Two stories this weekend struck the same nerve: first, that Resident Evil 5 trailer, where the white hero guns down a mob of black people, has gotten new play and been accused again of racism; second, the ongoing protests and boycott threats against China continue to plague its role as the host of this year’s Olympics. Both stories are about games, and both stories have attracted a backlash.
Resident Evil 5 fans are ticked about the criticism and hatred that the franchise has drawn; aren’t people – likely liberals and blacks – overreacting to that trailer? Why is gunning down a crowd of black zombies different from slaughtering any other zombies? Why do black critics like N’Gai Croal insist on (as one commenter put it) playing the race card? In other words, why do we have to think about any of this stuff at all? We should just play the damn game.
Same for the Olympics, although the controversy is far more complicated and frankly, far more important. Are the Olympic Games a place where healthy competition can take place between all nations, to vent the steam that would otherwise lead to, well, all the stuff that China is either doing or condoning? Doesn’t it defeat the whole point to politicize the games?
I understand these viewpoints, and hey, I get it. The purpose of a game is to create a safe, orderly and artificial space for competition. It’s not supposed to “matter” – at least unless you’re gambling.
But when is a game ever just a game? We love to watch sports and trounce our friends in Halo because while the game doesn’t matter, the players do. Everyone comes into the match with a story, a history, and something to prove. The Yankees and the Red Sox aren’t just two teams that play some games every year. It may not be fair that the Olympics are colored by politics – but nobody (in the US) had a problem with it when our hockey team crushed the Soviets’ in 1980. You don’t see people bitching (today) about Jesse Owens “playing the race card” at the Hitler Olympics.
In the same way, fears that Resident Evil 5 is either racist, or unfairly accused of racism, all have a place in how we deal with the game. Because whatever’s happening with Resident Evil 5 will just get more common. If every video game were Pong, we wouldn’t have to deal with the representation of human beings in games. But games are only becoming more cinematic. They’re depicting more realistic people who have clearer ethnic identities and worldviews and more dialogue in which to hit more buttons with the ever-growing audience of players. Pretending this stuff shouldn’t matter is naive.
Sports fans already knew this; gamers are still learning. If you judge by the comment threads, even the most ignorant football fan has a more nuanced grasp of race than the average Resident Evil 5 fanboy. They’ve accepted race is a factor. And they realize, if only through their passion for a hometown team, that a game is never just a game.