Juarez Behind, Monkeys Ahead
Posted by deckard47 on July 17, 2009
So I finished Bound in Blood last night, and played a good bit of both of the new Monkey Island games (fun!).
Bound in Blood had a surprisingly sensible ending, both for a video game, and for Call of Juarez. Perhaps it’s because the sadistic Ray has a future as a priest in Call of Juarez, but the ending to BiB (I really shouldn’t write it that way) feels appropriately sad and apologetic (on Ray’s part), and appropriately bland and silly (on Thomas’ and Marisa’s part). There was a bit of Mummy silliness with a giant cave filling with sand, along with the game’s unconvincing Confederate villain, but all in all, the game made me want to continue Ray’s saga, to witness his continuing guilt. Too bad I’d have to play Call of Juarez (the original) again to see it! Maybe they’ll do another game starring Ray, one that takes the good stuff from Bound in Blood and chucks the bad stuff out? It could be pretty interesting.
Someone else recently posted about Bound in Blood as it relates to racism… And of course, some excellent coverage has been rolled out by some of our fellow game journalists.
The Houston Chronicle has a video game blog, and Willie Jefferson recently did a post there called “Racism in video games: The new norm?” Before I get into discussing his post and Kotaku and True/Slant’s responses, I wanted to point out the amusing nature of the post’s title. The new norm? Fuck that, it’s the old norm, it’s been a norm since (and before, I’m sure) the Custer rape game, and that tradition has been proudly kept alive by everything from Shadow Warrior and Final Fantasy games (who is the first woman of color in a FF game? A woman with a tail!) to basically every game Epic has made. Racism is the norm in video games, and anyone who doesn’t see that needs to take a long look at our hobby.
But I’m not here to talk about that. Jefferson makes the good point that Bound in Blood‘s decision to cast you as two Confederate soldiers/deserters won’t make all players feel entirely welcome. He makes some good points throughout the article, but he keeps things way too general to make many good points. For instance, here is his take on Resident Evil 5 : “Another game, ‘Resident Evil 5,’ puts gamers into the heart of Africa, blasting zombies. I bet you’ll never guess what color they are.” He also seems to love GTA IV, which is interesting, considering that game practically bleeds stupid, tired stereotypes. Here is the opening paragraph:
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.
Already, the fact that he’s cool with Blood in the Sand and GTA IV (along with the Call of Duty games, which, clever as they can be, also carry a lot of racial, violent baggage) means that he’s got to do his own round of reassessing and re-examination of what he finds “acceptable.” Still, his points about Call of Juarez are well taken: it’s a silly, racist game, and (although he didn’t write about this), the opening seems mildly racist compared to the rest of the game. He didn’t even mention the slave bit later on. Luckily for us, we have Paul Tassi and Owen Good here to help us digest Jefferson’s writing.
Tassi singals himself out as a fool pretty quickly. On Jefferson’s critique of Left 4 Dead 2 vis-a-vis Katrina, Tassi blows our minds with this paragraph:
First, Left 4 Dead 2, set in New Orleans. To me, the issue here has nothing to do with racism, and that’s more a debate about the Hurricane Katrina disaster as a whole. I’m firmly of the stance that natural disasters aren’t racist, and our government wasn’t purposefully holding back aid because it was mostly black people who were affected (despite what Kanye West believes), and instead they failed to act quickly because they were ill prepared and incompetent.
Let’s forget that Tassi just summarily dismissed all of the evidence that shows that the Amrican Government and many American people were content to allow Hurricane Katrina to fuck shit up day by day, human life by human life, and we were content to wait, content to hold off on helping the victims because they were poor and/or minorities: acceptable casualties. I’m not sure I agree with Jefferson that Valve has made an error here, I haven’t seen any videos of the game, but from the screens it doesn’t look like they’re trading in anything that’s ignorant or racist. I do think that Jefferson’s argument that some of the zombies in Left 4 Dead 2 are black (um, it’s New Orleans, and the fact that there are white and black people in the game is much less important than how it is portrayed… Which Jefferson can’t fully speak to) completely misses what point there might be, but it’s something to consider, once we see more of the game.
Tassi then hits us with some in-your-face discussion of Jefferson and RE 5. Uh-oh!:
This thought process is absolutely moronic. The producers of Resident Evil 5 should be applauded for taking the game to a country that most developers have been scared to go to because they were afraid of overreaction like this. Setting the game in Africa rather than some generic industrial town in America is a great creative departure, and the amount of heat Capcom took for it is absurd.
He finally hits on Jefferson’s discussion of Bound in Blood (a game which has its own problems, I think we can all agree). He says this of Jefferson’s writing:
Lastly, Will addresses Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood, where in one mission players take on the role of a Confederate solider trying to save his brother from some Union officers. Where were his complaints when players got auto assigned to the Nazi or Terrorist squads in Call of Duty? But once again, I don’t believe this complaint about Juarez has to do with race, as I’m sure the game doesn’t involve owning slaves or assassinating Lincoln. A soldier trying to save his brother seems like a perfectly adequate mission objective, and honestly I wouldn’t have a problem playing the same mission in Call of Duty as a Nazi soldier trying to save his brother.
Well I obviously disagree with Jefferson about Call of Duty (anybody who can play Cal of Duty 4, World at War, or any of their ilk and not recognize the games’ problematic racial political ideas needs to check that shit again), it’s hilarious that Tassi is both wrong (you do own slaves, and talk about them being assholes for running away, etc.), and doesn’t make the obvious rebuttal to Jefferson’s argument: That it’s the height of ignorance to assume that just because a fiction or media is about something unpleasant or offensive (or about racist or bad people), it has to be inherently racist or offensive in the same way (of course, the number of mainstream games that could be said to attempt something like this don’t exist). Jefferson’s problem is that he basically argues this for his whole post. He never once discusses thoroughly how the game portrays its white slave owners, Native Americans and soldiers (if he did he’d find it seriously lacking, but the fact that he doesn’t hurts his point). If movies, books, and games about racist people (say, for instance, Talk to Me, or Schindler’s List) were automatically racist, things would be very different. They aren’t (necessarily) however. It’s possible for authors to treat these subjects with insight and depth, to explore the issues and prejudices that are woven into our lives.
Of course, Call of Juarez doesn’t exactly ever get to that point. When you realize that it’s far behind movies (notoriously slow at producing believable, non-racist portrayals of almost everyone) when it comes to the West/the history of America, you realize just how far it has to travel.
Tassi concludes with a brilliant, scathing attack:
So that’s my bristling response to Will Jefferson’s tear-stained post about how racism in games is now the “norm.” Citing three examples of games, where only two of them actually feature black people, is hardly the “norm” I’d say, and I’d suggest Will refrain from such sensationalistic titles in the future.
Oh shit! Jefferson is just being too “sensitive!” And let’s not forget that the fact that there aren’t any black people depicted in Bound in Blood (aside from two or three mentions) is strange and problematic all on its own. Let’s just forget that last attack then, before we lose more brain cells.
Owen Good at Kotaku fares a bit better than our man Tassi, but not perfectly. His response is short and lacking Tassi’s amusing penchant for childish attacks (something my own writing carefully avoids, of course):
This guy may legitimately feel that way. Fine. I think if Call of Juarez was overtly sympathetic to Confederate aims of slavery, instead of just framing the story of two mean-ass brothers in the context of soldiers of a failed cause, we’d have a different discussion. Similarly, it’d be a big problem if Left 4 Dead 2 was explicitly about Katrina and the institutional racism that fueled such a listless response and collective shrug at a disaster we thought only could happen in the third world.
But this sort of rumination seems to me to be picking a fight where none exists. And it points up the difference between sensitivity and tolerance. Not everything has to provide a teachable moment or avoid an uncomfortable subject altogether. Look at film.
While he’s correct that the game’s writers obviously aren’t “overtly sympathetic” to the “Confederate aims of slavery,” he doesn’t discuss the game’s tacit acceptance of how the brothers talk about their slaves, or the lack of context for almost every event in the game (other than the fact that A) things are old timey, and B) people have accents and wear funny hats and clothes). He’s wrong, there are serious issues to be discussed in Bound in Blood. But he’s correct that Jefferson doesn’t really get at them, spending most of his time vaguely gesturing as opposed to carefully examining.
And it’s time to take a breath, I think.
As the title of this post intimates (lying, craven thing that it is), the second part of this post was meant to discuss Monkeys, Islands, and Mr. Threepwood. I guess that’ll have to wait until later, because I need to recharge the writing batteries. Rest easy in the knowledge that for a few more days I will be harassing the inhabitants of Monkey, Melee and [that new one in the first episode] Island. I will say that the music is very nice in the new Secret, as are the voices, but that I find myself wistfully switching to the classic mode, and watching Guybrush’s funny little mouth bounce as he “talks.” Some things just aren’t the same, you know?