Discussion: Video Game Racism?

With Halloween on Friday, it seems fitting that I’m writing an article that tackles two extremely scary topics: zombies and racism.

Fans of the Resident Evil video game series might remember a few months ago when the trailer for Resident Evil 5 premiered and caused huge controversy. The trailer shows Chris Redfield, a character who acted as one of two playable characters in Resident Evil and also appeared in Resident Evil: Code Veronica, moving through an African village. He is then attacked by hordes of zombies, apparently once again infected with a strain of zombie-virus.

The controversy comes from the fact that, because the game is set in Africa, the zombies are all native villagers. Which means the game’s trailer shows a white protagonist killing horde after horde of feral black zombies.

When the Japanese game developers were approached on the topic, they had the following to say:

We chose Africa [as RE5’s setting] because we’re extending the storyline logically. Following the tradition of the Resident Evil franchise, you’ll remember from Code Veronica – the Progenitor virus comes from Africa so we wanted to go back to the root of where the virus originated.

For the people who think it’s racist… well, we can’t please everyone. We’re in the entertainment business – we’re not here to state our political opinion or anything like that. It’s unfortunate that some people felt that way.

We’ve gone where the story has taken us…


And now? I’m torn on how I feel. On one hand, I really don’t believe there was a racial agenda when the game was developed. Since the original RE games were set in the United States and Resident Evil 4 moved the plot to Eastern Europe, the idea of exploring the virus in other places makes sense. And there’s already backstory which indicates why Africa is a logical choice.

Also, part of the constant message in the RE games is the dangers of unchecked corporate entities. Umbrella Inc., the fictional corporation in the games, is directly responsible for the events in most of the games. They act in a way that benefits them, no matter what it may do to the poor or the weak beneath them. And RE 5 would potentially continue that idea, showing people in impoverished African villages basically being used as science experiments for a rich, white, AMERICAN corporation.

But at the same time, even if there wasn’t a racial agenda, didn’t anybody feel the need to stand up and say “Um, guys? White guy killing black zombies. This…probably isn’t going to go over very well.” The world is in a constant dangerous political climate when it comes to race. And with the typical treatment of non-white nations by white nations, someone really should have stepped up and said “Okay, Africa is a good idea, but can we do this in a way that would deliver our message without delivering another more terrible one?”

This is on top of the fact that another game, Little Big Planet, recently had to be recalled because of lines from the Qur’an showing up in one of the game’s songs. Are game developers really that ignorant about the commotion this will cause? Or worse: are they figuring that “mistakes” such as these and the Grand Theft Auto Hot Coffee Scandal will serve as cheap publicity for the game?

No matter what, I won’t be playing RE 5. Because zombies plus first person shooter means there is NOTHING this game will offer me other than nightmares and controllers broken in frustration. But that doesn’t mean I’m not bothered by this situation.