Machete Death in Africa
Does it matter that Vincent Merken and I cut down a crazed, diseased, machete-wielding black man in an African shantytown?
We did it in the Resident Evil 5 demo, playing co-op on Xbox Live; I from the U.S., he from Belgium. Vincent played a hulking bruiser of a white guy, while I played a small, lithe woman who could pass for what‚ Southern Africans call ‘coloured’-a person of mixed race.‚ Together, we hacked at our enemy with our huge knives until he melted into a mass of brown bubbles.
Does it matter why we did this? Or how our characters looked when it happened? Or how we responded to doing it? Would it matter if the man had tentacles sprouting from his face? And why’d we use knives, anyhow?
Answering these questions requires an outlook as cosmopolitan as the game itself, which portrays the outbreak of a contagion that transforms humans into monsters in the small, fictional, sub-Saharan nation of Kijuju. Resident Evil 5 depicts people of many different races, being careful to render them and their surroundings as realistically as possible, while maintaining an atmosphere of sci-fi horror. Both gaming and mainstream media have begun a debate over whether the game’s depiction of black Africans makes use of racist stereotypes.
The debate matters because of the game’s stature. Capcom’s Resident Evil series belongs to the canon of gaming. Its games have sold more than 34 million copies and won wide critical acclaim. Resident Evil 5, the twentieth game in the line, has raised its already high profile with its move to Africa. Imagine‚ one of the innumerable and wildly popular World War II shooters suddenly changing its setting to Vietnam, circa 1969. Very few games feature the Vietnam war, for the same reason that few games feature Africa’s problems with disease, poverty, violence, and exploitation: both subjects evoke shame. Players accept this reasoning on Vietnam; they seem to have more difficulty with Africa.
Also controversial, though less charged, is Resident Evil 5’s control scheme, which remains virtually the same as the one featured in the first game in the series, 1996’s Resident Evil. The hype around the game has placed it under assault from all sides, from both gaming and cultural perspectives. Responding to these issues means placing that murderous moment shared by Vincent and me into context-in both game and real-world terms.
Resident Evil 5 will take a beating. Players will attack the game without mercy, and so will the media. Vincent and I will play the game to death, testing its limits, while critics will decry the game’s handling of its African setting. Both approaches are perfectly justified, because both rely on a certain kind of cosmopolitanism.
There are two senses of ‘cosmopolitan’. One refers to a person who acclimates easily to foreign situations; the other to a morality that ignores cultural boundaries. The first concerns Resident Evil 5’s gameplay, the second concerns the way it portrays black Africans.‚ Understanding this game requires‚ both viewpoints. For this reason, I came calling on Vincent.
Who is Vincent Merken?
Let me tell you about Vincent Merken.
In the vast library of Resident Evil esoterica available on the Internet there is an extraordinary document known formally as “Resident Evil-Plot Guide” and colloquially as “The Resident Evil Thesis”. We’re talking over 115,000 words of Resident Evil plot analysis. Begun by Dan ‘President Evil’ Birlew and overtaken by Thomas Wilde, the text covers the series up to the 2007 port of Resident Evil 4 for the Wii, but just one section concerns us here: an examination of wild theories called “The Weirdest of the Lot”. Birlew and Wilde debunk a rumor that you can unlock Street Fighter’s Akuma as a playable character in Resident Evil 2:
According to Electronic Gaming Monthly, if you beat the game in under an hour and a half, using *only* the handgun and knife, Akuma would become playable. Vincent Merken did it, for he is ninja, and it didn’t work.
Yes; contemplate that passage for a moment, and it will reveal to you the Meaning of Merken and of Resident Evil. From the start, the series has won fans for its flexible gameplay. You can play Resident Evil games in myriad ways-using only the weakest weapons or rushing through the game as quickly as possible. Vincent belongs to a community of players who have pushed this play to extremes. Ripping through Resident Evil 2 at that speed with such limited firepower is downright amazing. This kind of achievement requires both mad dexterity and long study of the game’s mechanics.