Evan Narcisse weighs in on yesterday's Times piece as well as the whole hoopbla. His response is measured and intelligent. That's likely because Evan has not only played the game (I have not) but he's also one of the few amongst us, critics and defenders, who's expended a little shoe-leather and done some reporting. Forgive me for quoting at some length:
For my part, I've never called RE5 racist, and I probably won't. 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.
That's worth discussing...
It's clearly not the main text of the game, but the subtext feeds on awful, previously understood notions about not just Africans on the continent, but black people everywhere. There's no sense of scale, in terms of humanity, in RE5. You don't see daily life before it's destroyed by the infection. No bustling market. No kids playing. It opens on guys with machetes. As a result, the fictional country of Kijuju looks like a place that's just ripe for evil to manifest.
Some reviews acknowledge that there's been a storm regarding the racial portrayals brewing around the game, but sidestep addressing those portrayals.
As this debate's carried on, the apologists' retort has taken the form of "What about Resident Evil 4? Huh? Huh? Huh?" Read this quote from commenter ado_rimbo in the thread following Scott Jones' review: "But the point is that Spaniards are whites with an imperialist history, not a racially oppressed minority, so there are not loaded images here that one could be irresponsible with." Read my answer during the Takeuchi interview: "And because there's a history of demonization and subhuman portrayals with regard to people of African descent, there's a certain sensitivity around that."
Spaniards don't have a long, loud history of being portrayed as scary, subhuman savages. The average American citizen that previous Resident Evil games have used as enemies don't have a long, loud history of being portrayed as scary, subhuman savages.
This black videogame journalist has never said that black people aren't fair game for being enemy antagonists in videogames. What's problematic is, the way that RE5 chooses to make them antagonists pounces on fears that were promulgated about black people in the not-so-distant past. Sure, we're all susceptible to zombie virus, as Schiesel's NYT write-up blithely notes, but the subtext of the game seems to whisper: "Yeah, but those Africans don't have as far to go to become savages." This subtext feeds on awful, previously understood notions about black people.
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