February 6, 2009

Why Resident Evil 5 Still Offends Me

Do any of you remember this unfortunate video that came out for E3 2007?  If not, take a look at it here: 

Okay, now if you're looking at this for the first time, did you see anything that might be considered offensive? Anything at all?  How about the part where the Caucasian hero is basically mowing down a bunch of animalistic Africans that have only their fists and primitive weapons to fight back?  And how in the whole trailer you can't tell that these savage acting Africans are supposed to be zombies unless you know the series?

Those of you who have seen this video before know what I'm getting at.  The racist undertones are undeniable, even if they do not offend you.  I'm not asking you to be offended.  However, I have no problem admitting that I was when I first saw that video.  Of course, I knew that the Africans are zombies so I didn't go writing to Capcom about how they were release a genocide simulator.  However, if someone didn't know what the Resident Evil franchise is all about, you couldn't tell that there were zombies in that entire thing.  Bad marketing indeed.  

I don't think there is an excuse for Capcom to put out something like that.  I understand that the company is based in Japan, however they should have been able to look at their American branch and ask "Since your culture is racially sensitive, is there anything here we should be careful about when it comes to this trailer?"  And in reply, the American branch should have replied "You have to be careful about how you represent blacks in marketing.  Make sure the audience knows that they are zombies, not rabid Africans just starting a riot for no clear reason."  Of course, one part of this easy plan fell through and we got an offensive trailer for people to rage on about through the internet.

Now I would've thought that Capcom would've learned their lesson and tried to make things a bit more appealing to a sensitive American audience. More sensitive to gamers like me who are already reminded every day about how race affects them.  I was hopeful when I saw some game footage with a more diversified color scheme of enemies.  At least Capcom was trying to do something to combat the earlier images of white guy fighting through seass of rabid Africans.

But then I hear of a sneak peek play of the first three chapters that was reviewed by Eurogamer.  Apparently the game is good, but the racism is still there.  And we're not talking undertones.  You can read here on the last page of the article about a few images that harken back to the good old days of bigotry, including a blonde white woman being dragged away by a bunch of black men.  Yes, that image is there.  Why didn't anyone stop to think about how this might look to the target audience, I don't know.

Capcom, I'm disappointed in you.

The United States of America has an unfortunate history riddled with the violation of human rights and the refusal of dignity merely because someone is physically different than the majority.  As a member of one of the many minorities in this country (a country I do love very much), I'm reminded every day about how white is the norm while everything non-white is abnormal or unusual or "exotic" if you want to be somewhat politically correct.  I'm also reminded every day about how easy it is for those people who are "normal".  It sucks to have to think about it every day.  Do you think I want to encounter that in a game that doesn't seem to be approaching the debate with any kind of intelligence?

There are many things that offend me from these first looks, but lets talk about the one counter-point that Capcom could've utilized carefully.  I'm talking about Sheva, the African who is supposed to help Chris Redfield throughout his mission.  Yes, an African who is very light skinned with straight hair and speaks with a British accent.  Is this the message we want to send, that the only black people that are useful are the ones that approach an anglo look and speech pattern?  I'm not deny she's black.  I'm just saying that the only good African is the most caucasian looking and english speaking African.  That's not sending a good message to the rest of us black women, especially those who are more the coloring of the African zombies that Sheva helps Chris shoot down.

I was hoping that Capcom would have analyzed the situation and dealt with the previous concerns professionally.  But they haven't.  The Africans still are adhering to outdated stereotypes, the main hero is an educate white guy who's must kill the "savages" around him, and the "one good" African is the only African I've seen so far that has a british accent and could potentially pass for white on the street.  Way to take back African Americans five to ten years back.  Dammit.

I hope that when the game is finally released, there is actually a reason for all of this prejudiced imagery, and that I was wrong the entire time posting this.  Wrong in the sense that Capcom actually thought things through instead of not thinking at all.


  1. I normally try to stay out of any written discussion about racial topics because of the massive danger of having my written word misinterpreted. I did want to point out a couple of things though.

    First, the entire human race has had the unfortunate history of violating human rights based on minority status, so I would hope that Capcom would use the same logic in all of their markets. It's a great rule of business to consider your target audience.

    Second, having watched the video before reading your post - and being familiar with the series - I didn't even consider what race the zombies were as soon as I saw that guy's eyes bleeding. I just assumed that it was characters attached to the setting.

    I see where you are coming from on your concerns. I just didn't reach that level of thinking while I was watching the video. I honestly believe that they wouldn't have been able to make and sell this game without offending people, given the setting.

  2. I can understand why it isn't immediately offensive to everyone, Brandon. I think being a minority does make one more sensitive to these situations. It depends on the person and their background. However, I don't think that Capcom could've actually been that ignorant about race relations in America.

    You're right, Capcom should use that kind of marketing in all their markets. It's just bad business not knowing what will hinder a game in the eyes of the public you are trying to sell your product to.

  3. Growing up in San Diego and being Hispanic I was definitely in the majority ;-)

  4. I do have to agree that CAPCOM dropped the ball on this in some ways... the producer, Masachika Kawata, essentially says 'it's not our problem' in this quote:

    "We can't please everyone. We're in the entertainment business - we're not here to state our political opinion or anything like that. It's unfortunate that some people felt that way."

    I chalk all the ignorance on this issue up to a westernized perception of Africa as a dark, conflict ridden, tribal, and dangerous place. Doesn't make the ignorance right, just means people should be educated and more sensative.

    On a separate note, this does play into my Realism Screwing Up Games post, as both Far Cry 2 and RE5 had teams devoted to getting Africa looking as realistic as possible in their games, yet they didn't stop to think that whole time about other details such as race and storyline and such. (Not to mention the fact that gamers are pissed at RE5 for not letting you move and shoot at the same time)

  5. It is unfortunate that even as we get more global, it seems that America is (weirdly) both way the hell behind the racism curve and yet the only society that's actually also AHEAD of it. It makes me scratch my head a lot.

    I'm a part-Cuban, part-Chinese, part-European person, and my mother was an immigrant who came over right after the Missile Crisis. I am ethnically taken from an enemy of the United States. So is everybody who's part German, while we're at it.

    Yet, I've been raised well. My family doctor growing up was Iranian, I have a Vietnamese friend, a lesbian friend, and a couple of years ago I was rooming with a guy whose parents were from India and there was never awkwardness. This does not happen in other countries, for the most part.

    Japan is like damn near the rest of the world, which is to say, it's homogeneous. And when everybody around you doesn't think about something, it's easy to be insensitive. Many games are too sensitive (no accents in Metal Gear Solid 3?), but I agree in this case that Capcom is just being stupid.

    There is, however, a difference between malice and ignorance, and I think they're falling on the ignorance side of it. Some character designer came up with Chris's sidekick totally independent of those who were modeling the way-too-realistic-looking Africans.

    I would say it's up to America to hold racial sensitivity lessons by example, but fuck, have you ever walked around Kentucky? Or Illinois below I-80? It tires a man.

  6. I agree that this may be an ignorance issue, but then again I don't think there is an excuse for it.

    And Southern Illinois is a place a approach VERY cautiously.

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  8. Those last comments about Kentucky and Southern Illinois seem to smack of hypocrisy.

  9. It may, but then again any place where I feel I am unwanted I approach very cautiously. I knew of someone from there who said that families like mine were driven out of his town in Southern IL. I had a family member in Kentucky who had a bad experience at her workplace. I know it may be different if I go for myself (and I will if the right reason occurs), but considering that throughout most of my childhood I grew up in schools where I was told how unwanted I was at least once a week, I consider it a luxury to avoid places where that may (or may not) occur now.

    Sorry to offend, I hope you know that wasn't my intention.

  10. Maybe it's just me. I was fortunate to grow up in with exposure to tons of different people. I spent time in Maxwell Street in Chicago as a child. It was obvious that I was one of the few white people in the area, but nobody seemed to care. Everybody was very pleasant. I've spent plenty of time in places where I know that I was out of place. I used to work in a town where I was regularly told I was a racist and threatened by customers. I didn't stop going to that town.
    We can't limit our behavior based on what happens to other people (i.e. I won't go to Southern Illinois because of what a third party said happened to a 4th and 5th party. If we do that, we end up causing the same bigotry and fear we are trying to avoid.

  11. I didn't mean to slight sIL in entirety, but the truth is, I'm from Chicago originally and since moving to Central Illinois, I've found a casual sort of prejudice to be fairly ingrained among most people here, and it came not as a shock per se, but it definitely was a change to my viewpoint that Illinois is a more progressive state. I realize now that it isn't, for the most part. I still get along with most people around these parts, but man, some people will start in on the n word this and the n word that and, it isn't widespread enough to make a man angry, but like I said before, it does make a man tired.

  12. As The DM noted, realism in games has reached a new level. Thirty years ago no one cried foul that PacMan was mercilessly gobbling up the blue ghosts, because there was a clear disconnect between this and reality. Now games are depicting reality (or fantasy) so well that it is harder to say that it is "just a game".
    I'm not suggesting that we should go back to the days of blue zombies, but we can't afford to ignore the issue either. If someone wants to publish a game with a racist (or other) agenda, they now have the capability to do so. By paying attention to issues like this, we can raise the awareness level and make game manufacturers think twice about what their games are representing.