There were, in fact, at least two compelling arguments to counter Platt’s intentionally provocative post. Her statement of “fact,” that the game would be marketed to children, was false. Every prior Resident Evil game has been rated Mature (intended for people 17 and older), and there was no reason to expect anything different from the game’s fifth installment. Furthermore, Platt didn’t seem to have the benefit of knowing the series’ ongoing story line. In the Resident Evil mythos, powerful corporations and religious cult leaders exploit the weak and powerless — making the zombies themselves victims.

Gamers didn’t do themselves any favors by refusing to see the validity of Platt’s complaint. The less-helpful commenters accused Platt herself of racism, of creating a racial divide where previously there was none. They decried an assault on Capcom’s right to free speech. But the question wasn’t whether the game’s Japanese developers had intended any racism (cultural ignorance is a commonly invoked defense among gamers), or why nobody had complained before when Resident Evil zombies had been predominantly white. It was whether those claiming free speech in defense of divisive games were willing to extend the same rights to those whom the games offended.

Newsweek’s technical writer and editor, N’Gai Croal — an African-American — recently explained the controversy this way to MTV’s Multiplayer blog: “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.”

In other words, by failing to acknowledge the troublesome overtones of the trailer, gamers were in effect shutting their eyes to historical follies by colonial powers in such places as Africa and the Caribbean. And whether or not gamers recognized the potential offensiveness of the trailer’s imagery, it was offensive to some. In the end, the larger issue wasn’t so much whether the trailer actually was racist — it was that gamers didn’t seem interested in finding out.

THE BLAME GAME: The creators of Resident Evil 5 may have meant well, but their white-shooter-vs.-black-zombie theme created a firestorm.

Artfully played
In 2005, Democratic New York Senator Hillary Clinton, along with co-sponsors Independent Connecticut senator Joseph Lieberman, Democratic Indiana senator Evan Bayh, and Democratic South Dakota senator Tim Johnson, introduced a bill to the United States Senate that would have made the sale of M-rated (Mature) games to minors a federal offense. Although the proposed Family Entertainment Protection Act died in committee, it’s telling that the legislation contained no similar provision for R-rated movies. There seemed to be no doubt in the senators’ minds that games didn’t fall under the aegis of the First Amendment — that it wasn’t up to retailers to decide what they wanted to sell. For gamers, this represented nothing less than tyranny.

One of the most heated debates that tend to arise between gamers and non-gamers is whether the medium can be considered art, the way movies and, now, even comic books are. As one might expect, the gaming community is largely unified in its answer: of course games are art. They’re an expression of human thought and creativity, gamers will say, every bit as relevant as a novel, or a plastic crucifix floating in some guy’s urine. But then, when somebody outside the community criticizes a game on the basis of politics, subtext, or even taste, those same advocates respond, “Hey man, it’s just a game!”

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