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Jul. 16 2009 - 1:03 pm | 190 views | 0 recommendations | 12 comments

Houston Chronicle Claims Video Game Racism Now ‘The Norm’

racism

I was thoroughly annoyed when I saw the title of this blog post over at the Houston Chronicle called “Racism in video games: The new norm?” Game Hack blogger Willie Jefferson goes on to detail just why he thinks this is the case, and his reasoning is misguided at best and idiotic at worst. Everyone’s entitled to their opinion I suppose, but I am entitled to call you a moron if need be.

Here are the highlights:

“One of the games that comes to mind is “Left 4 Dead 2.” Though the game isn’t out yet, it’s already causing an uproar. Set in New Orleans, players will have to fight their way through hordes of zombies – with several of them who appear to be African-Americans. When I saw the first trailer for the game, all I could think about was Hurricane Katrina and the aftermath. Setting the game in a city that was scene of dead, bloated bodies floating by so soon afterward was a bad call, IMHO. The city has had enough to deal with — Valve, you should have spared them, even if it’s just a video game.

Another game, “Resident Evil 5,” puts gamers into the heart of Africa, blasting zombies. I bet you’ll never guess what color they are.

The game that really inspired this blog entry was Ubisoft’s “Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood.” The game starts out with players assuming the role of Ray, a Confederate officer, working to save his brother, Thomas, who’s pinned down by Union soldiers. I nearly dropped the controller. I have so much respect for President Lincoln — he wanted to preserve the Union and ended up freeing the slaves — and have just as much respect for the Union Army.”

So we’ve got three separate games here, each with their own arguments, yet he decides to group them all into one category: Racist.

First, Left 4 Dead 2, set in New Orleans. To me, the issue here has nothing to do with racism, and that’s more a debate about the Hurricane Katrina disaster as a whole. I’m firmly of the stance that natural disasters aren’t racist, and our government wasn’t purposefully holding back aid because it was mostly black people who were affected (despite what Kanye West believes), and instead they failed to act quickly because they were ill prepared and incompetent.

So to say that L4D2 is racist because it’s set in New Orleans and features some black zombies is inherently stupid. There is a different question about whether or not the site of a national disaster should be used as the setting for such a game. I can see the arguments both ways (I personally think in this case it’s alright) but the debate should have nothing to do with race and racism.

The next game he touches on for half a second is Resident Evil 5, which garnered a ton of controversy for having a white man shooting black zombies in Africa. I was so sick of this argument I thought I’d snap if I heard it again. And guess what, I heard it again.

This thought process is absolutely moronic. The producers of Resident Evil 5 should be applauded for taking the game to a country that most developers have been scared to go to because they were afraid of overreaction like this. Setting the game in Africa rather than some generic industrial town in America is a great creative departure, and the amount of heat Capcom took for it is absurd.

Guess what happens when the T-virus splashes down in Africa? AFRICANS get infected. And as it so happens, most Africans are black. Chris Redfield has always been white, they’re not going to change his color just so it makes it more PC to shoot black zombies (though they did give him a black partner for that). Would it be racist for a Chinese solider to go to Canada and shoot Eskimo zombies? How about an Indian mercenary heading to Paraguay to kill Latino zombies? The key word here is ZOMBIES. The color of the zombie is not a metaphor for Capcom’s deep seeded racism, it’s merely a reflection of where the game is taking place.

call

Lastly, Will addresses Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood, where in one mission players take on the role of a Confederate solider trying to save his brother from some Union officers. Where were his complaints when players got auto assigned to the Nazi or Terrorist squads in Call of Duty? But once again, I don’t believe this complaint about Juarez has to do with race, as I’m sure the game doesn’t involve owning slaves or assassinating Lincoln. A soldier trying to save his brother seems like a perfectly adequate mission objective, and honestly I wouldn’t have a problem playing the same mission in Call of Duty as a Nazi soldier trying to save his brother.

To me, it’s dumb to rubber stamp every single enemy soldier in every war the US has fought as pure, unadulterated evil. This is of course a larger philosophical question outside of the realm of video games, but I’m reminded of watching a movie like Letters from Iwo Jima, in which Japanese soldiers are firmly determined to kill any and all Americans, but you see that they’re just soldiers following orders, and they have wives and children as well. I don’t think it’s outside the realm of taste to have a video game where a Confederate soldier must kill Union officers to save his brother. You’re not killing them in order to beat a slave at the end of the level, you’re fighting to save your brother. Race has nothing to do with that.

So that’s my bristling response to Will Jefferson’s tear-stained post about how racism in games is now the “norm.” Citing three examples of games, where only two of them actually feature black people, is hardly the “norm” I’d say, and I’d suggest Will refrain from such sensationalistic titles in the future. Idiot.

[via Game Hacks]


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  1. collapse expand

    I do not myself play much in the way of video games and so cannot comment on what is or is not the “norm”. However I have seen at least a few of the games my younger son plays. One of his favorites has been something called “Grand Theft Auto – San Andreas” (he has since moved on). It was shockingly racist. It depicts a region very similar to southern California where the characters (entirely non-white) commit every sort of violent crime imaginable against people (also non-white) and property. It was every racists’ caricature of urban America. I am sure that someone somewhere is saying “Oh, it is all ironic, it is just comical hyperbole”. Maybe I am too old but it put a knot in my stomach. I don’t know if it is the norm, but there are some very racist games out.

  2. collapse expand

    I’ve read the original post and this response – as well as the comments to the original post. Because the original blogger didn’t explain his argument well, I’ll help him out.

    The racism in “Resident Evil” is in the subtext. The game/movie plays on stereotypical views of Africa as a dark continent with evil, cannabalistic unknowable residents who eat normal (also read: civilized) people. Would a game set in say England (e.g. one based on “28 Days Later”) have been as offensive?
    I don’t think so because the subtext would be missing.

    Same problem with a game set in New Orleans, after Katrina. As the commenter above noted about another game: “It was every racists’ caricature of urban America.” What’s even more offensive, though, is that gamers would turn the misery of Katrina into entertainment.

    Paul, you may not find it “outside the realm of taste to have a video game where a Confederate soldier must kill Union officers to save his brother.”
    You say out that the player isn’t “not killing (Union soldiers) in order to beat a slave at the end of the level, you’re fighting to save your brother. Race has nothing to do with it.”

    No you’re wrong.

    In that came, you and your brother are Confederates. The Confederates battled to uphold a way of life that was built on the dehumanization of an entire race. (Yes, I know all about States’ rights. I was raised in the South. I stand by my assertion.) Race has everything to do with it.

  3. collapse expand

    Okay. I actually felt pretty strongly about this post, strongly enough to actually register for this site. So good job. This is the kind of thing that brings in traffic.

    So unlike the other commenters, I actually do play a lot of video games. And I actually think that, you know what? When you play a Wehrmacht soldier in whatever WWII game, that is crossing a line. It’s not obscenely bad. But if you present the Allies vs. the Axis as a neutral choice, red vs. blue, you are going somewhere bad. The reason that it’s less offensive is that Nazis are not, at this particular moment in time, killing any Jews, while if you think racism has completely disappeared from America I really don’t know what to say to you.

    I won’t comment on Call of Juarez, because I don’t feel like I know anything about the content, and I don’t object to Confederate main characters intrinsically. My relatives fought on the wrong side of the war, anyway. I wouldn’t be happy, though, if the Confederacy was presented as just awesomesauce when you have to be a profoundly disturbed human being to deny that it was… how shall I put this? Wrong. The Confederacy was wrong. Many people in the South knew it, and a few of them had the chance to act on it. That’s just life. No country or army is a monolith, and if these characters are individuals with their own motivations, that’s totally fine by me.

    But it’s a little different when there’s such a thing as a game that features a white protagonist killing hordes of dark-skinned people who walk and talk and drive cars and are just like humans except that they’re zombies and inherently evil and therefore they must die. Everyone seems to think, around the white and Asian-dominated sections of the Internetz, that this is equivalent to having a white protagonist killing white zombies. It isn’t. It can’t be, because black people have never said, “White people! Those barbaric, disgusting savages filled with lust for our pure black flesh! Man, isn’t it great that we’re around to keep them in check, or they might overrun the world!” Because that, inverted, is colonialism and slavery and to a certain extent the racism that still exists all over the world today. Of course Capcom didn’t get it. Racism is worst in homogenous countries like Japan that have never grappled with it. Look at Russia, for God’s sake.

    Look, I’m not blaming you for not seeing this. It is really, really hard to get these things. Institutional racism is not any one video game company’s fault. In a perfect world where there was never any such thing as the colonization of Africa or racial chattel slavery, where Birth of a Nation was never released, you could have little white bunches of pixels running around and killing little black bunches of pixels all the live long day. Because that’s all a video game is, right? Just entertainment? If only. An image is a powerful thing, and we don’t live in such a perfect world. Racism, these days, isn’t calling someone nigger or lynching them on a tree – although that still happens, here in there, in America at least. Racism is thought that changes your actions just a little bit, just enough to hurt someone. We can’t let these things stand.

  4. collapse expand

    Hey guys, I wrote a follow up piece to this post based on your comments:

    http://trueslant.com/tassi/2009/07/20/a-further-elaboration-on-racism-in-video-games/

    Thanks for reading, even if you don’t agree with me.

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