Jumping on the Bandwagon

Over used stock photo 71.

Over used stock photo 71.

It seems that recently the gaming world exploded on Resident Evil 5’s portrayal of race. It feels like every major gaming enthusiast site had something to say about it. Opinions have ranged from indignant to uncaring, but whatever your stance it is a debate worth having. Many of the articles seem worthy of a response, some even making me reconsider my own position. The more I read the more I appreciated that, for some, images in the game could conjure uncomfortable associations. Rather than re-treading numerous online theological discussions on this topic I am going to keep this short and explain why, especially from my point of position viewing Japanese media as an outsider, I don’t feel this game is racist.

Even Obama isn't safe from Japanese 'comedy'.

Even Obama isn't safe from Japanese 'comedy'.

The thing to remember is that this is not a Western game. As I type this I am watching a female Japanese comedian dance around on prime time TV with shoe polish on her face pretending to be Michael Jackson. Last week I watched a man with his cheeks painted white, burbling absurdities interspersed with the word ‘fucking’ as an impersonation of Quinton Tarantino. While the Japanese are aware of the race issue the culture is not as sensitive to it. There is a lack of exposure to foreign cultures, and the exposure most people receive do are curios. That these curios could be offensive to the ethnicities they represent doesn’t enter the viewer’s consciousness. It is this environment into which you have to place RE5.

Capcom isn’t ignorant. It makes entertainment media for the world market and is aware of the issues involved; but maybe not fully. No matter how much you educate yourself on the subtleties of issues as historical and as deeply felt as race you can never truly appreciate it without living it. Resident Evil 5’s imagery does contain negative or offensive implications to some, but I suspect all of the scenes people are reacting to are iconic images drawn from other media (primarily cinema). The white muscle bound hero, the zombies in African tribal ware, the rioting mob even the (incredibly out of place) victimisation of a white blonde woman are all Hollywood tropes. While any individual element could be dismissed or explained the cumulative effect of all of them viewed concurrently become difficult to ignore. Capcom’s awareness drove them to create their paper thin narrative explanations for their design choices, but these became thinner with each passing digression.

Let’s face it this isn’t the first time Capcom has made use of racial iconography.

Let’s face it this isn’t the first time Capcom has made use of racial iconography.

What I am trying to say is that you have to imagine that Japan and Capcom’s sensibilities are stuck in the early 70’s. Much like my father they use the world view they have been surrounded by for the majority of their life. Sometimes this leads them to say things which could cause offence but with no hate or malice. While they should be savvier to the audience they intend to reach, the reality is that their errors are ingrained, the imagery they use is just what they feel is an accurate representation of what they want to convey. Arguably even the Japanese could simply do with being more enlightened and cosmopolitan. But perhaps equally we have to be more understanding and excepting of the culture that produced this fantastic game, rather than judging it messages by our standards.

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