Racism, Postcolonialism, and Neocolonial Zombies: Resident Evil 5
Released March 13, 2009, Capcom’s Resident Evil 5 was consumed by videogame enthusiasts and critics alike. For gamers, the latest installment paid homage to the characters and plots that made the Resident Evil series (which debuted in 1996) a multimillion dollar, film-spawning phenomenon. In many ways a “return to basics,” the original heroes Chris Redfield, Jill Valentine and primary villain Albert Wesker were back
For critics, the game’s setting and primary zombie enemy proved contentious. Central to the game’s controversy was its West Africa locale. Wall Street Journal reporter Jamin Brophy Warren noted that for many critics, the image of “a white man [Chris Redfield] shooting black Africans evoked troubling memories of the age of Western colonialism.” Indeed, at stake in such critiques were the game’s racial politics, which from the outset forced Resident Evil 5 designers to include non-white hero characters (e.g. West African Sheva Alomar) and non-African villains.
Such criticisms bring to light additional questions about the zombie narrative genre, critical race readings of Resident Evil 5, and its currency within a neocolonial imaginary. If the very term allegedly emerges from a West African voodoo practice, then Resident Evil 5’s setting indirectly accesses this original premise. What the zombie embodies – a soulless, dead subject – powerfully recalls the colonial condition of slavery. Set in a world of abandoned oil fields, extreme poverty, and rampant disease (in the form of an instantaneous zombie virus), Resident Evil 5 also makes visible an even more troubling present.
Within a milieu of neoliberal policies and politics, which engender unobstructed exploitative access to African nation-states, the game’s zombies (the corporate product of biotech company “Tricell”) embody the collateral damage of “Western colonialism,” which continues to shape the proverbial “third world” through transnational flows of capital and all-or-nothing-profit. Taken together, the appropriate question is not whether or not Resident Evil 5 is racist. Instead, the question to ask is why asymmetrical racial hierarchies persist. In this regard, Chris Redfield provides a provocative answer at the beginning of Resident Evil 5’s narrative: “capitalism.”