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Is Capcom Racist?

JapanPublic outrageResident Evil

If you’ve been browsing any of the main videogame websites during the past week, you’ve probably stumbled across an article or two concerning Capcom’s highly anticipated survival horror title, Resident Evil 5. You’ve probably seen updated screenshot galleries, some hands-on impressions with the latest preview build or perhaps even some final details about the collectors edition version of the game. But, besides a healthy smattering of previews that usually precedes any big name release like Resident Evil, you might have also seen several articles discussing whether or not Capcom has gone overboard with the inclusion of “racist imagery” in the game.

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You see, the newest installment to the Resident Evil franchise takes place in Africa. You control one of two protagonists – one a white male, and the other a black woman – who are working together to clean up a mysterious bioterrorism event that is turning normal people into mindless monsters. Because of the African setting, as you might easily deduce, the majority of the people (or zombies, as they effectively are after being exposed to the virus) you will be shooting in the game will be dark skinned. These dark skinned enemies will snarl at you like dogs. They will drag hapless white female victims away and do unthinkable things to them. If they catch up to either of the protagonists, they won’t have any qualms about doing unthinkable things to them either. You will fear these feral, dark skinned creatures. And you will likely feel little remorse when mowing them down with machine gun fire or a vicious shotgun blast to the chest.

“These dark skinned enemies will snarl at you like dogs”Several publications, such as Eurogamer and The Atlantic, have shown concern with this graphic portrayal of a white man mowing down hordes of mindless black people. Black Looks, a community website that focuses on human rights and African women, blogger Kym Platt calls Resident Evil 5’s theme “problematic on so many levels, including the depiction of Black people as inhuman savages [and] the killing of Black people by a white man in military clothing.” Now, certainly these images will resonate with some people as being racist. However, before one takes too much offense or thinks too deeply about the repercussions of exposing gamers to this scenario, one must consider where this game came from.

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Resident Evil 5 was developed by Capcom. Capcom is a Japanese company. The vast majority (I’m talking over 99% here) of the developers who designed and created the game are Japanese. While as a whole the Japanese can be xenophobic and – in many ways – discriminatory, they are not singularly racist towards people with black skin (they are sometimes racist towards Chinese and Koreans, but that’s the subject of a different article). They have no reason to be. There is no history of slavery (of black people) in the country; and there are so few blacks living there, that any possible racism experienced by a dark skinned person will be identical to racism experienced by a white skinned person. Black or white, you are just a “gaijin” or “outside person” to the average Japanese. You are an oddity, but an interesting oddity that they generally find fascinating.

I’ve lived in Japan for a quarter of my life, and can say with confidence that they aren’t out to get people of dark skin with the release of Resident Evil 5 – just like they weren’t out to get the Spanish when they created Resident Evil 4. If Capcom is guilty of anything, it’s simply of being totally ignorant of racism towards blacks as it still exists in many countries. When the backlash came after the release of their E3 2007 trailer, they were shocked. They actually had to dig back into the game code and diversify the African villagers to feature a variety of different skin tones. So then, the question I have to pose is: is it really worth it? Is pressuring a Japanese company – who has absolutely no intentions of vilifying black people in the real world – to alter their game to create what is most likely a less realistic portrayal of the general racial makeup of an average African village okay? Is this going to help obliterate racism from our society?

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I understand that some of the themes and images from Resident Evil 5 will appear racist to some people. Those who deal with racism on a daily basis will likely be affected by seeing these mindless, ragtag, animalistic black people getting slaughtered by a uniformed white protagonist. This is understandable. Black people have had a long history of being exploited and looked down upon in many western countries, and such images may seem like a disturbing step in the wrong direction.

“If Capcom is guilty of anything, it’s simply of being totally ignorant of racism towards blacks as it still exists in many countries”That said, there has to be a point where we stop crying out against racism when there is no malicious intent involved. We have to realize that denouncing a Japanese company like Capcom is only bringing racism needlessly into the spotlight. When I first looked at the videos from Resident Evil 5, I only saw a new Resident Evil game. I was only interested in the gameplay mechanics, how the visuals have been tuned up for the current generation game consoles and what the new story entailed. The fact that black skinned people (no… zombies) were being gunned down in an African setting didn’t seem any more strange to me than the fact that you cut a swath through Chinese people in the latest Dynasty Warriors release. But, because so many websites stirred up the always volatile racial cauldron, I now make a mental connection with black people as depicted in the game and racism. This connection, for better or worse, didn’t exist before. As important as it is to raise awareness for racism in our societies, it’s just as important to let the atrocities of the past fade away.

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Capcom’s crime was to create a videogame without thinking ahead about the racial differences of the characters included therein. In fact, it’s pretty safe to say that they created Resident Evil 5 in a vacuum – separated far away from the racial tensions present between blacks and whites in many countries. We shouldn’t be defaming Capcom, but rather striving to recreate their vacuum – to recreate a place where racial considerations aren’t even considerations at all.

The author of this fine article

is a Senior Staff Writer at Thunderbolt, having joined in May 2003. Get in touch on Twitter @Joshua_Luke.

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