For Better or Worse, 'Resident Evil 5' Exposes Racism
Video gamers hardly blink at virtual violence — but charges of racism can raise eyebrows. For instance, anticipation for the fan-favorite "Resident Evil" series turned to uncertainty for some journalists in 2007, when they saw a game trailer which featured a white protagonist battling crowds of enraged Africans in a Third-World setting.
Now cultural and media experts have weighed in as "Resident Evil 5," the game previewed in the trailer two years ago, rolls out on U.S. shelves this Friday. And their opinion suggests that video game players should not worry so much.
In fact, the survival horror game may actually focus needed attention on issues of race and how the United States and other industrialized nations view the developing world.
The best-selling "Resident Evil" games tell an ongoing story about the sinister Umbrella Corporation and its biological experiments, which typically result in plenty of infected, zombie-like enemies for players to fight. Racism never came up as an issue in past "Resident Evil" game settings, which have included a fictional Midwestern U.S. town and locations in Spain.
That changed with the debut of a first "Resident Evil 5" trailer in the summer of 2007.
"Wow, clearly no one black worked on this game," said N'Gai Croal, a recently retired Newsweek game editor, when he spoke with MTV Multiplayer Blogabout black professionals in the game industry.
Croal suggested that many images in the trailer "dovetailed with classic racist imagery," saying that all the Africans appeared distant and hostile to the white character even before they turned into infected zombies. He added that the trailer's vaguely Middle Eastern-sounding music was reminiscent of the movie "Black Hawk Down," which drew some criticism in 2001 for its one-sided portrayal of U.S. Special Forces taking on hundreds of Somali fighters.
An MTV Multiplayer Blog editor, Stephen Totilo, also expressed his misgivings and contrasted the trailer's depictions of scary-looking Africans with his own fond recollections of people he met in Tanzania.
"It looks like it's an advertisement to virtually shoot poor people," Totilo noted. He said that he hoped to see more of the game before passing judgment, but clearly stated his uneasiness with seeing "the global sign of poverty down the barrel of a gun," as he put it.
The trailer led to a fierce debate among players and journalists, with many gamers angered or worried about the idea that a favorite game could be accused of racism.
Not just black and white
A more complex picture of "Resident Evil" became clear as Capcom, the Japanese company behind "Resident Evil 5," revealed additional information along with a second game trailer in May 2008. "Resident Evil" developers also expressed their surprise about the controversy in an interview with MTV Multiplayer Blog, and said that they expected the uproar to die down once the game hit shelves.