Newsweek's N'Gai Croal: RE5 Trailer Imagery Is Racist

April 12, 2008 -
Earlier this week GamePolitics covered the opening installments of MTV Multiplayer's multipart feature on Black Professionals in Games.

And while Newsweek's popular video game writer N'Gai Croal was the focus of the series' opening article, MTV Multiplayer decided to devote a second installment to his perspective on whether or not there is racist imagery in the controversial trailer for Capcom's upcoming Resident Evil 5.

GamePolitics readers will likely recall last year's flap over the trailer which shows RE5's white protagonist mowing down scores of zombies, all black. The game is set in Haiti.

Croal was very clear in his view that the RE5 trailer contains racist imagery:
I was like, “Wow, clearly no one black worked on this game.” ...The point isn’t that you can’t have black zombies. There was a lot of imagery in that trailer that dovetailed with classic racist imagery. What was not funny, but sort of interesting [about the controversy], was that there were so many gamers who could not at all see it. Like literally couldn’t see it...

It’s not as simple as saying, “Oh, they shot Spanish zombies in ‘Resident Evil 4,’ and now ‘black zombies and that’s why people are getting upset.” The imagery is not the same. It doesn’t carry the same history, it doesn’t carry the same weight...

It’s very difficult in this country... to have a conversation about race. Everyone brings to it their own history, their own perspective... The music that they’re using in the trailer is very reminiscent of the music used in Black Hawk Down which was set in Africa — Somalia. That actually was one of the things that was most disturbing because it sort of had a feeling as like, “Wow, what research did this team do? Did they only watch Black Hawk Down and give it this kind of vibe?”



Victor Godinez, who covers video games for the Dallas Morning News offers his reaction to Croal's comments.
I am more than a little sympathetic to [some specific] objections [to Croal's view]. On the other hand, anyone who watches that [RE5] preview and doesn't feel at least a little uncomfortable probably isn't paying attention.

As Mr. Croal acknowledges, all we've seen of this game so far is the preview... And it could well be that Americans are so unconsciously drilled on what is and is not acceptable in discussions of race that discomfort over the trailer is simply subconscious political correctness kicking in.

In the Arizona Daily Star, Phil Villarreal writes:
Newsweek’s N’Gai Croal – by far the deepest thinker and best writer in the field of video game journalism – sure seems to think [that RE5 is racist]. Judging from the trailer, he points out callous racial insensitivity that has apparently gone into, if not the game itself, at least its previews.

I think Croal has some valid points, but I’d say he’s being a little hypersensitive here. This is an industry that evolves around Mario, one of the most blatant ethnic caricatures imaginable. For whatever confluence of reasons, political correctness hasn’t been able to penetrate the video game realm as much as it has other media, and whatever racism you find is largely due to innocent ignorance rather than any calculated agenda.

UPDATE: An e-mail from a reader pointed out that while N'Gai Croal was speaking of racism in the RE5 trailer, this article might be read as Croal's condemnation of racism in the finished game itself. That would be difficult, since RE5 isn't scheduled for release until May of of 2009, according to GameStop.

Thus, I've edited this article to make it clear that N'Gai's comments were about the trailer specifically. Personally, I believe that the trailer represents the game, or, more specifically, a segment of the game that the publisher, Capcom, felt good enough about to release at E3 2007 as the official representation of RE5.

Moreover, if the trailer imagery contains elements of racism, it would have to be chopped from the final game entirely to avoid placing those elements into RE5. This could happen if Capcom is thinking about potential negative reactions to the game in the U.S. market. N'Gai comments on this aspect:
I don’t know how Capcom feels about it. I think releasing that game is going to be very difficult. I think there are people and organizations who aren’t very understanding of games that if that imagery is brought to them they’re going to be like, “Wait, hold up. I don’t know how you could put that out.” Then you have to say, “Does Wal-Mart want to deal with that? Does Target want to deal with that?”

I’m not saying that censorship is the answer. I’m saying that the same rights that allow Capcom to put the game out are the same rights that allow people to bring pressure on people who might release that game. This is why it is important to whoever works in the American office of a company like Capcom to be able to show this is the history, this is where this comes from, this is where we need to be more sensitive. I’m not sure they’ve done that yet.

Comments

@ DoggySpew
Read the freaking article first, you obviously didn't that's just clear if for no other reason than you said that the game "happens to be in Africa," it say RIGHT in the article that the game takes place in Haiti, hell even if you just read a couple comments you could see the game took place there, like sometimes i might skip reading some comments before posting when there's like 85-300 of them, but there's like 20 at this point, stop being lazy

@Dick Ward:

Blacks ARE a tiny minority in Japan, and even in North America, they're not common in the game industry, so I would be very surprised if there were any on the development team. That being said, however, I doubt there were many whites either. Japan is not exactly known for its multiculturalism.

N’Gai seems to get a lot of coverage on various blogs but I have to plead ignorance as to who he is. Is he some kind of gaming celebrity? Why does he get so much cross site attention? Just wondering.

Quick ps: Capcom announced earlier this week that the game is set in Africa, not Haiti. The original story can be found on MTV Multiplayer and Kotaku. The game's director, who clarifies the game's setting also says something along the lines that "We wanted to pick a setting where we could reveal the origin of the zomebie virus, and what better place than the continent that science tells us humanity originated on?"

The problem with racism is that it is damn hard to define and see in this day and age; it is a subtler question than yesteryear's white hood and burning cross indicators. Mr. Croal makes a really good point about the setting: there is no doubt that trailer makes use of "otherness" and classical racist images.
The problem, as it often is, is the nature of art. What is the game's message? We can't answer that question before playing the game, and even then probably not definitively, but we can consider the issue. Does it make a work "racist" if it uses classically racist images? Wouldn't then Uncle Tom's Cabin be racist, for portraying stereotypical "Negroes?"

Now, I'm not suggesting that RE5 is Uncle Tom's Cabin, or that it can't possibly be racist, but I'm suggesting that the work might have a idea that it it's trying to communicate that is best couched in this imagery.

And it is a further consideration to realize that this is a Japanese game. Is it fair to judge the work based on American sensibilities? It really is possible that the original concept designers didn't realize how thoroughly America is steeped in these questions of modern-day racism. Maybe they weren't aware of what these images and tones of "otherness" and fear mean to us when they're associates with Black men and women.

@ Buncha Kneejerks

Just some guy trying to get hits in exchange for torpedoing his credibility.

So, RE5 isn't racist because you're shooting black people, it's racist because...you're shooting black people? What? I don't get the point.

Is it because he's shooting black people in Africa? So if a black person shoots white people in Europe, is that just as horrible?

And... on the topic of the game itself, I really don't consider it racist. When I think of stereotypical zombies, I think of a ravenous, mindless horde shambling around and trying to eat brains.... which is exactly what we see here. When I think of stereotypical blacks I think of... I dunno... watermelon? KFC? Stealing stuff? I'm not too familiar with American racist stereotypes.

I think that people who see a stereotypical black man in a plain old zombie are the racist ones. Even if those people are black... if that's how they see their own race, I pity them.

Lets not think of them as black zombies and just think as the zombies as just plain zombies. Why dose zombie related issues always have to be a race thing with African Americans?

@ PiB

He's the videogame blogger for Newsweek.

No, it's not because you're shooting black people. His concern is that the setting and actions are very stereotypical and portray a rascist view. It shows life in Africa or Haiti (wherever it actually takes place) in a way that shows no research on their part, simply an assumption.

I'm not saying he's right, I'm just explaining the view. Read the article if it's unclear.

@KayleL

German isn't a race.

Robert Ling
you forget the world is judged and put to fame over American sensibilities. *shudders*

But the way I see this going is that the media sensationalists and to a greater or equal degree black activist sensationalists that use black peoples standing in the nation to push their warped views on others and keep blacks in general in a state of victimization so they can stay in business, its being used as a means to further the cause of black victimization.

Yes I understand that line of thought is oxymoronic, and I can be quite the moron but my point is its being blown out of perportion for sensationalism and partly PCish activism.

This reminds me the whole controversy about Ghost Recon Advance Warfighter. The game takes place in Mexico. So many people in my country (no gamers of course) wanted to believe the game was about USA Army invading Mexico. Mexican gamers didn´t believe that nonsense, even when our goverment tried to ban the game.

I think always the wrong people (no gamers) will misunderstand games the way they want and start to talk nosense using whatever they can use. Racism against black people is the topic this time.

I didn´t notice any spanish people whinning about spanish zombies being killed on Resident Evil 4. And no mexicans complained about Ghost Recon either (except for non gamers).

So if it´s gonna be some controversy about RE5, is gonna be just bullshit made controversy.

PHOENIXZERO
Neither are "Americans" *rolls eyes*

Dick Ward
Dose it matter? its a fictional setting in a 3rd world country(or 2nd I forget) if they mix their 3rd/2nd world settings alil.

@ Dick Ward

Oh, ok. It's racist because it's a bunch of huts in a jungle.

I didn't realize that Resident Evil games were meant to be the vanguard of historical accuracy in video games. Does that mean the Great Zombie White House Attack of 1812 is a little exaggerated?

I don't think we've had enough footage to see if it's really sterotypical yet. I mean, if you show part of, say, Max Payne, you can make it look like the company was trying to make New York look like one big slum. For all we know this could be just a tiny part of the game, and the rest could take place in, say, a military base, or a hidden lab, or a million other things.

Imagine if you took only the Pueblo (Spelling, probably, sorry) from RE4. It'd look horribly racist, infering that all Spanish live in tiny little towns with no running water or electricity. I think we just need more gameplay footage. The next area could be a giant city, or an extravegant mansion.

Rodrigo Ybáñez García
thus why I went with the "black activist " rant, they are one of the few groups I can think of that try and throw poo every change they get to maintain the victim status so they can keep them selfs in business by inflaming the masses that believe their BS.

@PiB

I don't remember saying that the game is rascist. I was explaining N'Gai's point. I haven't played the game, I know very little about African/Haitian culture so I don't know whether it is rascist. What I do know is that your interpretation of his argument is incorrect and you would benefit from reading the whole article before engaging in conversation. This is why I corrected you, not because I agree with mister Croal.

Well, I happen to be black (shocker, I know)

Honestly, I would think it would be badass if Capcom used my face for the game as a zombie. Shit, that would be epic.

In other words, yeah I see no racism in the game. I can understand his feelings but I strongly disagree.

Hell, If I was to see more white people than black in RE5, I would think there's more of a reason to call them "Racist" (Come on, the game takes place in... Haiti? Africa? I would think something is up if there's hardly any blacks in the game...)

Eh...Most of these beliefs can stem from the the stereotypes used against people who are white. That they are all racist people...

Which is of course, not true, I have white friends who would destroy anyone who would say racist things to me. I don't believe in these stereotypes, really.

Dick Ward
while he is doing in a placid manner its still rather sensationalist, there would be no discussion here if they(the zombies) where a whiter shade of pale.

and I would bet if the main character was black it would have not garnered the media attention it has gained.

Zippy, you appear to beleive that his problem is that it's a white guy shooting black guys. It's not.

I'm serious when I say this. All this "THAT'S RACIST" bullshit has made me a racist.

I fucking hate anyone who does that, and guess what: Minorities do it like no tomorrow.

Now, I don't hate them because of their color or whatever. And I know not all of them are as pathetic as this. But a majority of all minorities are. And I hate them for that. So by proxy, yeah, I guess I'm a fucking racist. Who the fuck ISN'T these days? It's IMPOSSIBLE.

Fuck I hate these people.

I would encourage people to read the article before posting.

First, Croal is the gaming columnist for Newsweek. I doubt he needs the publicity.

Second, MTV asked him. So I doubt he is out to cause trouble.

Third, there are a couple different versions of the trailer out. The one posted above is the extended trailer. The one that first came out was shorter. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kP3XFPSHiWo
The longer one has a lot more context than the shorter one. The shorter one is at least for me has a lot more disturbing portrayals of black people than the longer one. In the longer one there are some scenes of the normal non-zombie people. In the shorter one those are a lot fewer. I think that if only the longer trailer had be released then there might not have been as much controversy because it shows a lot more context.

Finally, for those saying that no one complained about RE4 being in Spain, I would suggest that you look at the trainers for RE4 and see how different they are from this trailer. http://www.gametrailers.com/game/1099.html

@Pinworm

There's a big difference in hating minorities and hating extremists. I only hate the latter and it doesn't matter if they are American, African or whatever.

id like to apologize to everyone for being a rasict i did not know i was a rasdict before today but i promise to correct my actions =p

@Pinworm

Majority?

That's just like saying the majority of Christians are dickheads like Jack Thompson. When in reality, this isn't true. It only seems like that because those fools are just the most vocal. You'd be surprised to see how little "minorities" are like this.

To ZippyDSMlee:

I think the problem is some people will use Resident Evil 5 like a plataform to talk about racism on videogames.

I really can´t talk about afro-american activism, because in Mexico we don´t have those social issues. But I think there will be people who uses activism for their own benefit, and they will lie or misinform about things they don´t know in order to get their agendas.

I don´t think RE5 is a racist game, but people will use like an excuse to use videogames like a racism issue propaganda.

"What was not funny, but sort of interesting [about the controversy], was that there were so many gamers who could not at all see it. Like literally couldn’t see it…"

Which by no means tells they are racists, unless they are enough racist to see that kind of behaviour from black people completely normal for them, which I doubt.
Wouldn't an utopia be just like that, a place where someone points out your skin color would be as random as pointing out your hair color?

I do understand though, that it might be good to consciously make a note about the race of the zombies... Not that I think seeing a crowd of black zombies attacking in a video game is gonna make yourself xenophobic towards black people, but stereotypes are suprisingly easy to create... Though I think that making you see all blacks as savages that attack you with hatchets and pitchforks on sight might take more than one game. :/
I wouldn't be too worried.

"It’s not as simple as saying, “Oh, they shot Spanish zombies in ‘Resident Evil 4,’ and now ‘black zombies and that’s why people are getting upset.” The imagery is not the same. It doesn’t carry the same history, it doesn’t carry the same weight…"

Right, because non of the Spanish speaking population never faces racism and people living on countryside don't have any offensive stereotypes on them? This was sarcasm by the way.

@Dick Ward
"I’ve not played the game, so I’m not able to judge, and I find it funny how many people are willing to defend RE. I’m not saying it’s a rascist game, I’m just curious how everyone else knows it isn’t?"

Because jumping the gun easily provokes an exact opposite reaction, even from person who would be normally balanced in his/her opinion.
We don't know what this game is about, and even if it doesn't make some deep points about the situation of Africa, the possibly racist imaginary is more likely the result of a naive design of a people living in homogenous nation (and by that I don't mean xenophobic country, but a country that doesn't have such an overblown political correctness) rather than a statement against a race.
If a Japanese game gives a bad image of Koreans or Chinese, then it's probably straight out racism... This just seems rather naive design.

And while Capcom doesn't make the best possible stories, I think they have enough sense to add few black good guys too, as in RE4 there was good Spanish guys... It's not much, but don't expect any deep thoughts on Africa's situation from their storywriters.

Besides, from what I gathered, they made the game take place in Africa because they thought it would be both a nice change of scenery and it would be fitting if the origins of the virus were in the same place as humanity's.

@Dick

I wasn't talking about you when I was lolling about Capcom and historical accuracy.

Pinworm, what if they're making a legitimate complaint? Sure the race card is thrown around a lot, but does that mean it's never valid?

Don't games, like every other form of media, rely on stereotypes and exaggarating to convey reality? Capcom could have chosen locations and characters that are atypical for Haiti but then how would we know it took place in Haiti? If Rockstar removed the stereotypes from GTA there would be little left of the game..

Maybe Haitian culture has some beautiful music that Capcom could've put in the trailer but Haitians are not the demographic. The music they chose is instantly recognizable to us. Just like every other trailer, it uses stereotypical music to very quickly tell you what te game is about. If that means using a tune that somebody else already used to convey the same feeling, why not? In my opinion it would be racist to only start being consciouss about these things when black characters are involved

@ Xeli

The problem in the above article is not that black people are the bad guys. The problem stated is that the depiction of Africa is stereotypical and provokes a negative image.

@ Dick Ward

I should probably elaborate on my last comment.

I wasn't talking about the game, but if there were zombies shuffling towards you in real life, what would you be inclined to do, regardless of their skin colour?

Well..we should do what we did for the first few games, and kill white people, but instead of a white main character, let's make him black. I bet that's not racist. Then again, I guess it was racist that Kenneth was the first to die in the original resident evil. Then, it was probably racist that the black police officer was the only black zombie in resident evil 2 (though, I'm not sure if it is racist that he is the only black zombie or the fact you kill him)...

Normally, I think N'Gai Croal is a great game-industry journalist, but sometimes he writes complete bunk accusations.

Like this.

I'd hit them with a blunt object. I'm not a very good shot :p

I'm not sure what your point is though, as no one is complaining that black zombies are getting shot.

Dick Ward: There are very few situations in which it IS valid.

Hell, even when there is racism, why bitch about it? I mean, yeah, if there are situations where it does effect you then fine.

But people are racist. That's just a fact. Nowhere near as many as these people want to believe, but it exists. So why whine about it? Just ignore it, or do anything but fuel the fire. Whining fuels the fire.

Look, I'm not saying that these people don't have legitimate troubles and face legitimate racism (Which I don't support by the way), but the racism card is thrown around non stop. Everywhere. You can barely say anything without offending people.

And frankly, I'm tired of hearing it. Fed up. Sick of it. It's without a doubt a blatant case of the "boy who cried wolf". They do it over stupid ridiculous shit like this (and far worse), so by the time there is an actual case of racism, I just don't care anymore.

@Repudiator

Okay, to be fair, my statement was very ignorant. It was out of frustration.

But an alarming amount of minorities do do this. Maybe it's just my experience (which does not draw from FOX News or indeed any news channels) but it's growing old. I have no patience for it anymore. And now my games are being effected.

*sigh*, I remember when I could play games exclusive to real life issues.

@ Pinworm

People bitch about it because it is a problem. Because people who are not rascist may not realise that the product is and take information from it that is false. Misinformation is very dangerous. It's the same reason that I bitch about psychics advising people on medical procedures, or people shelling out money for 'dietary suppliments'. I'm sure you do the same when people say that games make people kill.

Rodrigo Ybáñez García
Sensationalism is sensationalism no matter what its used for, the main 2 groups I see using this as a soapbox are the moralists and the racial activists.

Dick Ward
Not every time a race card is burned means there is a fire, in this instance its clear that the fiction in question is being questioned because of the appearance of black zombies with a whiter than pale lead character.

FYI if it was not a white guy shooting blacks it would not be a issue, really look at the context of the setting and tell me thats not what everyone who is complaining about it is focusing on.

Do you really think someone would waste time complain about how accurate the location setting is when you have much riper low hanging fruit to pick and make a quick buck of whining about it?

Repudiator/Pinworm
Minorities much like religious folk can be annoying but its not really their fault some in their community want to to create unfain PC laws or destroy the border and make everyone a citizen.

"People" are not to bad its the one sided moronic groups that are a problem.

@Pinworm

The number seems alarming because they scream the loudest. Even if they cry wolf quite a lot of time, it's often the VERY same peoples. Come to think of it, if one person out of an hundred of a population was screaming on issues for days non stop, neighbours would think that the entire group of 100 persons would be whining.

It looks like there are many of them because the ones who's alright with it won't complain.

@Dick Ward

And I understand that but they ruin their credibility.

Take for example Fox News and Mass Effect. They claimed that Mass Effect has full frontal nudity and sex and all of that stuff, which as we all know, it does not.

So now when they talk about games and their effect, are you going to trust them? Believe them? Care what they have to say?

There is a comparison.

Minorities are constantly throwing the race card WHERE IT DOES NOT APPLY. This is a small example, this article. But it never ends. And it's constantly in situations where it has nothing to do with racism.

So it's like Fox News. They're essentially lying. Sure, like Fox they may make a good point or have a genuine case, but by them, who trusts them? Who cares? I sure don't.

@ Zippy

This is not the reason that N'Gai beleives the game to be rascist. It's not because they're black. I'm not sure why you think he's trying to make a quick buck either, he's a videogame journalist that was asked a question and answered it. He works for Newsweek, I'm sure he's doing okay.

@Pierre-Olivier
I know that's how I'm coming off, and to a degree, it's true. But like I said, my experience doesn't just come from mass media.

I work in retail and let me tell you, a lot of people are like this. I've overheard countless stories of the racist card when it does not apply.

Hell, I've been accused of it on the job. There's been several instances where a person in a minority would give me a coupon, for example, that was past the expiration date. When I refuse to take it on that grounds, I've been called a racist. It boggled my mind, but stuff like this is constantly happening, and I've grown tired of it.

Did anyone read the above article? The game takes place in Haiti, Haiti is not in Africa, it is in the Caribbean.

Dick Ward
"The problem in the above article is not that black people are the bad guys. The problem stated is that the depiction of Africa is stereotypical and provokes a negative image."

And that is not what 80% of people who will read it as he wrote it will think, they will focus on the racial aspect first.

Besides last I checked if still shifts from almost first world modern cities down to primtve hut based villages, so what if it focus on huts and small villages and outlaying areas...they are outlaying after all......

@Marlow:

You should look farther then the article: In a recent interview with Jun Takeuchi, it was revealed that the game is placed in Africa, not Haiti.

I think it said recently in Famitsu that its in Africa.

"The point isn’t that you can’t have black zombies."

Say what!?

"What was not funny, but sort of interesting [about the controversy], was that there were so many gamers who could not at all see it."

Oh, of course! I'm white, so I can't see racism. Thanks for letting me know I'm so screwed up!

"Besides last I checked if still shifts from almost first world modern cities down to primtve hut based villages, so what if it focus on huts and small villages and outlaying areas…they are outlaying after all…… "



not to mention zombies arent too big on home improvement

'there were so many gamers who could not at all see it. Like literally couldn’t see it…'

It's almost as if it wasn't there at all!

@ Pinworm

No, I'm not going to trust Fox News. They don't know anything about videogames, they just assume things. They brought on a videogame journalist and wouldn't let him talk. But that's not what's happening here.

What's happening here is a legitimate videogame journalist explaining his concern with Resident Evil 5. He's not saying don't but it, he's not saying that the game will make you a rascist, he's just raising the question.
 
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