Monday, March 16, 2009

The DEFINITIVE Resident Evil 5 Post

Hide the children! I am finally going to give my many, many cents worth opinions on whether Resident Evil 5 is racist or not... and you should believe me because? Actually, you should not believe me. Not only have I not played the game (because God has, once again, conspired against me to put RE 5 out for the Wii as well as making sure I never have enough money lying around to buy one), but I am not quite an Africanist yet, and until I have that glorious paper degree in my hand all my knowledge counts for nothing. Having said that, allow me to lay out my credentials:

Not just played, but BEAT RE 1,2,4, Code Veronica, as well as kind of watched my friend play RE 0. As for Resident Evil 3 and that rails-shooter... meh. I at least have an associate’s degree in Resident Evilology.

I am, if not yet a West African historian, then someone who knows a whole heckuva lot about West African history, and because as far as perception goes one part of Africa is exactly like every other part, that makes me an expert on continental Africa! Oh, and I know a ton about Pan-Africanism and the Black Atlantic (from Argentina to the United States suckas). And I have read (though not agreed with) a lot of the stuff surrounding "Racism 101" as the Anti-racists like to bandy about. And the intersections between race, class, and gender. And Gramsci, and Foucault.

I am technically a Person of Color (a term I loathe, I prefer to just use 'Nonwhite' but no one will listen to me unless I use that damned PoC). Unfortunately I am straight, male, and able-bodied, but I am sure I have at least one lesbian amputee friend somewhere, so I got that covered!

I have been killing zombies for, like, four decades. I can headshot any shambling undead like picking my nose, and for those fast, feral ones I can find enough makeshift weapons in any mall, abandoned hosue with a basement, et al to slay them to my hearts content. Or at least until my black companion inevitably dies.

Alright, I admit, one of those things is patently false.

So onto the show!

"But wait, anonymous Monkey Steals the Peaches author," you might cry "why are you devoting an entire post to Resident Evil 5?"

Ahh, my dear friends, gather around so that I might tell you a story. First, before you even get into the meat of the matter, you should know a little history of the Resident Evil franchise. Now that you are all presumably squared away, time for the dirt: the first critique came from Black Looks (and please, dear reader, do not comment on Kym's post, this is a dead horse for them and Kym has gotten absolutely flamed by some moronic-ass people for her opinions, which I do not want to inadvertently contribute to), which is a website devoted to a combination of Diasporic Pan-Africanism and Feminism (Womanysm?). While I am not particularly down with their Pan-Africanism, their feminism ain't too bad, and... ok I am digressing. Anyways, a lot of sites picked up on this criticism and this started a... pretty weird and fractious discussion (Yelling match?) on race and gaming. Kym, who had not played the game back in 2007 as it was not even out, was commenting on the trailer. Actually discussions about Resident Evil 5 can be divided between the "game not out" period and "game out" period, with all the really hot stuff in the former. A lot of the comments devolved into accusations and counter accusations, with many gamers incensed at the very notion that games could be considered racist and... anti-racists (or something) telling the gamers that their games are murder simulators and they should check their privelage. There were some good and thoughtful comments to be sure, but man stuff got ugly. Anyhoo there were some later articles that often get quoted in the discussion, and hell there was a Feature in The Escapist that talked about gaming and race, gender, and other stuff. For further proof of the power of Resident Evil 5 to potentially make people write interesting stuff, IGN had two good pieces on it (and IGN is, shall we say, trash so the quality of these articles absolutely shocked me). Why am I not giving you some telling excerpts instead of making you read the whole damn thing? I have no idea how to quote stuff on this blog, my last attempt at it, as evidenced by my previous post, was a dismal failure, and I should probably commit seppuku. Oh, and you should always read the whole damn thing because excerpts tend to be quoted out of context.

Actually, I just gave a pretty good background on not only the franchise but the well-known points surrounding RE 5. Time to call it a day...

Oh wait, now I have to give MY opinion, which is presumably why you, my dear reader, have not stopped reading by now. First off, I cannot tell you if the game is racist or not (and, which is sure to annoy some readers, neither can you tell me) because, if the images in the trailer were offensive to you, then some snarky blogger is probably not going to change your mind. Were the images themselves racist? Possibly. The denial of dark people’s humanity through likening them to primitive and animal-like beings is pretty well established. As Croal says "these images have history". Though, unlike him, I draw the distinction between images possessing history (and, to be honest, a history we choose to remember or forget as it suits us) and images continuing historical evocations. Basically, if Capcom was sitting around watching Birth of a Nation and then thought "man, THIS SHOULD BE A GAME" then I would call it racist immediately. However, near as I can tell, that did not happen. "But" a Critical reader might say "you are obviously ignoring the structural issues surrounding race and racial imagery. Racism is not about personal feelings but about power and privilege." To which I would reply "that is an overdeterministic reading that results in fishing for outrages while at the same time alienating anybody that might listen to you and ultimately not changing anything while you wait around demanding ideological purity." Ok, actually both my mythical Critical reader and I can debate that forever, so lets not go there (Sure to make any Anti-racist reader's head explode: my upcoming post on Colorblind Anti-Racism. I am not kidding, I believe in it, but that is another discussion entirely). However, just because I do not believe RE 5 is racist does not mean it is not, and there should be space for people to critique it (without calling gamers a bunch of teenage white geeks who are closet school-shooters). My main issue with RE 5's depiction of the people of Kijuju (ahh, the fictional African country, although between 'Raccoon City' and the as-of-yet-to-be-determined Hispanophone country that RE 4 took place in, I admire Capcom's consistency) is my problem with RE 4: that they made the zombies keep a lot of their humanity. Ok, RE 4 did not technically have Zombies, but rather whatever-the-hell Capcom demanded us call them, but for all intents and purposes they were zombies. In having the zombies keep their language skills, communication skills, and decent motor skills, you are basically killing 'stupid bad guys' rather than zombies. While RE 4 was trying to have you recognize the echoes of humanity of those you were killing, and hopefully add to the gravitas to the situation (which was summed up in a fairly decent end of game prologue), this is Capcom here so they totally butchered it by having 99% of the game basically revolve around darker-skinned zombies who speak a foreign language rather than dwell on the fact that the village had been taken over by a fairly insidious plot. Delightful. Did I view RE 4 as racist? Well, considering my feelings towards RE 5, you should be happy to guess that no, I did not find it racist. Just ass insensitive. Basically, if you are going to go for smart, fast, talking and look human, you HAVE to make sure your story and writing are airtight (which will never happen with an RE game, which birthed the immortal phrase “you, the master of unlocking”). Otherwise, I would have preferred making the zombies look as alien as possible, so that the protagonist is killing the undeniably undead versus the possibly human. The RE franchise, since 4, has been trying to move away from zombies and the various viruses (T, G, whatev) which were engineered by Umbrella to create them (when will evil corporations ever learn?), by focusing on the origins of the viruses themselves (which evolved from, where else, Africa) and retooling the enemies to suit a more action-packed title, Capcom effed up. I would have preferred the X virus or whatever, which completely deformed their hosts so that, while perhaps you could surmise the skin color of the human who carried it, the virus itself was what was being killed, not the human who it corrupted. Rather Capcom, in opting to make the... organism, for lack of a better word, live deep inside its host while the host keeps their outward human shell (even if they look weird as hell, they are clearly human) Capcom totally walked right into this. Of course, my solution could be subject to an overly close reading, or even a standard reading, of the total denial of black humanity by making Africans into monsters. As Bart Simpson once said you're damned if you do, and you're damned if you don't. I can live with that. As for having a white male character (and an apparently tragic mullata partner) kill a lot of black Africans rather than have a local black African cop (possibly with a partner who is three months away from retirement before coming to an untimely end) kill a lot of black Africans, I would actually much rather see Chris because I want to know what happened to him. A new protaganist would be great for the next game (who will inevitably be a black man who talks like 50 Cent).

While Cornell West (or basically anyone on the cutting edge of academic race writing) might dissect my desire for zombies that happen to be black versus black zombies, that is how I roll. I will say though that I was thrilled at the prospect of having a game set anywhere in sub-Saharan Africa. Now, if you want to perhaps make a Bioware D&D game (and yes, I know that will never happen) set in West Africa and need to write a script, please call me (An Ile-Ife Icewind Dale, if you will).

Of course, some of the post-release articles on RE 5 have been, shall we say, less than stellar (throwing salt on a radical social anthropologist who deals with ethnicity and nationalism because there is "No mention of Africa, race, or racism" in his resume is kind of dumb. Oh and he is a white man, so what can he know about race *cough cough Time Wise*? Battle the argument, not the person. I mean, under that logic, I guess Fanon was only qualified to talk about colonial Algeria and Martinique, but christ I do not want to have a fight with Acid for Blood or Racalicious, so I will stop there) , but that is to be expected. Maybe when I get a PhD people will listen to me? Doubtful.

Oh, and to be fair, you might ask where was I during these discussions? Where was I when Kym was being attacked by the horde? How come I am not trying to have this discussion in gaming forums rather than in the relative safety of my blog? I was sitting back reading with detached bemusement, which was most certainly neither commendable nor noble, but at least honest.


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