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Earl Ofari Hutchinson

Earl Ofari Hutchinson

Posted March 14, 2009 | 07:56 PM (EST)

Resident Evil Racism


The well-worn script reads like this. A protest group blasts a video game manufacturer, its designers, actors, and writers for dumping a game on the market loaded with racially insulting and demeaning stereotypes. The video game team yelps that the game is pure entertainment, has some blacks or Latinos in on the design and production, and gets high marks from the industry. That script is trotted out so often that it can be recited while counting sleep.

So it was no surprise that Jun Takeuchi yanked out that script to defend his video game brainchild Resident Evil 5 from the charge that it's racist. But what else could one call it? It features a white male (modern day Bawana) mowing down a pack of poor, primitive disease-challenged Africans. The white killer is on a search and destroy mission to stop the spread of a deadly virus. The racist game reinforces the worst of the worst ancient stereotypes against and about Africans.

Yet, the relatively mild protest over the game's racist depictions was just enough to set off a brief scramble in the boardroom of the Osaka-based video game conglomerate Capcom. Company CEO Kenzo Tsujimoto assured that there was no intention to racially demean anyone and simply chalked up the controversy to cultural differences and perceptions. That's a rehash of the popular line that Japanese product manufacturers who have been called on the carpet for pumping out offensive racial items -- dolls, cartoons, and posters -- fall back on. The flap over Resident Evil 5 even caused the brass at Sony a slight twitch. Sony does a lot of business with Capcom.

The video industry flacks gleefully noted that the game has racked up a string of positive reviews including a top rating on the industry's review aggregation site metacritic.com. That's always good for business; in fact, a little controversy always guarantees a louder tingle in the cash registers. But dollars notwithstanding, racist groups have used video and computer games to market racist messages to kids and even more sinister used them as a sneaky organizing ploy. In 2002, the Anti-Defamation League sounded a loud warning that video and computer games could be the cyber tool to bump up recruits.

But racist hate groups that sneak out a few computer games to spread their bile are fairly easily to isolate. The Capcom, Sonys, Microsoft Games, Activision, Nintendo, and Midway are a different matter. They have all been called on the carpet in recent years for churning out such racially offensive video games as Spanish for Everyone, Super Punch Out, Kung Fu Chaos, Freaky Flyers and Hommie Hollerz. But they are big, rich, and industry respected, and they have a legion of PR, media and industry shills to blow off the scattered voices who protest their racially offensive games.

Capcom will make loads of money with Resident Evil 5, all the while assuring that splattering the blood and guts of primitive Africans all over a video screen is just fun and games kid stuff. The scariest part of that is that they and their industry cheerleaders really believe that.

A postscript: I'd like to hear about any other racially offensive video games out there.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His new book is How Obama Won (Middle Passage Press, January 2009).