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

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.

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