January 29th, 2009

Having already received death threats last summer for my comments on Resident Evil 5 and race, I’m prepared for my thoughts below will ruffle a few feathers — well, the easily ruffled ones, at least. Still, after carefully observing the RE5 demo that came out earlier this week for the 360 (have I mentioned I’m too jumpy to enjoy playing survival horror games myself?), I can’t keep my zombie-obsessed mouth shut, not without a healthy smattering of analysis. Here’s what came to mind:

1) Zombies by the light of day: The Resident Evil aesthetic has always been marked by dark, gloomy settings. Will a brain-sucking monster appear from the shadows? Will an undead hound, currently hidden in the inky black night outside a mansion window, burst through the glass and pounce at you? By setting RE5 in an intensely sunny local, game makers have put to use an entirely different gothic trope: the intensity of light, which is somehow just as blinding and sinister as the intensity of dark. Think Frankenstein and his monster on the glaring white ice near the North Pole.

2) Zombies as mindless political followers: during the debate over RE5 and race, someone somewhere (apologies to that clever person for not knowing who) posited that fear of zombies has less to do with skin color and more to do with a general anxiety around getting sucked into a mob mentality. Interestingly, the opening sequence of the RE5 demo makes the undead appear less like traditional monsters and more like obsessed political followers or religious extremists, roused to violence by the impassioned speech of a crazed leader.

3) Chris’ African sidekick makes the game more PC: while Sheva is smokin’ hot (seriously, there’s something more realistic and unique about her body/face that renders her one of the most appealing female characters I’ve seen to date, even if she does come second to the male lead), I can’t help but wonder if her background was selected as a logical part of the story, or if it was shaped to balance out that whole “white people shooting black people” problem.

4) The impressive graphics are most impressive in the sheen off dark bodies: We could say a lot here about the sexualizing of the black other, something that comes up in traditional gothic texts like Zofolya. Instead, what I want to point out is the fascinating irony in the fact that RE5’s detailed aesthetics render the bodies of the zombies — not the bodies of the living — oddly beautiful, rich in tone and glistening.

More thoughts tomorrow…

Tags: new games, survival horror games

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