This post was originally published on the chron.com video game blog on July 14th, 2009.
I have no problem with blessing out a terrorist trying to stop me from getting my diamond-encrusted skull. Shoot, even some U.S. *contractors* won't stop me - and I'll blast them too. I've even run over some grannies in GTA. (by accident) However, put me in a position where I have to play as a real-life enemy - in a game - and I may end up dropping the controller.
I'm all for escaping reality in video games. I love turning into a Spartan, cruising space as Commander Shepard in "Mass Effect" and have fun as Niko in "Grand Theft Auto IV." However, I am disturbed by the growing trend of racist undertones that are cropping up in video games.
One of the games that comes to mind is "Left 4 Dead 2." Though the game isn't out yet, it's already causing an uproar. Set in New Orleans, players will have to fight their way through hordes of zombies - with several of them who appear to be African-Americans. When I saw the first trailer for the game, all I could think about was Hurricane Katrina and the aftermath. Setting the game in a city that was scene of dead, bloated bodies floating by so soon afterward was a bad call, IMHO. The city has had enough to deal with -- Valve, you should have spared them, even if it's just a video game.
Another game, "Resident Evil 5," puts gamers into the heart of Africa, blasting zombies. I bet you'll never guess what color they are.
If game developers and the like are going to use history and certain locations, they should be prepared to suffer the backlash that comes from it. It could be perceived as being racist - and turn some potential customers off.
Space is a safe place - Liberty City is an awesome place, but New Orleans ... or the Old South can be very, very touchy areas to deal with.
The game that really inspired this blog entry was Ubisoft's "Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood." The game starts out with players assuming the role of Ray, a Confederate officer, working to save his brother, Thomas, who's pinned down by Union soldiers. I nearly dropped the controller. I have so much respect for President Lincoln -- he wanted to preserve the Union and ended up freeing the slaves -- and have just as much respect for the Union Army.
However, the Confederacy, as far as I am concerned, wanted to keep their cheap slave labor and the like. I can not stand the Confederate flag -- I resist the urge to burn every last one that I see. To me, the flag represents hate -- and offends me and many others to no end. And to play a game, where I don't have a choice to be on the losing side -- and one I detest -- made me wonder how much research Ubisoft did for this game.
It would have been a good thing to give gamers a choice -- sure, be a Confederate soldier -- or a Union soldier. Not giving gamers the option really soured the entire game for me. And shooting Union soldiers really just made me pause the game and walk away for a few minutes. As a minority, had the South won, I wouldn't be in this position I am today. They were content to keep things the way they were -- no need to free their slave labor, no need to give minorities the right to vote. It wasn't until the 1960s -- and the threat of military force -- that the Old South buckled and let blacks vote -- a hundred years after the end of the Civil War.
I don't have a problem blasting Nazis in "Call of Duty" and "Medal of Honor." I don't have a problem lighting up Imperial Army soldiers with my flamethrower in "World at War." But I do have a problem blasting soldiers in our country's Civil War.
Granted, Ubisoft is a French-owned company, but to this day, the Civil War is still a very, very touchy subject. Hurricane Katrina is a very touchy subject and video game makers should do more research about historical events before putting them into video games. It's OK to have a Western video game -- with enemies of all shades. You don't have to go back to the Civil War to give the character depth. Let the story tell who the characters are.
As much as I enjoy video games, I do not like having to play a part of history that I would like to forget and avoid, but can't. Give gamers the option of choosing what sides they want to be on.