Months before players would get a chance to play Resident Evil 5, a fear grew that the game might include racist imagery.
The initial trailer, released by Capcom in summer 2007, showed hero Chris Redfield arriving in an African shantytown. Attacked by inhabitants who have been infected with the mutant virus and have become zombies, Redfield shoots them down.
"I see the global sign of poverty down the barrel of a gun. It doesn't look cool," wrote reporter Stephen Totilo on the MTV Multiplayer blog.
N'Gai Croal, then a technology writer at Newsweek, asked whether the creators of the game were aware that the trailer's portrayals dovetailed with classic racist imagery. "This imagery has a history," he said in a discussion also on the MTV blog.
At last month's DICE video-game summit in Las Vegas, Capcom's Jun Takeuchi said that the developers did not intend to offend. "Anybody who is worried about that just has to play the final game and see everything in context," he said.
That was an inadequate answer for Evan Narcisse of game news site Crispygamer.com.
"He barely addressed the idea that scenes from the game uncomfortably could remind somebody of (1915 silent pro-Ku Klux Klan film) The Birth of a Nation."
Having a chance to play the final version of the game — it comes out Friday, but early demos and pre-release copies were sent to some — Totilo and Croal say their concerns are tempered somewhat.
"Not everybody I'm shooting is black anymore, and there is a noticeable difference in the demographics of the enemies in the video game, compared to the trailer," Totilo says. "Playing the game now, I don't feel like I am experiencing offensive stereotypes, but I feel like I am at certain points experiencing more clichés than I want."
Within the context of the game, the original imagery is not inherently racist, Croal says. However, "some is quease-inducing." The images from the trailer remain, he says, but it is explained that the main character is on a mission to help the region by defeating the virus, and he is joined by a darker-skinned female partner. While the images are explained, the story is implausible, Croal says. "It's a missed opportunity."
GameTrailers TV's Geoff Keighley says discussing potential racism isn't bad. "At its heart, I don't think the story line is necessarily racist, but when you look at the visuals (of what has been shown), it's easy to draw that conclusion."
Concern about the issue, he says, is "a positive sign. It says a lot about the level of storytelling and the artistic levels of gaming."