Why Japan Wants You To Kill The Blacks, Pt II

17 Mar

Normally I try to avoid using sensationalist titles.  You’ll find some articles on the site that have them, but it wasn’t my doing and I resent just how many pageviews flamebait can get.  “Why Japan Wants You To Kill The Blacks” might resemble such flamebait, but it’s purpose was to put clearly into words what the offended parties of the RE5 race debate insinuate, whether they realize it or not, when they suggest the game has a racist agenda.  

Hopefully it seems ridiculous, not because I’m a racist bigot hoping for RE5 to succeed in its master plan, but because I find it ceaselessly immature to let people label a game and not fight about it because ‘it’s a touchy subject’.

In my previous post I linked to a “suppression of the racism debate” article someone had linked in response to Destructoid’s piece on Twitter, yet it’s ironic that it seems the parties arguing RE5 contains racist subtext are exercising some of those tactics.  Most seem to think saying ‘I don’t recall anyone saying the game was racist’ is a conversation ender.  I would assure them, it’s not.  In a piece being lauded for being quite even handed over at Crispy Gamer, it reads thusly:

“Every game stands as a cultural artifact filled with meaning by the people who make them and play them(1).

For my part, I’ve never calledRE5 racist, and I probably won’t(2). Throwing the word around oversimplifies what I think is a more complex reality. What I will stand by is my assertion that this game will make plenty of people uncomfortable in racially specific ways(3). 

But the game’s not throwing waves of evil scientists and executives at you to kill. It’s throwing zombies at you, and you grow to hate those zombies and where they come from(4). It’s okay to shoot them because the game’s cues tell you they’re your enemies — but the history of colonization(5) is filled with propaganda and legislation that delivered similar cues.”

It’s safe to say this article echoes many of the sentiments of ‘the other side’ in this debate.  So let’s tackle the first assumption.  I think most of us agree that videogames are an artistic medium, and as such they can be interpreted subjectively.  You cannot say someone is or is not offended by RE5, because that is something they are welcome to taking away from the game individually.  

Unfortunately that string of logic ends any meaningful conversation, a phenomenon I like to reinforce with a quote from The Dude: “Well, that’s like, just your opinion, man.”  The fact remains that any piece of art has an intended meaning imparted by the creator, and as the title suggests, it’s ridiculous to think the intent was a racist one — or that because of your subjective experience you can impart a racist intent of your conjuring.  In Stephen Totilo’s interview with the game’s chief producer, Jun Takeuchi, Takeuchi had this to say “I think everyone understands that we never set out to with the intention to make anything that was racist — that was never our intention.”

As an aside, Totilo goes on in another article to discuss the issue with N’Gai Croal, and I’d just like to point something out that I find to be a bit ignorant.  Okay, so nothing is a ‘bit’ ignorant, but I respect N’Gai and I’m only trying to correct this as politely as possible, and I do think it needs to be corrected.  Croal says the music in the game seems to be inspired by the movie Black Hawk Down, and building on an earlier point in their conversation, argues that it portrays a violent and dark Africa.  Having read the book Black Hawk Down was based upon, I think it’s a bit sad to say that some of this stereotype is indeed true — an uncomfortable fact that should reinforce the need to help save the third world.  The book was written with access to all radio chatter, full colour video from surveillance drones and observation helicopters, and interviews with Somali mercenaries and Army Rangers and Delta Force operatives who fought that day.  Both the current Somalian reigning regime/clan and the U.N./U.S. did some horrible things leading up to that day, but it is worth noting that due to Somalia’s tradition of kinsmanship between clansmen, just under 200 Americans ended up fighting, quite literally, the entire city of Mogadishu.  I believe the total was close to a million, and included women and children being used as spotters and carriers of ammunition (arguably, also as human shields).  By the end of the battle the ruling clan of Somalia had — get this — run out of ammunition.  While the situation is a complicated one, it is not complicated to assess that some parts of Africa can indeed be dark and terrible, and not just for a white person.  Stereotypes are an aspect of human intelligence regarding categorization, and in Somalia’s case in particular, I’m afraid the stereotype is frighteningly accurate.

On to the second point in the Crispy Gamer article.  Please refer to the third point.  This is skirting the issue: nobody will call the game racist, but they will suggest it produces all of the effects a racist game would.  Quacks like a duck, looks like a duck.  The sentiment expressed is that the game will offend African Americans.  Please remember that point in particular, as it will come up later — this is supposedly offensive to African Americans.

Point four is a gross assumption.  In Resident Evil 4 I had no ill will towards the Ganados (the Spanish zombies in RE4, which I might remind you translates to “The Mob/Cattle”), in fact I felt sorry for them.  Here was a town full of poor workers in the countryside that had been infected by a horrid disease.  This point is quite similar to one of the blunter avenues of arguing that videogames can make kids violent, which can be refuted by research that shows some people are predilected to violence and some are not, and the game simply acts as a catalyst; RE5 will not make someone a racist, even if it can be interpreted as a racist game by some.

Point five.  In the previous article I unintentionally flattered one N’Gai Croal, whose position I had recalled from memory (which still works just fine, thanks).  Croal responded on Twitter with the following, “In your quest for subtext, you overlooked my *text*, which referred to African & Caribbean history, not African-America history.”  Now, without having an impromptu history lesson right here and now, let me say that it’s my understanding that the majority of what can be called racist slave trading in the West began in the 1600s in the Caribbean and U.S. coast.  African slaves were traded by ship just like any other commodity and were used as labour, one of the effects being large plantations in the Caribbean and American South worked by this slave labour.  

Now, the slave trade certainly has existed for a long time.  But many accounts I’ve read about, being mainly privateers and pirates, suggest that even after the 1600s some slave trading was not what we would call racist.  That is to say, there are accounts of sailors and peoples of all creeds and colours being sold into slavery.  If you were in the wrong place at the wrong time, you were shackled and thrown in the galley to be sold on the market.  Similarly in Africa, before colonization, Arabian slave traders literally invaded villages for slaves.  But it’s hard to say the intent was a racist one, or even one concerning labour — their main target being women.

But I think it’s safe to say that this history is not what offends most African Americans.  If anything, point five and N’Gai’s argument suggest RE5 should instead offend native Africans.  I can understand that, but I think it’s facetious to imply that they are not arguing for the offense of African Americans instead.  The majority of players, I think, will bring to their experience the more recent history of black slavery and segregation in the continental United States.  

But while RE5 contains some insensitive and uninformed enemies in ‘voodoo’ tribesmen garb, it’s quite a stretch to say that it’s, as N’Gai put it, “dovetailed with classic racist imagery.”  And what racist imagery is that?  The depiction of black people as rabid zombies?  I personally don’t recall that as being part of any historical Jim Crow racial imagery.

I’m prompted to agree with the so-called blunt Seth Schiesel in saying that “Resident Evil 5 exposes the perhaps uncomfortable truth that blacks and Arabs can become zombies too, just like anyone else.”

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10 Responses to “Why Japan Wants You To Kill The Blacks, Pt II”

  1. Chris March 17, 2009 at 11:46 pm #

    lol i think that part about the music is pretty hilarious. Why shouldn’t the music be angry? you’re fighting zombies dammit! It’s going to be violent and dark activity no matter where you are, even Africa! Happy fairy music just doesn’t put me in the mood for killing the undead!

  2. Taylan March 18, 2009 at 5:33 am #

    I have not played the game, so I do not know exactly how the situation was portrayed. But from what I’ve read about the issue on media, the problem seems to be more about the game’s ignorance of the sensitivity of the material. Sure you can make a game where you’re shooting black people and arabs; but when you do that, you may want to go some extra length to show that your message is NOT meant to be a racist one. Sometimes leaving room for ambiguity can be as bad as giving a flat out racist message.

    Think this way: imagine that a video game developer came up with a game where you pilot some aircraft in a collision course with some evil overlord’s citadel. Can you imagine what the reactions would be to that? Or imagine making a horror survival game where all the students in a school have become zombies, and you have to go in and shoot them. Both are perfectly acceptable scenarios within many video game universes. Students can become zombies too. And evil overlords could prefer citadels with twin towers surely. Yet can you ignore the impact such imagery would have regardless of its intentions? Would you not feel obliged, perhaps in the slightest, to do something to avoid misunderstanding?

  3. nickhalme March 18, 2009 at 10:19 am #

    I’m not sure any of the imagery in the actual game is as vividly reminiscent of anything that has ever happened, though. This is a game where it’s feasible to fire an RPG at a ten foot tall voodoo zombie — it steps quickly into the same realm of ‘gamey’ fantasy that the other Resident Evil games have.

    I could understand if the game portrayed some colonialist message (besides the Zelda-like treasure collecting), but shooting a troll straight out of LoTR from the back of a Humvee with a minigun just leads me to believe this is a game that has nothing to do with real life, and can’t be compared to making a game in the vein of an explosive and sensitive real life issue such as 9/11, or a Columbine simulator.

    It’s very much a popcorn game that, admittedly, could have been kept exactly the same if it was somewhere else with different art. But I think perhaps part of lessening the weight of racism involves ceasing to flinch at anything that ‘looks like’ something racist. It’s a cry wolf situation.

  4. McElroy Flavelle March 18, 2009 at 4:11 pm #

    hahah

    you hate the flamebait titles.

    regardless of the relevancy of your latest article, it’s title makes

    “why kotaku sucks”

    and

    “why half life 2 sucks” look like a sesame street skit.

    would you honestly have got that HUGE number of views (congrats by the way) if that article was called “another gamer nerd’s insights on RE5”?

  5. nickhalme March 18, 2009 at 6:18 pm #

    Yep, the number of views was based on N’Gai’s linking of the article on Twitter, having seen his name mentioned and feeling my reference was incorrect (many people have RSS feeds that will show them when their name pops up, when they are linked, etc).

  6. McElroy Flavelle March 18, 2009 at 11:28 pm #

    Yeah, you’re right.

    ass face.

  7. nickhalme March 18, 2009 at 11:33 pm #

    touche

  8. Justin Nuff March 30, 2009 at 8:29 pm #

    “But many accounts I’ve read about, being mainly privateers and pirates, suggest that even after the 1600s some slave trading was not what we would call racist.” You typed that sentence. It was a thought formulated in your head and expressed publically. A more cogent and convincing rebuttal to your own argument is a mathematical impossibility.

  9. nickhalme March 31, 2009 at 8:49 pm #

    I did type that sentence!

    It was formulated, in my own head! (I’m not sure where else I should form it.)

    Next time I will commit some more of my free time to studying and citation rather than application of my general knowledge, so as not to arouse suspicion, Justin Nuff.

    I would invite you to prove the opposite, which I believe would be a mathematically possible rebuttal.

  10. Techni May 26, 2009 at 5:52 pm #

    The only people who found RE5 racist are racists themselves.

    “Resident Evil 5 exposes the perhaps uncomfortable truth that blacks and Arabs can become zombies too, just like anyone else.”

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