Days Before Resident Evil 5 Release, Race Debate Spikes Again

Today, two articles tackle the tough issue of race in the upcoming Resident Evil 5. (Commenters beware - the ban hammer is poised at the ready.)

The first article from MTV Multiplayer is an interview with RE5's cinematic director, Jim Sonzero. He eases into the topic of race in the game by talking about his involvement with the editing of the much-criticized first trailer which tipped off the whole debate. Then he falls back on the Sheva-is-black saving throw.

"[Race] is a topic that came up early on and continues to - even now. My feeling about it is this particular game is set in Africa, and the zombies and most of the people who populate Africa are black. Capcom did their best to balance it so it didn't become an issue by making one of the leads - Sheva Alomar - black."

The second article from the Wall Street Journal takes a broader look at racial diversity of video game characters, using RE5 as a jumping off point for college professors to argue about issues of violence and race and linear gameplay. They do quote Capcom's Chris Kramer on the controversy surrounding the racism claims, but mostly let descriptions of the gameplay do all the talking.

Your job, as a player, is to save villages that have been victimized by a biochemical terrorist group. The first fearsome opponent you face is a blonde-haired female and you are rescued several times by another troupe of African soldiers. And ultimately, the game suggests that the barbarism depicted in the game is a result of your enemies' zombieness, not their African identity. In short, Africans don't beat you to death with their hands — zombies do.

This article goes on to conclude:

But discussions about colonialism are only dealt with obliquely in the game — Chris never reflects on his position as a white male in Africa nor does he discuss race with his African partner, Sheva. The game presents only one option to survive against African zombies: kill every single one.

Neither article comes out and says the game is or isn't racist. Both seem to be calling attention to a lack of discussion about the topic among game producers and developers — and maybe a lack of tact on the part of Capcom. But ignorance shouldn't be mistaken for malice. I think gamers owe it to themselves to see the game and make their own call about whether it's racist or not.

'Resident Evil 5' Reignites Debate About Race in Videogames [Wall Street Journal]
‘Resident Evil 5′ Cinematic Director Says Capcom Has Been Sensitive About Race In Game [MTV Multiplayer]