Race Politics and First-Person Shooters

October 19, 2010 -

An interesting opinion piece on The Atlantic Wire looks at race politics in video games, focusing on first-person shooters. Author Max Fisher talks about Resident Evil 5, Medal of Honor and Modern Warfare 2, inspired by an essay from Jim Gourley for ForeignPolicy.com.

The thrust of the opinion piece is about the painful transition from conflicts against zombies and fictionalized Nazis to real world conflicts involving real groups of people and how developers portray them. Here's a taste:

Gourley writes that race has become an increasingly controversial issue in shooter games as they shift from the old paradigm of fantasy zombie-shooters or futuristic alien warfare into more recognizable modern warfare against human enemies. Medal of Honor's decision to set a game in the very real Afghan War is just one example. What kinds of people is it socially acceptable for you to spend an afternoon killing in a video game? Which are not? It's complicated.

It certainly proved problematic in Resident Evil 5, where a white protagonist gunned down thousands of African zombies. But Fisher points out that no one even flinched when subsequent action games allowed players to gun down "terrorists" and "insurgents" who were homogenously of Middle Eastern descent. Fisher brings his argument home with the following:

But the cultural standards are inconsistent. Gourley writes that, in one game set in Iraq, "Everyone plays the good guy, and the game simply paints the world red or blue based on your perspective. To your teammates, you look like Specialist Jones in standard issue ACUs. To your opponents, you look like an Arab with a ski mask and shemagh." The generic, racially defined "enemy" in this game, which has created no controversy, reveals that we are OK with games that ask us to kill Middle Eastern-looking enemies. It's not about who you pretend to kill, it's about whose virtual shoes you wear when you do the killing. "It can only be assumed then that Infinity Ward's crime was in explicitly naming the killers, making the context for their actions as realistic as the graphics, and then giving us the opportunity to act as our own enemies." Gourley concludes with an anecdote from his military service, which shows just how complicated and contradictory these video game politics can be.

But if a developer does want to set a video game in a real world conflict, what sense would it make to sanitize who the combatants are? It's an argument that will continue to rage as developers try to strike a balance between realism, good taste and whatever political or social message they may or may not be trying to convey.


Comments

Re: Race Politics and First-Person Shooters

I like how no one takes issue with just shooting Nazies. Because every German was a nazi so its alright to kill them. It really bugs me that people are that dense that when they talk about both perspectives they never realize we never got both in World War II shooters either. It fucking annoys me to no end...

Re: Race Politics and First-Person Shooters

"I like how no one takes issue with just shooting Nazies."

Uh, the Germans actually take SIGNIFICANT issues with this, guy-who-can't-spell-his-own-name.

Here is a link to a Google search for german nazi site:gamepolitics.com.  You could have performed that search yourself in the same amount of time it took you to write your post.

Re: Race Politics and First-Person Shooters

"What kinds of people is it socially acceptable for you to spend an afternoon killing in a video game? Which are not? It's complicated."

All of them and none of them respectively.  See?  It's not complicated at all.

 

Andrew Eisen

Re: Race Politics and First-Person Shooters

"What kinds of people is it socially acceptable for you to spend an afternoon killing in a video game?"

"Everyone plays the good guy, and the game simply paints the world red or blue based on your perspective"

"Gourley concludes with an anecdote from his military service, which shows just how complicated and contradictory these video game politics can be."

Why are they so concerned with virtual characters, even if they are based on actual situations? That should be the real question.

People who watch a movie with the same themes are never questioned about why they like these kind of movies, but in videogames seems they need some class of debate based on how morally correct is killing virtual people.

The only logic answer is "it´s just a game", but obviously, it is never enough with a black-white worldview that some people have about entertainment.

The sad part is that even if enemies were just robots, aliens and zombies, they will still complain about how morally correct is killing on videogames.

------------------------------------------------------------ My DeviantArt Page (aka DeviantCensorship): http://www.darkknightstrikes.deviantart.com

Re: Race Politics and First-Person Shooters

"People who watch a movie with the same themes are never questioned about why they like these kind of movies"

Are you really suggesting the film industry has never come under fire for violence?

Re: Race Politics and First-Person Shooters

I've found that discussing race these days is pretty much pointless.  The American Left has relied so heavily on the race card in every single debate or issue that it is impossible to have any real meaningful discussion about most topics.  At any point when you even merely skeptical of an opinion of the left, they simply call you a racist and discount anything you might have to say.

Hence, we can't even talk about even simple things like videogames that take place in non-white areas without the well being poisoned- to even talk about it with a critical eye puts you at risk of being labeled a bigot.

When you are in constant fear of being called a racist, it's not worth even having race-related discussions anymore.

Re: Race Politics and First-Person Shooters

And how is what you're doing any less dismissive or more likely to foster a meaningful discussion?

I'll acknowledge that some on the left make inappropriate accusations of racism if you'll acknowledge tha there ARE times when such accusations are valid.

Re: Race Politics and First-Person Shooters

I'll acknowledge that there are valid complaints of racism.  Only an idiot wouldn't.  That being said, just because racism exists, there is NO excuse whatsoever for claiming racism where there is none.  That will kill any chance of a meaningful discussion far faster than pointing out the simple fact that too many times do those shouting about racism do it solely to perpetuate their own delusions of grandeur.

---

With the first link, the chain is forged.

--- With the first link, the chain is forged.

Re: Race Politics and First-Person Shooters

"I'll acknowledge that there are valid complaints of racism.  Only an idiot wouldn't.  That being said, just because racism exists, there is NO excuse whatsoever for claiming racism where there is none."

All right, common ground.  Now we're getting somewhere.

"That will kill any chance of a meaningful discussion far faster than pointing out the simple fact that too many times do those shouting about racism do it solely to perpetuate their own delusions of grandeur."

Is that how you would describe the statement "The American Left has relied so heavily on the race card in every single debate or issue that it is impossible to have any real meaningful discussion about most topics.  At any point when you even merely skeptical of an opinion of the left, they simply call you a racist and discount anything you might have to say."?

That's not "pointing out a simple fact", it's blanket dismissal and vilification of literally everyone who disagrees with him on any issue.

How is saying "You can't debate the left, they're all a bunch of race-baiters" any more reasonable than saying "You can't debate the right, they're all a bunch of racists"?  You can't have a reasonable debate with anyone who takes either one of those absurd positions.  And anyone who thinks you can just really hates black people.

Re: Race Politics and First-Person Shooters

That's their whole goal.  Look at the midterm elections - Obama, the so-called "post-racial President," is out campaigning for senators and congressmen, by saying that "Republicans hope black people stay home."

Yeah, right.

---

With the first link, the chain is forged.

--- With the first link, the chain is forged.

Re: Race Politics and First-Person Shooters

Yeah, it's ridiculous to say Republicans want black people to stay home.

They want HISPANICS to stay home.  Get it right, Obama.

Re: Race Politics and First-Person Shooters

Racism SHOULD always be about context.  I get pretty annoyed when people shout racism at the very first sign of diversity. Or if anything can be remotely be construed as being racist.

Resident Evil 5 takes place in Africa.  It would make sense that the majority of the zombies would be black.  And it's Resident Evil so it makes sense that the protagonist is Chris Redfield (who just happens to be white).  There's no "white man mowing down hordes of black people" theme here unless you intentionally look for it.

Conversely, it IS racism if someone made a game where you're a black protagonist who's motivation is to slaughter all white people simply because they're white.  Or if you play a klansman out to lynch black people.

------- Morality has always been in decline. As you get older, you notice it. When you were younger, you enjoyed it.

Re: Race Politics and First-Person Shooters

"Racism SHOULD always be about context."

Indeed -- and the problem with the RE5 trailer that got everybody's hackles up was its lack of context.

There's nothing racist about depicting Africans as predominantly black -- but the image of savage Africans, shown in a trailer -- something intended to introduce the series to people who were unfamiliar with it -- was problematic.

Re: Race Politics and First-Person Shooters

To my original point, I would then add that we should all seek to find the context before pointing fingers and yelling racism.

In doing so, we are likely missing a very important topic or something very enjoyable that we could all agree on.

It's sad that we as a society seem to like to focus on what divides us rather than what unites.

------- Morality has always been in decline. As you get older, you notice it. When you were younger, you enjoyed it.

Re: Race Politics and First-Person Shooters

According to academia (at least what I was taught in college), a black person who wants to slaughter white people just based on their skin color is not a racist- merely a victim of white oppression.  It is hence impossible for a black person to actually be a racist since they are only reacting to the evils genetically inherent in all white people.

Re: Race Politics and First-Person Shooters

I don't know where you went to college... but I would avoid that professor at all costs.

------- Morality has always been in decline. As you get older, you notice it. When you were younger, you enjoyed it.

Re: Race Politics and First-Person Shooters

Professor Strawman.  I think I had him for polisci.

Re: Race Politics and First-Person Shooters

The point of contention is the newest incarnation of Infinity Ward's Modern Warfare game series, titled Black Ops, in which players can select the role of Taliban insurgents.

1. It's Treyarch, not IW.

2. It's Medal of Honor. I could be corrected as I don't know anything about the storyline of Black Ops, but I don't believe it has the Taliban in it from what I've read.

3. The Talbian are playable only in multiplayer

Not a good start.

He definitely has some interesting points at least, though I think the fact that game developers have allowed players to assume the role of 'enemy' armies and factions (Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan, etc.) is something that is worth considering. Imagine the alternative: we could have some sugar coated facade where players are not allowed to even conceive of the other faction as human beings fighting a war, with their own culture and leaders directing them to do what they believe is right, and instead just as humanoids to be destroyed. I felt sad using a flamethrower on Japanese soldiers in COD: World at War, while Company of Heroes has plenty of moments that show Germans being remorselessly (Two that spring to mind are the cutscenes showing extended Allied bombardments to the screams of a German calling for mercy, and one of British special forces taking out a group of guards who, moments before, were casually talking about coffee).

Ultimately, hundreds, if not thousands, of movies over the last few decades have done the exact same thing and always shown terrorists as nothing more than crazy antagonists for the virtuous hero to overcome. Games certainly have the potential to go further than that in my opinion.

Re: Race Politics and First-Person Shooters

I think the issue of dehumanizing is what really tweaks people.  During  time of war, it is really important for many people's ethics to dehumanize the other side and they get really uncomfortable when someone tries to remind them that the other side might actually have their own feelings or grudges.  To many, the simple black and white 'we are good, they are evil, because they are evil, whatever we do to them is good'. This can be esp important to the families (or friends) of fallen soldiers since they can get even more uncomfortable with the idea that their child (or friend) was doing anything wrong.  Think about it, when was the last time you heard people say bad things at a funeral?  Now extend that to the person at the funeral having been engaged in activities that involved killing people (including civilians)....

So games (or media in general) that even touch on the idea that the other side is human get a lot of flack from certain groups.

 
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