The RE5 trailer controversy has died down in the last few months. Given the generally more sober attitude toward the issue at the moment, I wanted to take a c-blog article to opine on the difference between the first trailer and this new one from the Captivate08 event, and to go ahead and try to provide some insight into some of the more tangible stuff that made the first trailer elicit the response that it did. For those of you still interested in the topic, I welcome you. Fair warning though, it gets a little serious.
So, here are the trailers for you:
The first Trailer
Captivate08 Trailer Seeing the sailboat
Looking at the the first trailer and seeing racially charged imagery seems to be alot like trying to see the sailboat in the distorted pictures in those posters that were cool a few years back. Some people would strain their eyes forever, and see just a mass of dots and visual noise. Others would see the sailboat almost immediately. And still others, given just a a different perspective, could see the ship after a little while. But one has to wonder, how do you really see these things in what most realistically is, just a bunch of dots and just an RE5 trailer?
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Uploaded by www.bebo.com/insaneindamainframe Willem's not happy about missing the boat
I think it weighs heavily on how much you care about, know about and internalize the imagery that you're seeing. The context of one's life undoubtedly changes the way a person views the world. It becomes difficult to see eye to eye on things, since everyone comes from such varied experiences. There is some historical context that's easy to just point to and consider "old news", but that same history can still be relevant to someone living their life today.
The issue with the the first trailer was one of mirroring hurtful imagery, presentation, and otherwise "other"ing, of black people. There's a long history regarding the dehumanizing of black people in the context of America. Slaveships brought black people to America largely in cramped, inhumane conditions. Africans were sold and presented for purchase as if they were beasts of burden, rather than people. To discuss a black person was to discuss property for some people. Even after slavery was ended, there was still the perception and treatment of black people as less than human. In the Constitution, until about 3 years after the Civil War ended, black people were considered 3/5's of a person as part of a taxation compromise. And even as recent as a generation or two ago, segregation was considered normal practice in some parts of the country. Resulting from this line of dehumanized thought and practice, there was resulting depictions of these ideas in art and literature, which served in part to continue the ideas of black people as those "other" people.
I'm sorry, I have to lighten the mood here . . .
So, suffice to say, there's a lot of old stuff in the attic regarding race in America. Further, depending on how much you care about internalizing and absorbing you history as a sense of self, its not something you can necessarily "just let go". My dad, while also a gamer, cares a lot about archiving family history and creating family trees for just about every branch of anyone he can call family to either his side of my family and my mother's side of the family. He's compiled 3 different HUGE family trees, going back about 3 or 4 generations. While a great accomplishment in itself, that's about where more black families will top out, going back by generations. Where as, for example, a family of German decent can trace back to family still living in Europe, and can even identify a family crest or credo, the archived history of a black family stops somewhere in the courthouses and land records of the southern states.
And for better or worse, you do have to just let that go. Sitting around being angry, sad or resentful about anything isn't going to get anyone anywhere, ultimately. But this scenario, and things like it (a grandmother's story about segregation, or a father's description of unfortunate and overt racism, etc), they sting a little in a person's more introspective and thoughtful moments. Should some one absorb this history into who they are, a person can come to revile the circumstances of these things, and doesn't want to see any trace of it repeated.
Augh, come on! Why so serious?! I thought this was a games blog?!
So, what's really different about the two trailers? Both show a white male laying a vicious, 1080i, HD smackdown on a bunch of brown folk. "Isn't that racist?" ,one could ask. "Isn't that what the problem is? Why is the second trailer any different?"
Well, its a matter of what publishers do with their first and second trailers. Its become pretty standard operation for a company with a big AAA piece of game or film media to release progressively more revealing and exciting trailers. You first trailer, often dubbed the teaser, generally just sets the stage for things to come, and really just gets into setup and scenery. We saw similar progression with the GTAIV trailers recently.
Here's the setting . . .
. . . here's some action, content, and story.
What we end up seeing in the first trailer for RE5 is the setup. Creepy moods, menacing eyes, minimal dialog, and there's no big reveal of the more grotesque and out-there sort of stuff that you find in the Resident Evil series. There is action, but there's a more questionabky menacing presence about them. The result: you see a bunch of people that clearly don't look well, but don't look too far off from being normal. Nobody's head bursts open to reveal a tentacle tongue. On the surface, its a bunch of reasonably disheveled people looking less than human. Brutal. Crazed. Dehumanized.
And of course they do. They're infected! And by most accounts, the barely raging infected in the recent Resident Evil game look more or less human, before they sprout dangerous super organisms out of their backs. But that one bit of explanation also points out what really brought out the uncomfortable feelings from trailer one. Because the villagers still looked human and generally realistic, the sci-fi fantasy and imminent threat that's clearly present in the second trailer is not immediately transmitted. As someone that saw the sailboat in the first trailer, there's only a faint trace of a schooner in the second one, considering the over the top sci-fi elements displayed.
These our my demands . . .
In a recent kotaku post
, it was noted that the producers did not change RE5 in reaction to the controversy, which I'm really willing to believe. At the end of all this, the game itself or the game creator's intentions are not the problem. While its very easy to allow the information in a trailer to inform one's opinion on a product, a trailer rarely gives the full story, or even and accurate account of a movie or game's content.
The first trailer, however unintentional, sets off a red flag for the hurtful characterizations of a subset of American people, and still evokes of those horrible times and ideas that no one wants to talk about in polite company. The trailer has happened, its been processed, and that can't be undone. Its on its own. But the game itself, wether it ends up inadvertently making socio-political statements or not, appears to be shaping up as a normal, run of the mill, blockbuster feat of standard amazing from Capcom. I'm personally looking forward to it. On that glandular level; that non-cerebral, "Did he just hit five guys with one punch!?" level, the game has my interest as a gamer. Despite my feeling about the trailer, I want to see this thing released.
And that's really the last thing I want to touch on. Any main page post across the internet on the subject of this controversy is rife with knee-jerk comments bemoaning attacks on video games. Commenters react with fear, anger and confusion on this topic. While its partially indicative of the age of some commenters (the internet has not age gate), and partially indicative of a person's stance on race discourse, a lot of it seems to come from a gamer's need to defend one's hobby and passion. A great many commenters and blog viewers go into a quick state of red alert whenever gaming comes under criticism, of any kind.
We must protect this house.
While it makes the gamer population one of the most vigilant and ravenously emotional hobbyists on the internet, it also leads to high levels of hyperbole and conclusion jumping. Negative talk translates immediately to games being banned. No doubt about it. If one person mentions pulling a game from the shelves, the conclusion then is that any criticism is moving toward that end goal.
Well, friends, lets please not do that.
I see the sailboat. The images carry incidental weight. But at the same time, opinions like mine are not going to stop this game from seeing store shelves. Can't there be discussion without making a villain out of the person with a differing view?
The medium of blogging allows us an immediate way to share our thoughts with each other. One can learn so much about another person, just by reading their blog. I'm not saying the blogocube should suddenly become a world of rainbows and unicorns, where everyone's color blind, and we're all good friends. Far from it. I'm saying that through this medium, we can hear other people's ideas, try to process what they're saying, and eventually come to a greater understanding of who it is we're flaming, praising, or otherwise interacting with.
That's my book. What do you think? Does any of this make any more sense than it did before? Does anyone see the sailboat now? Have I inadvertently offended you with my visual aides and comic relief? TL:DNR? Please, feel free to agree or disagree!