Comments on

REview

Original entry posted: Mon Mar 9 20:43:54 2009

1236651683 @ hedreamsoffreeways.blogspot.com EST

Mon Mar 9 22:21:23 2009Personally, I'm curious as to what Whitehead was talking about when he wrote, "There are even more outrageous and outdated images to be found later in the game." As if the content in the demo wasn't offensive enough?

I guess it's not fair of me to criticize RE5 when I haven't even played it. On the other hand, I don't want to support the game makers if they believe this is nothing but harmless fun.

1236670750 @ www.eurogamer.net EST

Tue Mar 10 03:39:10 2009Hi guys, I'm the editor of Eurogamer.

First of all, thank you for supporting Dan's preview. I thought it was vitally important that he was free to make the points he made, and I backed him to do so.

When it came to the review, I chose our former editor Kristan because he had reviewed most of the previous Resident Evil games for the site, and because Dan had already made it plain what he thought of the game at great length based on the first three chapters (effectively half the complete release). Dan would have done a fine job had I asked him to do it. Capcom wasn't very happy with his preview, as you can imagine, but there was no external pressure to remove him or make concessions, and had there been I would have told them where to stick it. The site doesn't work if we start letting publishers tell us how to run it, obviously.

You're right that the review avoided the game's questionable racial imagery (I wouldn't go so far as to call it racism - having played through most of Resi 5 myself, I think it's dangerous ignorance rather than malevolence). This was a conscious decision on my part because I felt we had said our piece, and, as you've said, there was no danger of anybody missing the point after the preview was picked up around the blogosphere. I wanted to shift the discussion to the quality of the game behind the controversy. I don't think this was negligent, and it wasn't politically motivated, but I certainly take your point that it was an extreme approach. Perhaps I was naive about the degree to which our previously stated view had propagated. I'm certainly watching the reaction closely and appreciate the post here.

That said, a review shouldn't be the end of the discussion, and I doubt it will be in Resident Evil 5's case not just on Eurogamer, but in the press at large.

Tom.

@ EST

EDIT: Allow me to respond more calmly (as well as abuse the fact that I'm the only one who can edit comments). The idea that you, personally, don't see racism here doesn't mean that it doesn't exist. Denying that there's racism, and calling the opinions of other people "bullshit," has the effect of silencing the perspectives of anti-racists and people of color. I'm not going to put up with that in this thread. You can disagree respectfully, as others have done, but comments I view as inflammatory or in violation of the "safe space" will be moderated.1236695645Thomaswww.milezero.orgTue Mar 10 10:34:05 2009To address your actual comments: I don't have a problem with games set in Africa. I think it could be a fine setting for games. And I think it has been done with more sensitivity: I haven't noticed anything like this surrounding Far Cry 2, for example.

It's not about clutching pearls, or stifling conversation on race just because Africa entered the picture. People are absolutely free to execute things in a manner that's "clumsy, insensitive, and in poor taste." But I certainly don't believe that when they do so they should be immune to criticism. That's not true for any other medium, it shouldn't be true for gaming.

If that means people think twice before setting games in Africa, and they have to do some research first, then I'm personally fine with that. If it means that designers hesitate before trying to create some sort of racial or colonial commentary, I'm fine with that too.

David Sahlin @ Mon Mar 9 16:58:11 2009 EST

Eurogamer counts as mainstream coverage?

Anyway, if I'm looking for a review on Resident Evil 5, I'm not looking for a discussion on race. I'm looking for something to tell me whether the game would be one I want to play.

Should they have a Feature article discussing race in Resident Evil 5 to go along with it? Sure.

I thought we all decided "Review" stood for "Is it fun?" a long time ago.

Thomas @ Mon Mar 9 17:15:50 2009 EST

We didn't decide anything like that.

I find it interesting that you don't count blatant racism as among the factors that decide whether or not you want to play something--or indeed, whether or not something is "fun."

Krystian Majewski @ Mon Mar 9 17:24:06 2009 EST

I disagree with Sahlin here. The race issue was a big part of the discussion around the game. It is journalistic failure not mentioning it AT ALL in the review. If they thought it no longer applied to the final product, they should have mentioned THAT.

Whether reviews are the same as Critique is a longer discussion. Personally, I would welcome it if reviews would tackle more "serious discourse" (by "serious" I mean cultural issues, not gameplay nerd-fights). In this case, it's the same either way. I don't want to buy a game if it is so irresponsibly disrespectful to racial issues. I don't want to reward that. To put it to extreme: Would you buy Neo-Nazi propaganda if the review said it was "fun"?

Thomas @ Tue Mar 10 07:48:53 2009 EST

Thanks for commenting, Tom. It's good to know that outside pressure wasn't a factor in the decision. And you guys really do deserve kudos for running that preview despite Capcom's reaction.

I can see where you're coming from on the editorial choice, but if it's "dangerous ignorance" instead of malevolence in RE5, I do want to know that from a review before I make a purchase--as Krystian says, I don't want to support racist media, and like Matt, I'm very curious about the embargoed scenes that were hinted at in the preview.

That Fuzzy Bastard @ Tue Mar 10 10:08:05 2009 EST

Well, it should be noted that the blonde-woman cutscene seems to have been a product of Whitehead's imagination, rather than the game designer's---in fact, much of the game seems less bothersome now that it's been released: http://blog.wired.com/games/2009/03/resident-evil-5.html

But overall, I've actually done something of a 180 on RE5. When I saw the initial images, I too was worried that it was going to be Shaka Zulu in video game form, if not Birth of a Nation. But the more I reflected on it, as well as the Loco Roco controversy, the more I started to wonder if my own reaction wasn't part of the problem.

The thing is: I *want* video games to interact meaningfully with current events. And that means games have to be free to do things that are clumsy, insensitive, and in poor taste without having the guardians of culture jump down their throat if they don't execute with full nuance. Otherwise, we'll just be in a situation where designers are afraid to do anything with real-world relevance, and will stick to outer space, where it's safer. When we talk about the need to have a "conversation on race", we need to be willing not to yell at anyone who says things we don't like, or says things in a clumsy way---otherwise, the conversation can't happen. This applies, in spades, to the fantards who yelp "stop complainin its just a video game d00d", but it also applies to those who grab for their smelling salts the instant a designer dares to have Africans treated as video game characters like other video game characters.

And the thing is: Africa is a *great* setting for a video game, and especially for a zombie game. Analogizing the drugged-up cult violence of Sierra Leone / the Ivory Coast / the Congo to the world of Resident Evil is a move worthy of George Romero---or maybe even more daring that Romero could ever be---and even if the RE designers treat the theme with the same ham-handedness they treat all themes, I'm all for them making the attempt.

If the designers had a history of genuinely racist sentiment---if, say, the game implied that Africa, rather than the lily-white Umbrella Corporation---was the source of all evil, then I might be more concerned (a move that Josef Conrad doesn't entirely avoid in his classic text). But as it is, I'm increasingly thinking that the gang at Capcom deserves to try, and fail, without the discourse police lashing out at anyone who fails to clutch their pearls hard enough.

That Fuzzy Bastard @ Tue Mar 10 10:09:51 2009 EST

Ugh---sorry about the repetition of "the thing is". Racism is one thing, but paragraph transition repetition is truly unforgivable.

Thomas @ Tue Mar 10 10:21:12 2009 EST

TFB, please see Brinstar's post before using that "expert" as evidence. He's not actually qualified to comment on this, at all.

Also, I don't find his commentary terribly well-argued. Claiming that the images aren't those of savages because the Africans are "reverting to traditional ways"? Completely setting aside the criticisms of Sheva, or discounting what he admits is the racist scene with the sack? Stating that the use of "African masks" (and the continent itself) as a threat is directly comparable to setting the previous game in Spain?

No, man. That's crap. Even if he were an actual expert, and not some random anthropologist, he's not providing anything of value to this conversation.

That Fuzzy Bastard @ Tue Mar 10 11:08:02 2009 EST

Wasn't using the link for the faux-expert's commentary (though I sort of question this whole notion of a colonialism expert), but for noting that Whitehead seems to have gotten the girl-dragged-off bit completely wrong.

As for Far Cry: I think Far Cry is actually escaping criticism precisely because it's much less interesting (as social commentary, I mean, not as a game). Its Africa is interchangeable with Mercenaries' North Korea, or Just Cause's mystery South American country. It doesn't push any buttons, which means it doesn't attract any comment, which means it's basically playing it safe.

And finally, as regards RE5: I haven't played the game, so I don't actually know if its insensitive. But neither have you. And that hasn't stopped you from proclaiming it racist. That's what I mean about pearl-clutching---this instant assumption that the game is racist, irresponsible, and bad based on a few seconds of trailer footage, and even worse, the *enthusiasm* for proclaiming it racist, which suggests undergrads looking for something to protest come warm weather. That is the opposite of taking a game seriously, and is exactly what a stifled conversation looks like: the instant assumption of bad faith.

And I don't know how you think that 'doing some research' would make the game different---more accurate face-painting? Again, the imagery I've seen so far in the RE5 demo seems to me to have much more to do with actual images of the fighting in the Ivory Coast than anything in Far Cry 2---it's that echo that gives the game its charge---so I suspect plenty of research was done, and that's exactly why it's setting people off.

Thomas @ Tue Mar 10 11:42:36 2009 EST

Clearly there are experts on colonialism (historical and present day), as well as on race. There's no need to question that. They exist, they should have been called, they weren't. It's not clear to me why that's the case, except that perhaps the writer was lazy or very credulous.

I think I've been fairly careful not to say for certain that the game isn't racist. Clearly, I haven't played it. But I'm not basing this merely on a few seconds of footage: Whitehead did play it, and noted a number of disturbing scenes that he was embargoed from revealing fully. It's clear from his tone that he was appalled, and I don't think he was seeing things. The reason I wrote this is because I'm upset that EG didn't follow up: what was in those scenes that Capcom asked to "remain under wraps"? Tom Chick's article on fidgit was also quite clear that there's some very questionable material here. At Penny Arcade, Tycho says: "Playing the game does nothing to dilute the imagery people have found objectionable, the trailer wasn't out of context in any way - in fact I would say quite plainly that they go far beyond what you might have believed possible."

All of this seems to add up to quite a bit more than restless undergrad jitters, doesn't it?

Of course, this is not a post about the game. It's a post about the review. I would like to know, personally, if something is going to offend me before I pay for it--particularly when it's been such a prominent part of the discussion surrounding said purchase. EG declined to provide that information, for reasons that Tom explained above. I disagree with those reasons, but he's the editor, not me. And they do deserve tremendous credit for the preview, I think.

Having said that, regarding the game, I'm certainly not arguing from bad faith, and I don't think the others in the community have done so either. Most of the commentary around the time of the trailer was along the lines of "this seems problematic, but we'll see when the game is out." Okay, now it's out. I'm still waiting to find out just how problematic it actually is. Indications seem to be that it's profoundly tone-deaf, at best.

"More accurate face-painting" is exactly not what more research should have demonstrated. And I'm pretty sure that the game isn't raising red flags with people because it's too accurate.

That Fuzzy Bastard @ Tue Mar 10 12:18:53 2009 EST

As regards "experts"---I think what I'm reacting against is that "expertise" seems to be tied up with people coming to conclusions we like, not just doing research. Amity Shales, for example, would be considered an expert on the Depression by some, but a crank by others. Some people would consider Charles Murray an expert on race; others would consider Leonard Jeffries an expert, but I'm not all that interested in what either of them has to say about RE5.

As for knowing whether something's going to offend you before you play it: That's a little hard for a reviewer to determine, isn't it, since it all depends on your level of sensitivity? Obviously, some people are going to be offended, and some people aren't. What you're really asking about is whether you're *right* to be offended, and that's sort of an unanswerable question. Obviously, there are some cases where you really would have to be blind not to be, but it's pretty evident that RE5 is not Custer's Revenge. Again, the fact that it's touching so many buttons at least suggests to me that they really are trying to deal with actual conditions in much of Africa (were it less close to reality, it would be less of a flashpoint).

And that's what I mean about bad faith. Not that I'm accusing you of arguing in bad faith---I'm emphatically not---but that I get irritated with everyone's assumption that Jun Takeuchi is acting in bad faith, that he's just throwing around symbols without thinking about them, or worse yet, that he's a racist who revels in the idea of white guys killing black guys. Yes, treating games seriously means exposing them to criticsm when they invoke racist tropes. But it also means not confusing Mississippi Burning for Birth of a Nation for Ganja & Hess for The Last King of Scotland, even though all of them invoke images of Klansman, black monstrosity, and African violence.

Now, all of this does lead into a more interesting question, which is the Black Hawk Down dilema. To wit; In adapting Mark Bowden's fairly thoughtful examination of how America's mission in Somalia went wrong into a rousing action picture, Ridley Scott stepped into a number of racist tropes. He didn't intend to, but it seems like the very process of adapting a nonfiction book about Africa into an action picture made it impossible to avoid those problems. So: Do video games, with their assumption of the protagonist's basic virtue, or at least the assumption that we want the protagonist (us) to succeed, make themselves incapable of dealing with situations where agency is as complicated as post-colonial Africa? How does one deal with the sort of problem that Hitchcock gleefully played with in Psycho---that the instant someone becomes a protagonist, the audience cheers for them, no matter what they do?

But none of these questions can be explored when people aren't allowed to try, and fail, to take on these questions without being accused of being Klansmen, or when reviewers become less answerable to their own judgement and taste than to the sensitivity of an imagined audience.

Thomas @ Tue Mar 10 12:51:19 2009 EST

Are you seriously comparing this game to Last King of Scotland? You don't think that's a bit of a stretch?

I'm not saying anyone's acting in bad faith. Nobody has accused anyone of being a clansman, and nobody has denied Capcom the right to make whatever game they feel like making. I'm saying that I've read a lot about racist imagery, and nothing about any redeeming social message, or any indication that the developers are not just throwing around symbols without really thinking about them. If you've seen any sign that the developers are really engaging with post-colonial Africa, I'd love to hear it. Everything I've seen has indicated that they were completely surprised by the controversy, and made no changes to address it.

You keep saying that the fact that this has triggered a harsh reaction means that it's "close to reality." That's a pretty broad statement, and it implicitly continues the Western perception of Africa as composed only of conflict and savagery, so I have to say I find it troubling. But the other possibility that needs to be acknowledged is that RE5 is pressing people's buttons because it's racist. And again, I'm just not terribly upset if raising that possibility means that developers think twice about approaching complex racial issues. As far as I'm concerned, that's a very good thing.

Variable Gear @ Mon Mar 16 00:18:03 2009 EST

Perhaps the game wasn't as racist as previously thought, and therefore the review writer didn't think it was necessary to blather on about it any further.

Also, I couldn't help but laugh at Thomas' assertion that, once again, the game is racist. I've completed it, and I was floored by the lack of any kind of questionable racial content. That's what I should have expected, though, given the amount of bullshit that was flying about a possible racist portrayal of Africans by Capcom.

The tragic thing is that the race issue overshadowed the major problem with the game, which is the inability for it to be a competent action game or a competent survival horror game. Instead of choosing a side, RE5 tries to achieve both and fails spectacularly. In addition, game design actively prevents the player from achieving their goals, and I'm not talking about controls. I'm talking about selling treasures and other miscellaneous bullshit.

Thomas @ Mon Mar 16 10:26:22 2009 EST

Clearly, we have made a grave mistake. What were we thinking? Watching out for social injustice instead of attending to the real crime: a gameplay balancing issue.

A lack of any kind of questionable racial imagery? At all?

Maybe you got a special copy that didn't include the tribal villager stereotypes and the "Safari Sheva" costume?



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