Orientalism, Occidentalism, and Umbrella Corp

December 20, 2008

I have been watching footage of Resident Evil 5 recently since the mass media blowout of the game. Having loved the previous iteration in the series, along with so many others, I look forward with both anticipation for the next title in the series and disappointment towards what little has seemingly change. Being unable to play the demo, as of yet, this article is merely speculation from my experiences with Resident Evil 1-4 and what I have seen so far of Resident Evil 5.

has become the centerpiece over the racism in games. N’Gai Croal wrote a very revealing article that was both acclaimed and lambasted by gamers, a typical response. One remark that does stick out to me is his comment, “There [African zombies] of being, in sort of post-modern parlance, they’re sort of ‘othered.’” I believe that he completely misses the mark on the issue of the Other and the deeper connotation within depictions of the Negro. The imagery in RE5 isn’t purely about racism.

If you look at RE4 the Spanish zombies are visually European horrors figures. It is the representation of the disfigured, unkempt, isolated European. N’Gai is on the mark when he states, “It’s a very strange thing, and it taps into sort of this very racist iconography.” But if you look at the environments, the deserted and failed industrialization in RE5 and the desolate villages of RE4, these are representations of post-colonialism. We see the failure of modernization from the failure of post-colonization. The issue of the Other in this context isn’t about race. It’s about Orientalism and the effects of post-colonizations.

When I am talking about Orientalism, it is in reference to Edward Said’s definition of the term. It is the view of the West in defining themselves oppositional to the Other: the East, the Middle East, Africa, South America, and so forth. But I must emphasize that Orientalism is not the study of prejudices and misrepresentations, it is the study of discourse. When we see the imagery of the Negro savage we should be taken aback. We should be offended. We should question the validity on how this imagery is presented. But what N’Gai does not take into account is that this game comes from the East, albeit a sort of Western Japan. But from this origin, the depictions of post-colonialism in RE5 become even more fascination to look at. Perhaps this is not inclusively an issue of Orientalism but an issue of Occidentalism.

It is a view of the Other in how it views the West. Which is unsurprising, as Occidentalism has become a prominent concern in 20th century Eastern culture. This completely makes sense in regards to the Resident Evil series. Looking back at the first game the stereotypes, the bad dialog, and even the Spanish zombies reveal a view of the West as an Other. If we take this path of thought, it makes complete sense that RE5 is a representation of Japan’s view of the West’s view of the Negro. What is interesting is whether this view has eclipsed and become the dominant view of the Other because of it. What is terrifying is how accepting this view has been for gamers, which was the original contention of N’Gai Croal.

Looking at RE5 is almost becomes the perfect depiction of Western’s terror towards the effects of colonization. Here is clean-cut, white alpha male Chris Redfield going into an environment where the Other is a zombie which is a result of Western intrusion. It is uncontainable, it is violent, and it is a burden by the fault of foreign hands. Isn’t it interesting that Sheva, his partner, is the focus of RE5 and her origins to the events of the game? Is she a globalized citizen educated abroad? Has she disassociated from realities of the continent? Will she be a three-dimensional female character? These are questions that make me antsy to see how the issues that I previously raised will pan out in the game.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if RE5 was not merely a commentary towards racism or post-colonialism, but rather a discourse on globalism? It is interesting to see the series turn its focus abroad—zombies infections are pandemic not epidemic, of course. In three months time we will see how the game turns out. Regardless of the Metacritic score I’m sure there will be an ample amount of worthwhile material to investigate and chew on. And I haven’t even got into the kind of discourse that will grow out from the game’s multiplayer.


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