Look: This Resident Evil 5 controversy isn't going away. The sizable segment of the gaming community that wants it to be simply a non-issue will not find their wishes granted. In fact, N'Gai is more charitable than I am to those who took the post-racial approach to the issue:
There was a lot of imagery in that trailer that dovetailed with classic racist imagery. What was not funny, but sort of interesting, was that there were so many gamers who could not at all see it. Like literally couldn’t see it. So how could you have a conversation with people who don’t understand what you’re talking about and think that you’re sort of seeing race where nothing exists?
I considered it a willful blindness -- but even if it isn't, it's still a blindness. I think it's important for people to make an honest effort to understand better the complaints that Resident Evil 5 is going to get. It's possible to defend both the content of the game and the rights of others to be offended. "Shut up" is not an appropriate or helpful response to somebody who finds this imagery troublesome.
My thoughts haven't changed much since I opined about the trailer last summer, and N'Gai echoes some of them in the Multiplayer piece. I don't think it's necessary to rehash them here. So without going into the specifics of RE5 once more, I just want to make this general point:
Art has always been controversial. Art that challenges the status quo comes under fire from one side, and art that tries to maintain it gets criticized from the other. The conversations we have as a result of this will help to determine what we want the status quo to be, and in turn move the culture forward. Overtly racist portrayals of non-white characters used to be commonplace in American films and TV shows, until people got fed up and said enough is enough. We've made progress.
But there's this strange temptation to assume that we've arrived at a point in history where we've made it past all this stuff, despite the abundance of counter-examples. Forget about RE5 for a second: consider the Cole Train, or the "bizarre b-boy timewarp" of Unreal Tournament III. Why were those character choices made? What was the thinking (or lack thereof) behind them? What does it say about us when we don't notice racial stereotyping, either explicit or implicit? That it doesn't exist, or that we're trying to wish it away?
Art may only be a mirror to the culture that produces it, but it's important for us to look honestly at our reflection from time to time. Either you think video games belong in this conversation, or you don't. I do.