The fifth edition of zombie-killing video game (and Brotherhood of the Flying Shark Vikings training material) Resident Evil comes out on Friday. And because the game takes place in West Africa, and most of the people who live in West Africa are dark-skinned, it’s time to ask the hard, stupid questions about race.
Questions like this one, from the Wall Street Journal:
Is it racist for white people to shoot black zombies?
Man, what a hard, stupid question. I wish there was an academic available for comment that could help me sort out all the hard, stupid thoughts that are swirling through my head.
Mary Flanagan, a professor of digital media at Dartmouth College, argues that the fact that the game’s zombies are of color is a significant detail. “It’s not to say we can’t allow for transgression, but there are so few depictions of Africans in games,” she says. Though she’s only watched videos of the game, Ms. Flanagan says that to deal with violent images, particularly ones that involve people of color, the game should be nuanced and confront issues of race head on.
By confronting issues of race head on, she means “getting a job at the whitest Ivy League school in the whitest state and offering quotes to the Wall Street Journal based on games she hasn’t played.”
Anyway, the article goes on to point out that nearly all characters in the game — good and bad — are black, so it’s not whether people are African that makes them bad in the confines of the game, but whether they’re a member of the shuffling hordes of undead created by a biochemical terrorist strike. So yeah — I can see how people would get confused.
But regardless, those are video games. What about real life? I contacted famous zombie civil rights activist Zombie Al Sharpton to continue the discussion, which I found quite illuminating.
Pax Arcana: Thank you for agreeing to discuss the very sensitive issue of race and human-zombie relations. My first question is a simple one: Why should black zombies be treated any differently than white zombies, by which I mean killed with all due speed?
Zombie Al Sharpton: Weeee didddn’t land on plymmmmmouth rrrrroooockkkkk….
PA: Yeah, I’ve heard that one before. But still, zombies are zombies, am I right?
ZAS: Iffffff the ggggllove don’t fiiiiiiitttt, you musssst…
ZAS: Hhhuuuuuman alwayssss killllling usss…. because they scarrrrred we brinnnggg chickens hooooome to rroooooosssst… from the graaaaveyard to the backyard….. frrrooooommmmm the cassskets to the eeeaster baskets…. from six feeeeet unnnnder to the zommmmbie thunnnder….
PA: OK, but why should black zombies be any different from white zombies. They all want the same thing, right?
PA: I thought so.
‘Resident Evil 5’ Reignites Debate About Race in Videogames [WSJ]