'It's silly to call it racist', says leading anthropologist.
VideoGamer.com: The level where you're in the marshlands and you're fighting against Africans who are dressed in traditional clothing - that scene in particular has been highlighted by some commentators as reinforcing the idea that Africans are savages. What's your take on that?
GB: What does the kid say in that diary? He says something about the men reverting to traditional ways...
VideoGamer.com: If you read the diary it clearly states that these people are reverting to ancestral dress as a result of the infection, that it's causing them to do this for some reason. But when you first turn up there you don't know that. You think you're simply in some backwater part of Africa where there are infected savages that I'm killing.
GB: I find it very interesting that Ouroboros is the name of this threat, which is Greek mythology. This kind of scenario is going to pull out a lot of mythic material. Mythic material is what gets us to recognise things quite clearly. There's a familiarity to what we call mythemes in anthropology. One of the mythemes in anthropology is clearly the legacy of colonialism which is that darkest Africa is full of weird masks and witch doctors and all sorts of things. So if you want to take Africa and you want to make Africa frightening, what you do is you bring that stuff up. In fact, my sense is that probably, although I can see why they're doing it, there's more racism in the scene of the guys beating the person in the sack, which is very much contemporary modern black Africans. More racism in there than there is in this funny kind of mythological stuff where you've suddenly got everybody running around dressed like witch doctors and the like. If you want to talk about racism you don't talk about racist culture. You talk about whether there is something explicitly, essentially, biologically malign about a particular genetic group. If you want to say something is doing that, fine go for the scene where the black guys are beating the sack to death in the street. You could do it just as easily in Harlem with a bunch of junkies doing something like that. That kind of thing is potentially much more racist than any use of cultural material.
VideoGamer.com: You say potentially much more racist, but do you think it is racist?
GB: I don't think it actually is racist. I think what they're trying to do is say this is a shit scary space that you're in and it's full of anger and furthermore also people hate Americans. And frankly it's very interesting about that, and they don't go into it, but in this period of post-9/11 a third world perspective on America that says local people hate Americans actually brings up that whole interesting thematic of why do they hate us? which people started asking after 9/11 and then very quickly stopped asking because maybe it was a little bit too obvious. Maybe the fact that it's coming out of Japan, this interesting inter-space of being both a place that's been colonising and colonised, has something to do with it. It's not really in the Western core although it's in the Western commodity core. It's an interesting location.
VideoGamer.com: In the scene where they're beating up the sack, the suggestion is that they're not infected.
GB: It's that kind of Black Hawk Down scenario but it's also just about a threatening urban slum full of the broken fragments of cultures that have been destroyed by what's happened. These are spaces you see in contemporary Africa. Not just in contemporary Africa but in contemporary Asia, in contemporary Middle-East, because of cultural disintegration caused by in the large part the effect of the West on hitting on those areas and under developing them, depriving them, pushing various kinds of irrationalities into things. I think there's actually an implicit anti-colonial theme in the game. I don't think it's explicit and I don't think they want to make it explicit, but I think there's a little bit more suss about what the relationship between third world and first world is than would obviously be the case. And I think the knee jerk reaction that says if you use black people as bad characters you're being racist is actually itself a kind of inverted racism which says that you can't have scary people who are black.
VideoGamer.com: I feel it's important to point out that the diary that shows the child's perspective of what happened to the Native Village, you may or may not pick that up when you're playing the game. You might not notice it lying on the desk. You might notice it and not digest it properly. A player is not guaranteed to see it.
GB: That's right. There was one other thing that I wanted to mention and that was the very interesting issue of the black female character, and you can take that character in two ways, and I'll argue for one particular way of thinking. One way of taking her is to say, well she's human and she's good and she has sympathies and you can even see implicit the possibility of a love relationship coming up by the way they look at each other, you could say that's all there because she's half white and therefore she's half civilised because she's half white. I don't think that's true. And the actual fact that Josh (a black African soldier who aids Chris and Sheva) comes in as also a very positive black figure, and a number of the zombies which you pointed out might be tourists come in as white figures, and actually the most malevolent guy who is the mad chemist is a white figure, compounds all that kind of stuff. It isn't simple. It's not simple at all. I think it's quite intriguing.
VideoGamer.com: But it's not racist, crucially?
GB: I don't think it's racist. I think people are looking too quickly to be able to jam that label onto it.
VideoGamer.com: Is it the case, then, that it's being accused of being racist because game journalists feel that they should feel it's racist?
GB: That's interesting. I think it ties in with what I was talking about, about inverse racism. That in a sense there's a politically correct position which says this should be your knee-jerk reaction to what's going on there. I think it's quite likely but I'm not sure that in any way the makers of this game can be held responsible for that kind of response. I think that might be possible, in which case I think what they really should be asking themselves is, although I can't imagine people would do this, why are they having those kind of responses? And what negativity is implicit in that positive response? And the negativity is that actually we don't look at people as human beings, we look at them as black and white.
What do you think readers? Let us know in the comments section below.
Resident Evil 5 is due out for Xbox 360 and PS3 on March 13.