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[April 12, 2008]
Zombies in 'Resident Evil 5' become issue of race
(Dallas Morning News, The (KRT) Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge) Apr. 12--Is Resident Evil 5 racist?
A video game about zombies seems like an unlikely catalyst for a discussion of race, but Capcom's upcoming horror title kicked off just such a firestorm in the gaming community this week and could eventually spark a much larger conflagration.
Resident Evil 5 was unveiled last year at the Electronic Entertainment Expo and created a bit of stir with its portrayal of a white protagonist fighting off hordes of black zombies in an African village.
But that was nothing compared with the reaction this week when MTV's gaming blog, in a series on race in games, interviewed Newsweek's gaming journalist, N'Gai Croal, who is black.
Both the Resident Evil 5 trailer and links to Mr. Croal's comments are available on our gaming blog, punchbutton.com. View and read both before making up your mind.
Here is an excerpt from the interview:
Mr. Croal: "I looked at the Resident Evil 5 trailer and I was like, 'Wow, clearly no one black worked on this game.' Because I wonder, and I haven't sort of really dug into it that much, but I wonder what sort of advice Capcom gave them. The point isn't that you can't have black zombies. There was a lot of imagery in that trailer that dovetailed with classic racist imagery. What was not funny, but sort of interesting, was that there were so many gamers who could not at all see it. Like literally couldn't see it. So how could you have a conversation with people who don't understand what you're talking about and think that you're sort of seeing race where nothing exists?"
That's incendiary commentary, and the responses on some of the blogs that wrote about the interview were voluminous.
You can probably imagine the general tenor of most of those comments:
--Nobody cared that you were wiping out exclusively white, Spanish zombies in Resident Evil 4.
--Some people are determined to see racism in what is just harmless fun.
--The game is set in Africa, a continent with a predominantly black population. So of course the zombies will be black.
I am more than a little sympathetic to all three of those objections.
On the other hand, anyone who watches that preview and doesn't feel at least a little uncomfortable probably isn't paying attention.
As Mr. Croal acknowledges, all we've seen of this game so far is the preview.
We haven't played the game, and Capcom hasn't divulged any of the main elements of the plot. It could well be that Capcom, a Japanese studio, simply tried to create a visually striking trailer with no realization of the minefield it was laying.
And it could well be that Americans are so unconsciously drilled on what is and is not acceptable in discussions of race that discomfort over the trailer is simply subconscious political correctness kicking in.
Like Mr. Croal says, it will be interesting to see how Capcom addresses this conversation, how mainstream political commentators react when RE5 turns into an actual product on store shelves, and how controversy-averse retailers such as Target and Wal-Mart respond.
Victor Godinez covers technology for The Dallas Morning News. Read more of his video-game coverage at punchbutton.beloblog.com.
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