Why Japan Wants You To Kill The Blacks

16 Mar

There have been some surprising responses to Jim Sterling’s Resident Evil 5 post.  In it, he claims anyone that finds Resident Evil 5 to be racist essentially wants to see the game as racist; can’t see it any other way.  There is no way North Americans are going to see hordes of African zombies and not call it out for being racist.

What I’ve seen in my Twitter feed is some  rational debate as well as some claims that Jim is trying to suppress the discussion of racism.  What I find interesting, though, is that those that claim the game is racist don’t seem to have an agenda.  As far as they go is, well, just saying it’s racist.  I would be prompted to add “And…?  What discussion would you like to have, exactly?”

Let me sum it up; get frank for a second — Resident Evil 5 cannot be racist, because it has no reason to be racist.  Ignorant, perhaps.  Challengingly not politically correct?  Maybe.  Racist?  Why?

See, I remember someone (I believe it was N’Gai Croal), saying that this game can’t not be racist when it comes to North America because of America’s history of black slavery and segregation.  This is all correct, but that means the original intent of the game is rendered meaningless on this continent.  It’s my understanding that Resident Evil 5 was set in Africa because it has connotations of being ‘the birthplace of man’ and all that.  It’s an interesting motif.  A zombie game set in Africa is going to (guess what!) have black, African zombies.  I believe the original intent of the game was that of an innocently explosive romp through Africa.

Now, when the game is analyzed over here it’s a different story.  It becomes racist, because of our history.  It becomes racist.  We make it racist, because we find it hard to see it any other way.  We’ve produced so much racist material in our history that it’s hard to understand someone could just have made a zombie game in Africa.  Resident Evil 4 was set in Spain, but there was no outcry.  America has no dark history with Spain.  Now look at Crysis, where the player fights Koreans.  There are a large number of Korean immigrants in North America, and the U.S. did fight a war there.  There is a history of dehumanization and hate.  Suitably, there were rumblings online that Crysis could be racist.

There are no game mechanics that reinforce a racist outlook in any of these games.  Resident Evil 5 is extremely close even in its ridiculous, quite Japanese story, to Resident Evil 4.  The setting has just changed.  So clearly, just the palette swap to black zombies changes a non-racist game into a racist one.  In that sense it is indeed racist to some people.  But they must realize that is their personal projection.  Those that argue Resident Evil 5 is racist seem to have no agenda because there is no evil empire to fight.  Nobody is promoting racism, they just perceive the game as a racist work.  To be frank again, it’s all in their heads.

Furthermore, it’s immediately apparent that most of those offended are white Americans.  Not to suggest that they would feign offense, but it is only natural to assume that a country working to shed an old racist skin would be quick to call out and destroy anything which would remind them of a darker past.  In writing this I only wish to point out that this is the case; Japan does not want to subliminally promote hate towards African Americans.  Why would they?  If you can still claim the game is racist, please, explain and leave a comment – I’d love to seriously discuss it.


12 Responses to “Why Japan Wants You To Kill The Blacks”

  1. Princess Stomper March 16, 2009 at 7:57 am #

    Based on what I’ve seen, I don’t think the game is “racist”, but I do accept some reviewers’ claims that the imagery used is a bit “look, isn’t this exotic?” crass. I suppose you could probably say the same about Guild Wars: Nightfall, which also featured the undead in a pseudo North Africa, but at least was high fantasy and therefore uncontroversial, rather than in a more recogniseable contemporary setting.

    Most people playing Resident Evil are going to be people like me: non-Americans with little knowledge of American history and wondering what that has to do with anything anyway.

    I don’t think that people who see the game as racist are willing it to be that way, but they might be applying a context based on their own experiences that has nothing to do with the game. It could equally be my own ignorance that doesn’t see anything wrong with it, but then since it’s my ignorance of what I view as a wholly unrelated issue I’m not too concerned about it. I don’t really think that either “side” has an agenda as such, just their own experiences to go on.

    I’ve just thought of an answer to N’Gai Croal’s assertion that we’d shudder just as much if we saw a game set in 1940s Europe with some emaciated Hasidic-looking zombies:

    What if it was a game set in the Middle East? If you set your zombie game in Israel, you’re going to have zombie Jews!

    As my friend’s friend told her when she raised similar concerns, “Girl, who the hell else are you going to have there?”

  2. Eudaimo March 16, 2009 at 7:08 pm #

    Can you do me a favor? Can you find me a sample of when N’Gai Croal allegedly called the game “racist?” Can you find any significant gaming outlet who has “called the game racist?”

    Links will be appreciated, but I suspect you’ll find something different than what you think.

  3. nickhalme March 16, 2009 at 8:15 pm #

    This was an early article, on the reception of the trailer, but this is what I was thinking of, especially around the last quote.

    “There was a lot of imagery in that trailer that dovetailed with classic racist imagery.”

    “Oh, they shot Spanish zombies in ‘Resident Evil 4,’ and now ‘black zombies and that’s why people are getting upset.” The imagery is not the same. It doesn’t carry the same history, it doesn’t carry the same weight. I don’t know how to explain it more clearly than that.”


  4. Eudaimo March 16, 2009 at 8:19 pm #

    Yes. I suppose my point is that I think there is a big difference between saying there is “racist imagery” in a trailer vs. calling a game racist. The gist that I take from Croal’s comments there and elsewhere is that the trailer does lean on a lot of questionable historic imagery…not that it was made with an intent to suppress people of color. With that said, I hear that N’Gai has played the full game now, so I am looking forward to his post mortem comments on the actual game (vs. the trailer).

  5. nickhalme March 16, 2009 at 8:31 pm #

    Lots of the ‘this game is racist’ sentiments I have heard have been in personal discussions or discussions I’ve seen take place online; very few outlets would publish an article saying ‘RE5 is Racist’.

    But the sentiment is very clearly there, and I’m not saying it’s flat out wrong, and the arguments, especially N’Gai’s are intelligent — just that I think it’s an unwarranted stance; a misplaced ‘battle’ against racist imagery.

  6. George Kokoris March 17, 2009 at 4:20 am #

    The problem here is that “racist” is a very broad term.

    RE5 is not “racist” in the sense that Capcom’s employees consider the white man superior to the black man. The unfortunate truth is that Japan’s long history of insulated xenophobia and contempt for foreigners rendered them utterly and inexcusably oblivious to the possible misinterpretations of the imagery in the game. Regardless of what their intent was, it’s a bit unsettling that no one looked at the early builds and said “are you sure the Americans aren’t going to lose their minds over this?”

    The way Japan deals with other cultures has always reminded me of a guy on the subway with the volume on his headphones maxed out, singing along at the top of his lungs and moshing with other commuters in a fit of musical ecstasy. The fact that he can’t hear what’s happening around him doesn’t make it acceptable behavior.

    While there’s certainly no malice inherent in Capcom’s portrayal of black zombies in RE5, it was certainly one of the most boneheaded things they’ve ever greenlit.

  7. Miko Wilson March 17, 2009 at 7:54 pm #

    I think that a game has the right to be what it wants to be.
    RE5 focusing on killing hundreds and hundreds of black zombies might be politically correct in some technical “Hey, look, everyone can be a zombie” stance. It MIGHT be acceptable to some, but that doesn’t make killing African zombies any more comfortable for me as a white player.
    Of COURSE killing hoards of black zombies will take on a completely different thrill for some racist players, and I am sure that RE5 multi-player will be ripe with racial nicknames for black zombies.
    This is the “artistic” choice that Capcom went with with this iteration. Are they responsible for the possible racial hatred and “unintended” feelings it could rouse? Absolutely.

  8. Chammi March 18, 2009 at 1:48 am #

    You say that the people sounding the race alarm has it all in their heads.. well, what isn’t all in our heads? Any form of media is just that – one group of heads communicating to other heads. And communication isn’t all intent, it’s one part intent and one part execution.

    Japan: “But that’s not what I meant!” (Intent)
    North America: “But that’s what you said!” (Execution)

    And now us gamers that want to defend our kind are doing the same thing.

    Gamers: “But that’s not what it means!”
    Non-gamers: “But that’s what it’s saying!”

    So I’ll repeat what Miko said and say that yes, absolutely Capcom is responsible. They’re responsible for what they mean AND what they say.
    Personally I’m forgiving them the execution because it’s a fucking good game. Others won’t, and I’d completely understand.

  9. nickhalme March 18, 2009 at 2:01 am #

    Perception is reality…for ‘individual heads’. I’m of the opinion that there is some objectivity to all of this — I reject the reality that the game is racist, and it’s fine if people reject mine and are offended…but my aim here is to try to say that it’s actually OK not to be offended.

    Japan: Here’s a game with black zombies to kill!

    North America: Holy shit! That’s offensive to me!

    Me: Cool your jets, NA.

    I think it’s necessary to have objectivity play some role here, because if not then we float off into 100% subjectivity land — and in subjectivity land, everything is racist and not racist at the same time.

    It’s not practical. I would like to prevent racist accusations directed at RE5 (whether I have any influence is questionable, but I’m going to say it here) because it doesn’t deserve it — I think there are better ways people can advocate the abolishment of racism than, to hijack George’s metaphor, yelling at the Japanese kid with loud music in the subway. I’m suggesting you move to the other end of the subway where it’s quieter, and direct your attention at the neo-nazi spray painting a swastika in the back of the train.

  10. Zane February 24, 2010 at 7:29 am #

    Zombies are zombies, though to be honest there hasn’t been any real zombies since resident evil 3 or least anything before resident evil 4 and 5, thats not my opinion, thats more of a fact.

    These are creatures, and will kill you, but I’m sure someone knows where I’m going with this.

    Anyways all this race stuff is stupid, and pointless, it’s like the same crap you hear people using religion and using that as a good reason to kill people, and turn it from trying to be honest and good person to being some crazy cult, or into a reason to blow buildings up with planes.

    Sides doesnt people realize that if the Japanese had anyone to hate or not like it be white people, being if you base everything on sterotypes and the whole race card thing and what you believe to be logic, then hating or showing it it a game for say blacks would make one to cry out oxymoron.

    I think the biggest crime here is stupidity and people being over biases and sterotyping I mean we have a black president and lets be honest to me he’s proven one thing to me and most other people being people white and black that color doesn’t matter that the people you elect can still ruin are country, and make poor choices, and be as clueless as the guy before him.

    Does that make me racist, personally I think the only people that are racist are the people worrying about what other people are and are not in being them, me personally I dont care if your male, female, black white or whatever I tell you what I think and how feel about something regardless if like it or not.

    Sides games are games to me, there design to be played, sure some games like tv shows and movies like grand theft auto, go out of there way to make games with lots of grey area stuff in them, but who cares, it’s like curse words they can hurt you emotionally I’m sure but they cant kill you or harm you, and well I dont see people banning curse words anytime soon, so my advice is this if you feel games are offending to you for whatever reaosn beign a real one or whatevers in your head, dont play them, simply as that.

  11. Oscar the Grouch May 23, 2010 at 2:45 pm #

    “Furthermore, it’s immediately apparent that most of those offended are white Americans. ”

    This is what is referred to a Liberal White Guilt.


  1. Why Japan Wants You To Kill The Blacks, Pt II « Vancouver Game Design - March 17, 2009

    […] Vancouver Game Design « Why Japan Wants You To Kill The Blacks […]

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