Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Resident Evil 5 and Barack Obama

There seem to be a lot of people out there who think RE5 is racist.

As I see it, there are two condemnations that can be made against Capcom for creating a "racist" game. The first is direct: this game is racist, stereotyping, and an insult to/assault upon those of African descent. The second is more insidious (and a big hit with US politicians these days): Capcom, how dare you make a game that would perpetuate these awful stereotypes and teach them to our innocent children playing this game?

Answers to both accusations, but briefly (as they are not the point of this post):

1) Is Capcom racist? Honestly, I'm not going to straight-up deny the accusation - based on the trailers we've seen, there's definitely an argument to be made for "cultural insensitivity" at the very least.
2) First of all, the game is rated M, which means no one under 17 should be playing it anyway. Secondly, the average gamer is in his 20s or 30s. This argument is stupid whether you're talking about violence in Gears of War, sex in Grand Theft Auto VI, or "hot spicy racism" (thank you, Yahtzee) in Resident Evil 5.

Right, that's done with. Now, back to Barack Obama.

Who is 44th President of the United States Barack Obama? Well, to a lot of people he represents the ultimate triumph of humanity over bigotry: a member of a formerly subjugated minority, raised to the most powerful office on the planet. Commentary about "the race issue" were ubiquitous in the campaign, and there was the near-constant question of whether Obama was doing as well in the polls as he seemed to be, or whether a hidden racial bias would manifest on Election Day and send him back to the Senate, just another footnote. But I never saw it that way; I saw only a qualified candidate with a vision that resonated with a dissatisfied populace. His skin color never affected my vote, except perhaps to amplify my conviction: as a "change" himself, perhaps he could deliver the changes he promised.

I'm not perfect; I have my own stereotypes and preconceptions, and they absolutely affect my impressions of people and the world. But I and people my age are clearly - Obama's election and his massive support among young voters prove it - less bigoted than those who have come before us, and we, that same age group, are the ones buying and playing games like Resident Evil 5.

People have claimed that comparing RE5's setting to RE4's is an invalid argument because the Spaniards infected in RE4 do not represent a persecuted, stereotyped population. But honestly, it's the argument I will use - not as an excuse for Capcom's actions, but as an excuse for why it simply doesn't matter. My mental image of a primitive African village is not a group of savages huddled around a fire, but a village that is technologically ancient but emotionally just as complex as my own familiar world. Resident Evil 5 doesn't teach me to Fear The Black Man. It evokes the same emotion the previous games have: anger at the high-tech company that could take advantage of innocents in their search for power. Also, fear of running out of ammo with zombies nearby.

I always return to the same question, in the end: at what point is the western world going to get over its shame for the slave trade? At what point can we portray black people the same way we portray anyone else without someone crying racism? I'm ready for it. A lot of other people like me are, too. I guess we'll just have to wait for the rest of the world to get over it and catch up.