Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Resident Evil 5 and Racism!!!

First off, how's that for a article title? Doesn't that just get the blood flowing? (And also get this article to pop out nicely in a list of blog posts, thus generating more hits.) This is how sausage is made.

I got through about three quarters of Resident Evil 5 before my XBox died. I just got my replacement system, but I'm not sure if I'll be able to work up the energy to finish the game. This is a real disappointment to me.

I was really looking forward to Resident Evil 5, since Resident Evil 4 is one of my favorite shooters, like, ever. It was the first Resident Evil game I'd played, and man, I loved it. It's out for pretty much every system in existence. You really should play it, though the Intellivision and Vectrex ports are, frankly, subpar.

And Resident Evil 5 definitely has it's good points. It's very pretty. The battles are paced nicely. It gives you a period of exploration to catch your breath, and then it hits you with a horde of zombies. I'd prefer the hordes were bigger, but still, it rarely irritates you with enemies constantly coming in dribs and drabs. And the boss fights are very cool. I liked them a lot.

But there are several elements I found super-disappointing.

1. The Plot Is Dull. This simply amazes me. The game is about a zombie outbreak. In Africa. Zombies. In Africa. HOW CAN THAT NOT BE AWESOME!?!? Packed cities. Desperately poor people with automatic weapons. Incompetent and corrupt governments. Plus, you know, the relentless assault of the living dead.

And yet, the plot is just sludge. Most of it involves finding out what happened to the former partners of the two main characters (about which I could not care less) and chasing some terrorist for reasons that are never explained. (We're supposed to hate him as part of some Pavlovian response to him being called a terrorist. Didn't work.) And, while the city settings are cool and creepy, you're soon wandering around solving puzzles in some generic ancient tomb, losing all of the awesomeness of being in Africa.

What a waste.

2. The Inventory System Constantly Spoils Your Fun. Fighting the inventory system is a constant distraction. The inventory system in Resident Evil 4 was cool and realistic, and I actually had fun shifting the items around in my briefcase to solve the puzzle of making things fit. In comparison, the new system is an aggravation and trading gear back and forth with your partner is doubly so.

Now, I know I wrote a few months ago how you shouldn't be afraid to make changes to your game. But that doesn't mean every change is good. You must be merciless about improving the worst elements of your design, but you also should be determined to leave alone the parts that are actually good.

3. About the Racism Thing. I didn't have any problem with this for most of the game. You have to fight zombies somewhere. And, wherever they are, you're gonna' shoot a bunch of former people. Having that take place in Africa is no more racist then setting the action in Dubuque. The early levels, in the city, are very foreign and cool, and I think you'd have to be pretty oversensitive to have a problem with them.

Then you go out into the back hills. You enter villages of straw huts and fight zombies wearing straw skirts and wielding spears. And the bosses are ooga booga witch doctors with big masks.

I'm not going to call this racist. Throwing that accusation around cheapens it. It's not racist. It's just dumb. I may be wrong, but I suspect, if you go to an African village today, the young men won't have grass skirts and spears. They will be wearing ratty t-shirts and wielding AK-47s. And they will mess you up.

This is like setting the game in modern-day Japan and having the villages be full of sumo wrestlers, samurais, and J-pop stars. Although, of course, if this was the case, I would never stop playing that game.

Also, since every pot in the villages was full of either gold coins or bullets, I think they could afford something a little deadlier than spears.

4. Oh. One more race comment. About your hot, sexy, hot girl sidekick. She's an amazing bit of art direction. It's amazing how they were able to make her as white-looking as a human being could possibly be and still be plausibly identified as not white. I'm just sayin'.

This is all not so much a review as a bunch of impressions. And a bit of public mourning. I suppose it was foolish to expect more, but after the pure game goodness of Resident Evil 4, I wish I could say more than, "Meh. It's worth a rental."

Oh, and to pre-empt any criticism. I'm not politically correct. I'm just plain correct.

15 comments:

  1. I was going to say something but this guy sums up the problem with your views.

    Also, the last link doesn't help.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Dubuque? Are you from Iowa?

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  3. "I'm not going to call this racist. Throwing that accusation around cheapens it. It's not racist. It's just dumb."

    I wish more people understood this. It is getting to the point where you can say something like "Black people have curly hair," and be accused of being a racist. Ridiculous.

    ReplyDelete
  4. You... rickrolled us? Oh, come on... Surely you can do better than that.

    That said, you do have good points about RE5.

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  5. I don't think she looks white at all. It's pretty clear that she isn't.

    ReplyDelete
  6. ...well she seriously does not look black. If I were to have guessed without context I would have assumed latino. If she's intended to have African ancestry then she clearly has a lot of European ancestors as well. I think her looking the way she does is a sort of indirect racism - she's intended to look hot, and Western culture has a bias that white characteristics are more attractive than black ones.

    I'm not sure what I think regarding whether this game in particular is racist. I think the bigger issue is the endemic racial bias across all media, and this game just makes it more noticeable.

    ReplyDelete
  7. @Thomas: really good link, but I'm not sure that Jeff would substantially disagree. It's more a difference of vehemence and labels.

    If your conception of racism requires at least, say, fried chicken and watermelon jokes, then maybe you wouldn't call RE5 racist. If you have a deeper understanding of it, and also acknowledge the influence of media on culture, then yeah, it is. Not in the sense of thinking that one race is superior to another, but in promoting stereotypes, including the normalcy of whiteness. This is undeniably part of the modern academic understanding of racism.

    Again, great video. It presents the argument in a thorough but concise manner. I'll be sure to check out some of the others.

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  8. It is just how video games are made. A witch doc/spear man in the mix is much more fun. It is just a game.
    If you take a look at Asian MMOs, a lot of the chars looks white with blond/blue hair. are they doing racism on themselfs?

    ReplyDelete
  9. Jeff, your blog makes me laugh often. I paste some of your gems to my friends on GTalk.

    What's wrong with the real Africa? This guy belongs in a computer game. http://www.hyaenidae.org/uploads/images/conservation%20pix/nigerian&pet%20hyena.jpg

    ReplyDelete
  10. When you mentioned the bit about witch doctors and spear wielding villagers my mental image of the game (I've never played it) shifted from photorealism, to a really bad wolfinstien. I know that thoughtless games are still being made but I guess I expect more, and when I hear about the missed opportunities, to make a game interesting and a realistic depiction of the hypothetical situation, it just smacks of when games were pretty much designed for an adolescent audience.

    Thanx, I enjoyed the post

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  11. Great post, nothing beats the old games of Resident Evil. I have gone through the game and to say the game is racist is absurd.

    I would like to share something that might be of interest to some of you. Since Halloween is coming up and we all love Resident Evil. Check out this website

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    I got my personalized card from them and its stunning to say the least!

    Looking forward to your other posts.

    ReplyDelete
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