Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Resident Evil 5 - No Changes After Racism Charges

After charges of racism, the Resident Evil 5 team made no changes to the game.

Anyone who works in the U.S. for a company of almost any size has probably had training on sexism in the workplace. The point that is made time and time again [as I have had about 4 of these sessions at different places] is that sexism is not a matter of intent but of perception. Argue with that if you want, but that is the definition.

The point is that it is not up to the speaker to decide what is sexism but the victim. So does this logic apply to other forms of prejudice. And there is a simple explanation for this perspective: it is possible for us to speak or act in a way that is offensive even though we might not mean it as such. But ignorance does not cut the prejudice to a less harmful dosage. It is simply then unintentional racism.

For example, years ago, I was at a small party of about 25 people in Indiana. There's one who has smoked and drinked a bit, so he's talking loudly and says something about a "porch monkey." The party was almost entirely white. Almost. Two black men were there and became irate. The woman hosting the party talked to them, aware of their anger and then went to the guy and explained that he had been offensive. I believed the guy when he said he had no idea that "porch monkey" was a prejudiced term . . . he thought it just referred to yard statues. He wasn't even aware of the black men or talking about them. He apologized profusely. The black men accepted it, although they were amazed that someone would claim to be so ignorant. It was a clear tale of different experiences for it is possible for some to speak and behave in a biased way without knowing the meaning behind it.

I doubt that the Capcom team intended racism. But it's the context and perspective of the victim that matters. Sure, white guys get killed in games all the time. It doesn't matter if no one said anything about Latinos getting shot in other games.

There were ways to address the issue without throwing the game to wayside and starting over. For them to disregard the complaints is a worse action, one done not ignorance but in purposeful defiance. The original charge of racism against Resident Evil 5 seems no different than Sony's "white is coming" ad.

But their response would be, thus, be the same if Sony hadn't pulled the ad but stayed with that campaign. I honestly don't believe that Jun Takeuchi is racist, but I think the game's racist perceptions are valid. I also think it's mistake to judge racism by claiming that it wasn't intended. We know that racism is often expressed in coded but ambiguous terms. I've seen it in play, learning that "welfare" and other terms are loaded, with a wry smile or subtle expression to convey the real meaning. We've seen the "dog whistle" messages at work in the U.S. this campaign season. Whether we like it or not, the victims get the first right of refusal, however inconvenient that may be to some. This is the price of history, which can't be conveniently wiped away within a generation and after happy-happy-joy-joy political speeches.


gnome said...

It feels so nice when someone concrete formulates what you've been thinking. Excellent article guttertalk and I whole-heartedly agree.

guttertalk said...

Thanks, gnome. I guess this is a bit like shooting in a fish bowl.

I meant to add this hypothetical, but thought it was overkill:

Imagine a game in which in a blond white male is killing Jewish zombies. We have a hard time imagining this because of the history. So it is no different from White Males killing black Africans, zombie or otherwise.

And if anyone doesn't know about Belgium's King Leopold II and his genocide in the Congo, they should. Then, consider the horrors that white cultures have committed against Africans, from slavery to South Africa.

This is the historical context this game is fixed in.

gnome said...

My thoughts exactly. Not that the average young white (US?) male that tends to form the most vocal part of the gaming community would ever understand. Oh well...

stalepie said...

Actually, if it's historical context that matters, look at the origin of the "zombie" -- it's African!

So it's very fitting for zombies to be African. :)

gnome said...

Heh :)

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