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Original entry posted: Fri Mar 27 17:50:07 2009

1238177991 @ EST

Fri Mar 27 14:19:51 2009Also, it's got to be GSM, which could be tricky with a Pre. I don't know which countries, and hence which frequency bands, where it'll be available worldwide. It's a shame that domestically they're starting it locked to a CDMA provider.

1238445255 @ EST

Mon Mar 30 16:34:15 2009That's a fair question, so I'll try to answer it as best I can.

Part of why I'm giving some benefit of the doubt is because everything I've seen of the game suggests classic Japanese developer cluelessness, rather than any kind of systemic white supremacist agenda. Obviously, if this game were coming from an American developer, I'd feel differently about it (and if it were an American developer, it would probably have better narrative anyway, something the RE games have always done really poorly). But everything I've seen in the game (I've now played the first 3 chapters) and heard from the developers makes me think that they're really not trying to make a racist statement about Africa, but just failed to consider the history of Western colonialism when making their game. A Japanese developer would, I hope, be somewhat sharper if setting their game in Korea, but a lot of artists in Asian countries regard the whole history of African colonialism and post-colonialism rather the way people in the West regard the Mongol conquests---a source of cool images, rather than something the really happened to suffering people.

That makes me feel like they're being somewhat overzealously pursued, especially when a blogger like yourself becomes indignant that an article about the game chooses not to talk about a Westerner's reaction to the racial implications, as though that should be The Primary Subject whenever the game is discussed. Let's recall that N'gai's point was that the trailer's imagery was invoking a set of associations that the developers didn't seem prepared to really deal with or account for, and that people who *are* more cognizant of the history of Africa would react differently than the developers seem to intend. That's a true, and thoughtful point, and it is a flaw in a work of art if it's stumbling into areas it doesn't mean to go. But that is *NOT* the same as being a racist---that is, setting out to denigrate the people of a given race---which is something that merits being driven from polite society. I do think that any time William F. Buckley is quoted as an intellectual, we should be reminded of his frankly racist past; I don't think that's the case here.

But even more pertinent is this: Resident Evil 5 is a terrific game. The stop-to-shoot mechanism, combined with the nifty co-op mechanics, makes for an incredibly enjoyable gameplay experience, a solid blend of action and strategy. It's also terrific from a design standpoint: the environment is well-rendered, with smart lighting effects (particularly in terms of color temperature) and good enemy design. This game makes some enormous strides in action gameplay, particularly co-op gameplay; I think it's actually succeeded in doing what games like Army of Two and Kane & Lynch were failing at.

So again, it's irritating when people think the only thing worth discussing vis-a-vis the game is how it plays in the West, especially when the game's storytelling is so weak that narrative is pretty obviously the least interesting thing about the game. It's like when discussing Birth of a Nation---obviously, it's a genuinely racist work (much more so than RE5), but the racial attitudes of BoaN are the least interesting thing about it, and anyone who regards race as the most engaging topic when discussing Griffith, rather than much more fertile subjects like the development of editing and cinematography, is perversely refusing genuine engagement with the qualities that make the work worthy of study as a piece of art, rather than a mere "social text".

Finally, as I talked about over on my blog, I'm sort of rooting for RE5 developers because, in their stumblebum ignorance, I think they're tripped over a genuinely engaging subject. RE5 had the potential to be a really moving work of allegory, a game worthy of standing with Romero's zombie movies as an example of how exploitation narrative can provide a way into genuinely complex situations. They failed to do that---like I say, the storytelling's too peripheral to even be worth much consideration---but I admire the attempt.

Nore importantly, I would like more people to make the attempt to connect games to the real world, and I think RE5's horror allegory is a much more promising means than the Tom Clancey games literal-mindedness. But that won't happen unless we, as you say, give artists the benefit of the doubt. We will never stop being, as Eric Holder says, "a nation of cowards" until we show some willingness to keep our powder dry when artists (or anyone) step on their own tongue when talking about race; we don't need to ignore of fail to note ignorant attitudes, but I think it needs to be donein a spirit of mutual sympathy and acknowledgment of everyone's failures and best attempts, not with the tone of smug witch-hunting that seems to pervade a lot of online discussion, including yours. And agreeing to assume that most people are basically well-meaning, albeit often insensitive and wrong, will do a great deal to clear out some of the cowardice that haunts all attempts to discuss race, particularly in entertainment media.

I'm pulling especially hard for this because I think that the well-meaning speech policing in which you're engaging (when Eurogamer failed to sufficiently focus their review on the issue you consider most important, you accused them of being bought off, a pretty serious goddamn accusation) will have the ultimate effect of further shutting out characters of color in video games. Developers are naturally risk-averse, and if it becomes standard practice that depictions of Africa, if not done with genre-transcending thoughtfulness, are going to become targets, than the sensible choice is to simply not depict Africa. You've said before that you're perfectly okay with developers simply not treating racially-charged subjects if they don't think they can handle it, but I think the first part of that sentence is what will take effect---don't treat racially-charged subjects---rather than the second. And that would be a genuine loss for this nascent art form.

In fact, I think the effect of the game may be the opposite of what you seem to think. Like the blaxploitation movies of the 70s, this is a lowbrow work, laden with stereotypes, that nonetheless puts more people of color on-screen than any work in its medium has in a long time, especially since the story involves African zombies, African heroes, and African bystanders (if anything, I wish they'd simply dropped Chris Redfield and replaced him with another Sheva-like African character). And like basically crappy movies like Shaft or The Mack, it could be a first step in normalizing games with majority-black casts, thereby making more thoughtful depictions possible next time. But again, that can only happen if some benefit of the doubt is extended to artists who frequently fail to live up to their potential, as we all do.

Josh @ Fri Mar 27 13:57:33 2009 EST

re: Phone, wait for the Pre. It may be mostly hype right now, but it's the first truly interesting thing Palm has done since the Treo. If they can actually pull off the webdev based devkit, it might be a seriously nifty platform.

Thomas @ Fri Mar 27 14:11:54 2009 EST

There's where I'm leaning, yes. I'm just not sure about the battery life of something that runs a browser instance for every application. I like having a phone that goes four days between charges.

That Fuzzy Bastard @ Sat Mar 28 16:45:09 2009 EST

But, wait, doesn't a debate that "creates more heat than light" by definition *not* open anybody's eyes, since it's terribly hot and, without light, they can't see? Isn't that the whole problem with creating more heat than light?

Having played a couple levels of RE5, finally, I'm unsure if there's enough narrative content for it to be much of anything, though I think N'gai is basically right that developers used images whose history they weren't artistically prepared to own, even though those developers may not have been themselves white supremacists in any way.

But I remain pretty disgusted with the way so many bloggers were eager to prove their racial righteousness by driving out the heretical designers with their nastybad choice of setting. I think it really has been a debate that generated more heat than light, with the predictable conclusion that no one can see anything as they've jumped behind their usual flame-retardants.

Thomas @ Sun Mar 29 12:28:45 2009 EST

Why is it, honestly, that you keep giving the benefit of a doubt to the people peddling the offensive imagery, and not to the ones calling them on it?

Who are these bloggers who have leapt out to prove their racial righteousness, and who persecuted the designers simply for the choice of setting?

Thomas @ Mon Mar 30 17:57:32 2009 EST

I very specifically did NOT simply accuse EG of being bought off. I said that it raised questions. Given the sketchy history of game journalism, I don't think that's beyond the pale (and let's be clear: if you read the archives here, you'll find it's really pretty mild as far as my commentary on the gaming press goes). As a reader who enjoyed Whitehead's preview, I really wanted to know if his opinion held true across the entire game, or if Capcom addressed these issues. I was disappointed when that question wasn't answered--or even mentioned in passing. It's not a witch-hunt, it's a simple question of expectations.

Side-note: per our earlier discussions, I did want to mention that the 'rape scare' scene Whitehead mentioned has been confirmed by other reviewers. So it's not like he was making things up, after all.

I'm still waiting to hear which bloggers (links?) leapt into this out of racial self-righteousness, purely because of the setting. Because while I'm hardly the most avid reader of the PoC/antiracist gaming blogs, I follow at least a couple of the prominent examples. And I just haven't noticed anything like the tone you're portraying. I think it's a strawman, and it's very frustrating that you keep putting it up. You're assigning positions to me and other anti-racist bloggers that we simply don't hold. Nobody said Africa was off limits. Nobody said race was forbidden. Nobody said this was the only thing that could be discussed about the game.

You may think I've been smug about this. Everybody's got their own priorities. But look, when it comes down to it, I have a really hard time talking about how "terrific" a game is while ignoring its subject matter. And the choices in RE5's subject matter, despite the intentions (or lack thereof) by its creators, play heavily on racist stereotypes and tropes. Whether or not Takeuchi & company meant to do so is irrelevant. Whether they are white supremacists or not is irrelevant. Birth of a Nation is irrelevant. It's 2009, for heaven's sake. There's no excuse for this crap--not 'classic Japanese developer cluelessness,' not Blaxploitation, and certainly not the hope that a franchise about killing zombies is suddenly going to reveal a trenchant narrative about international development and race-relations.

And no, I'm not going to apologize for thinking that racism is slightly more important than whether or not RE5 is a better co-op shooter than Army of Two. Again, everybody's got their priorities, but don't expect me to set aside my principles just because the game's mechanics are reasonably polished (insert hyperbolic example of high-budget "Klan Hero III" game here).

You really think this is going to lead to greater all-minority casts in games? Hell, you think Shaft achieved that for films? You're looking at a different Hollywood than I am, if you think we've reached the point where all-minority films have been "normalized"--i.e., are marketed/distributed/funded at the same level as films with white leads and casts.


Funny story: In 2003, the leadership in this country decided to start a war. There were a lot of people on the left (and, to be fair, on the right) who pointed out that such an action was not only ill-advised, but was likely to be incredibly counterproductive. Those people were mocked by liberal hawks as "dirty hippies" and "out of touch."

A couple of years later, it became obvious that the war was, in fact, both ill-advised and incredibly counterproductive. You would think that the hawks would be apologetic about this. But in fact, people like Peter Beinart and (to a lesser extent Matthew Yglesias) were still dismissive: sure, those people were right, they said. But they were right for the wrong reasons, and they are still dirty hippies anyway, so we shouldn't listen to them.

Now, if you ask me, anyone who got the war wrong should never be allowed to write for anything more important than Highlights magazine. But to get it wrong, and then to completely dismiss the people who got it right using a bunch of strawmen, that's some real chutzpah. Those people don't even get to write the Find the Differences page.

What I'm trying to say here is that we got it right. The game's got a lot of racist imagery in it, whether they meant that or not. At the very least, they were lazy and offensive, and at worst they were just incredibly insensitive. Given that we were right about it, I think the least you could do is try to listen to what we're saying, instead of calling us smug and self-righteous hippies. Because if we were right about our concerns, maybe we've got a point about the other stuff, too.

That Fuzzy Bastard @ Fri Apr 3 14:23:06 2009 EST

I'm backing out here somewhat, as this is all getting a little high-volume. But I do want to head off a possible misunderstanding at the pass: As regards the d.f.h. question: If you think I'm one of the konservative kids at Destructoid, you're off-base. I was at the marches in both NYC and DC against the Iraq War. And by the way, I was also at the marches protesting the World Bank in DC, where i was interviewed by Polish television saying that the Bank's habit of treating "suitability for foreign investment" as the ne plus ultra of development was, if not racist, then at least blatantly neo-colonial. I'd think your vociferous past defense of that much-maligned bank would make you a little less automatically credulous of every anti-racist blog, but nu.

However, while I have a lot of sympathy for Yglesiasian wondering why the people who were right about Iraq get shut out of so much subsequent foreign policy discussion, being right about one thing doesn't make you right about anything else---when I was at the marches protesting Gulf War II, I had the misfortune to end up next to the crowd of I.S.O. dudes chanting "Iraq, Korea, Philippines, stop the US War Machine!" The fact that we were on the same side of the argument over the Iraq war did not compel me to take them seriously on the topic of North Korea, or the nationalization of capital (and before you accuse me of strawmanning, I can assure you I spent too many nights in college arguing with the campus ISO rep about Stalin---I was against, he was for---so I'm pretty comfortable characterizing them as neo-Stalinist).

I do think intention is relevant when assessing a text's racism---I don't accuse Booker T. Washington of racism for using the word "negro", after all, but I have no doubt that the Aryan Nation is pushing a racist agenda even when they innocuously talk about wanting equality for all. And if there's one thing I will never apologize for, it's hoping that developers will do better than I expect them to. I can understand being pessimistic about Jun Takeuchi turning into the next James Baldwin, but I make no apologies for always wanting a game to turn out smarter than it looks.

Finally, no, I certainly don't think the situation for all-minority films has normalized. But a world where Tyler Perry is a major Hollywood player is a very different world than the one where Hattie McDonald had to "play a maid or be one", and if you don't notice that, and don't take seriously the question of why things have changed, you're simply not aware of the state of play.

Thomas @ Fri Apr 3 16:10:11 2009 EST

The reason that Booker T. Washington isn't racist for using "negro" isn't that he has different intentions. It might have something to do with the fact that he was black, and/or that he was writing more than a hundred years ago. I know you're smarter than to say that intention means anything when it comes to the message of a cultural artifact. I'm saddened that you're using it as an excuse here.

Additionally, it pains me to point out that a single example of moderate success (Tyler Perry) may mean that the system has changed somewhat, it's not an excuse for racism (see Tim Wise's The Oprah Effect, nor is it relevant to what we're discussing here. Besides, Perry's hardly Michael Bay or Steven Spielberg here.

I don't blame you for bringing it up, but you can't know how I feel about the World Bank (I blogged under my real name while working for them--do you really think posts here tell the whole story?), and it doesn't have anything to do with my feelings on racism. I will point out that the World Bank does have a significant race problem, both internally and externally, in my opinion. Whether it is the primary problem with their development outlook is debatable, but it does certainly exist.

Sidetracks aside: We all hoped that RE5 was smarter than it looks, TFB. No-one would have been been happier than me to find that it had all been one big misunderstanding. The difference is that I'm not willing to cut it slack when it failed at that. And I'm not willing to discount the opinions of people of color and anti-racist gamers just because it might hurt Takeuchi's feelings.

I do apologize if you got the impression that I think you're a raving wingnut--I know better than that. Indeed, I used the Iraq war as an example precisely because I know what we are fairly close in outlook on it. If you were on the political right, I wouldn't bother having this discussion--which, incidentally, I think has been really pretty low-key. I won't say that I've entirely enjoyed it (it is frustrating), but I believe it is worth having if it helps raise awareness of these issues among members of the general left, including yourself.

I'm not asking you to embrace my point of view, although it'd be nice. I simply hope that we can move past language like "many bloggers were eager to prove their racial righteousness by driving out the heretical designers with their nastybad choice of setting" and blaming people who disagree with you for the lack of discussion. Speaking our minds is hardly a "witch-hunt." You still haven't given examples of anti-racist bloggers using language anywhere near as loaded as that (not to mention anything as contemptuous as Destructoid, whether you agree with Stirling or not).

And perhaps we are as nutty as you say the socialist protesters were (as a socialist, I decline to comment). But by labeling us that way, it means that you don't engage our arguments, and you don't give us the same respect you give to the developers--just as the liberal hawks used the "DFH" label to dismiss a lot of otherwise thoughtful war opponents, people who were not wacky socialist protestors nor deserving of such disrespect.

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