully challenging. But it’s a (reportedly) dumb story. Soderbergh or Scorsese could make a movie where a character wears blackface as part of A Statement. But Michael Bay or Uwe Boll? Not so much.

  48. B.J. says:

    Yeah, most people just don’t get it. They are still hyper-sensitive to anything which might offend The Black Man. America is a country where the color of your skin matters, in that people make a point of stating that it doesn’t matter. Really, if you perceive this game as “Whites vs. Blacks” that says more about you than it does about the game.

    Japanese aren’t racist the way Americans are. To them it isn’t whites vs. blacks, it’s non-Japanese vs. other non-Japanese. They don’t care about the skin color of stupid gaijin. Now if it were a bunch of wealthy Japanese noblemen killing waves of homeless Burakumin, then it would be pretty racist.

  49. Ed says:

    Having graduated from an NCATE certified teacher education program, I can tell you that the word “Tolerance” is no longer tolerated. It connotes a degree of insensitivity that is unacceptable in today’s new and sensitive world.

  50. gahazakul says:

    Hey people. I actually have beat this title and a few things should be brought to light.

    1. The grass skirts and spears come in to play late into the game when you travel far from civilization. They do not come out when you are ever close to a an actual town.

    2. These people aren’t zombies in the way you are normally used to. They are hollowed out and ran by parasites. The normal systems breakdown rather quickly, hence the decayed look.

    3. There are also characters in the game that are African natives that look absolutely normal. One of the story characters, Josh, is part of the faction Chris is in.

    4. The biggest, evilest most vile bad guy in the game is so white he resembles aluminum.

    So, it really is all on how you view it. Any other questions feel free to ask.

  51. The Unknown says:

    I am firmly in the camp that RE5 is NOT racist.

    To all those saying “out of context, it looks racist”, you are missing the point. You can only look at it in context. To do otherwise is just silly. Seeing/finding the context may take longer than just looking at something out of context, but it’s the only way you can actually voice an opinion on it.

    Example: Out of context, Batman and Robin (the crimefighting duo, not the movie) can seem like some kind of hidden sexual relationship of men in tights. In context, however, it becomes evident that Batman takes Robin under his wing as he sees his own childhood in him. He wants to save him from the evils that plagued his life, to help guide his path, etc. Batman is Robin’s mentor and father figure, not a lover. In context, it’s not sexual at all.

    Sure, looking at things of out of context can come up with some strange results (and sometimes be hilarious, as shows like the Daily Show teach us by sometimes using what politicians say out of context). But you can never ignore context if you wish to truely discuss something.

    In short, context is everything. Content divorced from context is irrelevant if one wishes to truely discuss a subject.

    I hope I made sense in the above. I was kinda just going stream of conciousness there.

  52. H. B. says:

    The Unknown, context includes the cultural baggage of the audience.

    The difference between killing white zombies and killing black ones is that white zombies don’t reinforce a stereotype of mindless threatening alien-ness that still attaches to black people in the minds of whites, subconsciously or not.

    Why is it more important to get our African-zombie-fighting lulz guilt-free than is the subtle demeaning and exclusion that black people live with every day IRL? Why should they have to put up with that in their entertainment, ffs?

    Shamus – when someone slaps you in the face, saying, “Damn, that hurt!” isn’t “taking deliberate offense.” It hurts. And if you slap someone in the face by accident? It still friggin’ hurts.

    The Japanese designers, they’re professionals. If they choose to publish a game set in a different culture, and partly for the consumption of still another culture, they can afford to do a little research.

    (Here’s a freebie, though: check out a few of the links collected from the discussion that’s been raging in SF fandom since January. http://rydra-wong.livejournal.com/tag/gcadod+09
    Or these:http://delicious.com/starkeymonster/forcluelesswhitepeople
    Or this: http://community.livejournal.com/sex_and_race/296541.html)

  53. Dys says:

    I’ve seen various responses to this whole argument here and there, and there’s a definite spectrum. On one side you have people like the reviewer cited here who are clearly PC bandwagoning, badly. On the other side you have people who miss the point equally widely in the other direction.

    White guy shooting black guy, not the issue. Not as far as I can tell, particularly relevant to the issue. If that was the problem, then clearly yes, zombies, yes, africa, we’re all on the same page.

    As far as I can tell this was all sparked by the trailer, which was in large part not even combat. There are some people, well versed in the language and imagery of racism, who saw in that trailer many common elements of such imagery.

    To accuse the developers of racist intent is almost certainly absurd, but the imagery is factual and the similarities are arguable. It’s unreasonable to take offence at something which is most likely unintentional, but regardless of that, the character of the game remains dubious to some.

    The final summation being that racism isn’t imaginary, and there are stereotypes associated with it. Some of them appear in the RE5 trailer. Good? Bad? I don’t much care… but the fact remains.

    Oh, and please for the love of God, find out what a ‘hoard of zombies is’, because it doesn’t mean what some of you seem to think it means.

    Incidentally, when you live in a country with buildings which have been in use for over a thousand years and actual castles with actual armouries, I think you feel less need to dress up as ye olde soldiery. If there were English zombies with locally sourced weapons, you’d be more likely to find skinheads coming at you with broken bottles.

  54. Coffee says:

    It’s true. I think there are more “samurai swords” in the public domain right now than pikes…

    I get fed up of Racism debate very quickly, because it invariably slides down into “whenever I walk down ____ street, Paki guys give me dirty looks, and the Police never do anything!” and I can’t help but lose the will to argue.

  55. Schmidt says:

    Seen the latest Escapist? Man oh man, now if there was ever a time when synchronicity ever wanted to hoof mankind in the groin to remind us of it’s existence then it is now.

    Go. Watch. And take notes for when others like this Scott Jones go gallivanting about how, as white people, they must be offended in lieu of black people who may or may not be offended about the whole thing.


    Personally, I think they, the Black People(TM), would be offended if they were not being shot at in Africa. After all, aren’t black people good enough to be undead too?
    Can you imagine the nerve of that game? It takes place in Africa and all they do is shoot white people?!? Aren’t there any black people in Africa?“.

  56. Gary says:

    The problem with the anti-“colorblindness” camp is that “Colorblindness” is the ONLY way that can work.

    “Color blindness” is treating all people like HUMAN BEINGS without worrying about color. It is not about stripping culture and heritage from people.

    You cannot TELL culture and heritage from skin color. Any assumption you make on culture and heritage from skin color borders on racist. Black is not a culture. It is a degree of pigmentation of the skin. There are many cultures made of of people with dark skin. Making an assumption based on the color of someone’s skin is much more wrong than acting in a humane and genteel way keeping a blank slate for the person’s heritage until THEY TELL YOU.

    Not all white’s have the same heritage. If we go by the anti-“colorblindness” camp we assume that they are. We have Germans, and British, and French and a whole host of others with light colored skin that if you called them by the wrong nationality because of their skin color would be VERY offended.

    Not all Hispanics are Mexican. Not all light colored people are European. Not all blacks hail from the various countries in Africa.

    I am proud of my Scottish heritage. Not my light skin color. However, if judged by my skin color alone, no one would know about my Scottish heritage. To equate color with heritage is wrong-headed and just serves to CONTINUE racism.

    Being “color blind” is about reserving assumptions and treating people like people. Not like artificial social constructs that may or may not be true.

  57. The Unknown says:

    @ H.B. (Comment 53)

    The cultural baggage of the audience is context, but so is the fact that RE5 is part of the Resident Evil series, games about people becoming zombies. Sure, the audience’s cultural baggage is there, but they can’t ignore the context of the work. It would be unfair to do so.

    “And if you slap someone in the face by accident? It still friggin' hurts.”

    Sure, it hurts, but you can’t be mad at the person who slapped you. It was an accident. Out of context, a person was slapped. In context, it was an accident (maybe he was falling or something?). In context, you wouldn’t blame the slapper.

  58. critter says:

    The colonisation is a very ugly spot in history. And here in South Africa we had apartheid, which is very recent history. I do not think people are frivolous or petty for finding the game’s imagery upsetting.

    What if we had another WWII shooter. But we mix it up a little. The player takes the role of a Schutzstaffel officer and you go about gunning down Jews in Poland- but not regular Jews, zombie Jews! Would it be better if you were gunning down Jews in modern Europe instead? Would you scoff at an outrage from the Jewish community then?

    If they get upset, they’re obviously the ones with racism in their heads because they see it and you don’t?

  59. Julian says:

    You may not believe this. But I actually know a left-handed Australian with freckles who voted ALP (I just asked her in MSN if she was actually left-handed. I was so excited when she said yes)

    Isn’t this man being racist himself by being uncomfortable killing black zombies, and comfortable killing white zombies? (Heh, White Zombie ^^). I mean, racism is a two-way thing.

  60. Cat Skyfire says:

    Here’s a question. How do you define racism from the point of view of different cultures?

    I know that, as a midwestern American, I have a pretty good grasp of racism as it has impacted my country. Slavery, civil rights movement, etc. I know very little about the racism in Japan. Or France. Or Australia.

    So, should Japan (the country of origin for RE5) truly be expected to grasp the potential for a racist view, based on another view entirely?

    What would they come up if they were deliberately trying to be racist? What would be their most likely ‘unconscious bias’?

    And what if they had actually put more thought into it than ‘need a different setting for zombie shoot 12’.

  61. Danath says:

    I see alot of people harping on the games story (when not talking about the non-racism in the game), and I will say, if you take it as your average action movie sort of plot, the story is great, its no worse than Steven Seagal or Jackie Chan’s plots, or Transporter, or Mission Impossible. Take it with a grain of salt and some cheese and it comes off just fine, I don’t know if its intentional, but hey it fits.

    Most people are in the “RE5 is not racist” boat, no need to add my 2 cents again.

  62. krellen says:

    Out of curiosity, any of the “RE5 is racist” folks posting here Black? Or, for that matter, are any of the “not racist” ones? Or are we a bunch of big white guys arguing over something that, ultimately, we don’t really get to vote on anyway?

  63. The Unknown says:

    @ krellen:
    I’m caucasian, for the record. Live in Canada, ancestry is European. I hold that RE5 is not racist. Take that as you will. =P

  64. Zolthanite says:

    @krellen – 64: You posted while I was typing. For the record, I’m black/Hispanic. In theory, I should be offended by RE4 as well. I’ll probably post my non-gaming, much more racially sensitive fiancee’s thoughts on the matter in my blog later tonight, but I’ll swing back here and relate them so they can pop up here.

    I’m going to paraphrase a story that one of my old bosses, Robert, told me. Regardless of veracity, it holds particular weight with this whole debate.

    There was a time, long long ago, when Colin Powell was being interviewed as an up and coming African American in the Army (I believe this was before he became a general). One of the questions asked of him was, roughly: “What is your feeling about racism in the Armed Forces?”

    His response: “I have not had a problem with racism in the Army.”

    After the press conference, Robert was in Powell’s office, as he was Robert’s commanding officer, on unrelated business. But it was fairly obvious the interview didn’t sit well with him, and as he was leaving Powell stopped him and said, “Did you have a problem with what I said?” in reference to Powell’s response.

    “Sir, I think that to say that racism has not been a problem in your career is quite honestly a lie. I don’t think any black person in the Army, myself included, would agree with you on that point.”

    “Robert, racism is not something I have a problem with because I am not racist. The people who have a problem with racism are racist themselves. Racism is their problem, not mine.”

    Bottom line is: Personal bias for the person playing the game is irrelevant, especially if they are hyper-sensitive to such issues. The baseline for racism is purely about intent, not about perspective.

    As far as the intent goes, I would almost claim that because the game is devoid of artistic merit it doesn’t have to deal with the problem of racism or not. Birth of a Nation is not purely derivative entertainment, and actually is blatantly racist as it goes out of its way to elevate white people at the cost of black people. Using blackface, in most capacities (beyond a production of Othello), actually is racist because someone actively is making race an issue.

    Resident Evil 5 takes the zombie menace, and puts it in Africa. Unless it’s taking place in South Africa with tons of Dutch around, arguing about black zombies is ridiculous. Every Resident Evil has taken place, in some capacity, in the middle of nowhere. Raccoon City was a middle of nowhere town. The first RE (I believe) was in a middle-of-nowhere mansion. RE4 was in the unnamed, generic isolated Spanish countryside. RE5 is in Africa somewhere. What other ethnic group would you expect to find? This is dictated by setting, not because someone said “Oh we need to mow down some black people. We can’t do Harlem, so let’s go to Africa. I hear they have loads of ”

    As far as racist imagery, I don’t see pearly white smiles. I don’t see large lips and shuffle dancing. I don’t see anything that would indicate historically offensive paradigms, especially for the US, that’s no worse than your average box of Uncle Ben’s rice or Aunt Jemima’s pancake mix. To be frank, I don’t see anything different from Resident Evil 4 beyond a meaningful change in scenery appropriate for the setting. More importantly, for such a White Is Right game, why is the female lead not also white? Shouldn’t she also be lily fresh, blonde, and sexy to make the battle for white supremacy complete? She isn’t Asian, that’s for sure.

    If anything, one could look at Japanese games as a whole and wonder, if they have any fault at all, why they elevate Western European features as a form of beauty as they do. Ken from SFIV is actually Japanese-origin, but wants to be American to the point where he bleaches his hair. I don’t remember playing a single RE where an Asian features prominently anywhere, except for Ada Wong, who isn’t exactly a positive role model for heroism. Is she a symbol of Japanese self-loathing? It would be a much more fruitful discussion. Cherry-picking RE5 for being racist out of the entire series is irresponsible for any real discussion.

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