Is Left 4 Dead 2 racist?
I’m not completely on board with this article accusing Left 4 Dead 2 of a certain amount of racism, but there’s definitely some food for thought within:
…L4D2 is not satire. Instead of Neil Young, we get Lynyrd Skynyrd in the form of the Midnight Riders. In the quote above, Chet explains L4D2 is not trying to be “subversive commentary.” While this is an admirable attempt at avoiding exploiting the events surrounding Hurricane Katrina, the game is set in a post-catastrophe New Orleans-like city. At the same time that they are trying to create something sensitive to the survivors of Katrina, they are striving for realism in a disaster stricken New Orleans. It is disturbingly too easy to play the “Left 4 Dead 2 images or photos of Katrina?” game. No, this is not from a safe-room wall. I wish FEMA, I’m sorry, “CEDA” was subversive commentary. I wish there was a more meaningful answer to “why New Orleans?” than because the French Quarter is a cool setting for a first person shooter. To answer my question above, no, we would not be having this discussion if the game was scheduled to come out the day after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, because the game would never have been released onto store shelves.
I can’t think of a single reason why you would be on board with the article. It fails to even attempt the one thing that it simply must do: demonstrate racism in L4D2. The author chides Valve for saying “There’s no meaning…” (and does so rightfully, for as we’ve seen, everything has meaning), but does absolutely nothing to evidence what meaning does exist behind Valve’s decisions on place and circumstance.
This is nonsense. But not in the way the author complains about in his rant’s opening. It’s nonsense not because I disagree with it, but because it doesn’t have any inherent meaning. His words don’t compile into anything that is semantically valuable. There is a disconnect that is never bridged between two ideas: 1) that works of fiction set in New Orleans have a particular meaning endemic to the nature of their setting; and 2) that to think that particular meaning must be racially concerned is to promote willful ignorance of the history of black Americans.
I would have liked to have seen the case made first validating and then connecting the two ideas, because it seems on the face of it such an odd concept. It is absolutely true that institutionalized preconceptions of worth and value are saddled on every ethnicity, sex, age, faith, and nationality—so the idea that Valve could be off here is distinctly possible. The author just fails in every respect to demonstrate that such is the case.
A shame, as thoughtful commentary on these kinds of issues is always enlightening.
Which is exactly why I framed the link more as “food for thought,” than anything else. In particular, I enjoyed the assertion that it’s dangerous to shrug off the concept of meaning when designing a game, particularly when it contains such loaded imagery.
There are occasional bright spots in the comments, from both the author and from commenters but the level of presumption and imagination is a notch on the high side. Also, it’s cute that after a clearly combative article, the author brings the hammer down on commenters who respond in kind.
I’ve studied the politics of the oppressed and am fairly well-versed in what one commenter refers to as “knowledge of oppressive power structures with regard to race, class, and ethnicity.” I understand these things and recognize the inherent (though subdued) racism in questions like “Why don’t Japanese cartoon characters look Japanese?” I’ve spent the last few years immersed in women’s issue in regard to power structures and institutionalized, societally-mandated sexism. I get it. I really do.
But the author doesn’t ever substantiates his claims. Was Valve too insensitive toward the feelings of those affected by Katrina? It’s a question and maybe a good one. It goes unanswered, however—at least to any degree of satisfaction. Are the Call of Duty and Medal of Honor franchises too insensitive because my grandparents may have been torn apart inside by what they witnessed and participated in? More, are they insensitive to Germans, who chiefly fill the role of dying at your hands? What about Lucidity? Were those devs grossly negligent in creating a game about a dead grandma and not telling players that was what the game was about?
These are questions. And they don’t receive any clearly evidenced answer in the article. And these questions must be answered before one moves on to the racism question—since, as discovered in the comments, the author’s point actually hinges on the former question. He believes that because a greater number of the victims of Katrina were poor and black, that means the game is manifestly more insensitive to such people. Not just insensitive to a greater number of people, but a greater degree of insensitivity toward a whole people. That’s a large claim and deserves a large argument to back it.
As well from reading the thread that follows, the author renders my hesitations to applaud his position invalid by his own institutionalized, programmed response:
I’m presume that my status as “The Dane” (complete with blond whitey Gravatar) automatically renders my inability to find the author’s point cogent moot. This kind of patronizing is just as racist as the person who makes the claim, “My best friend is black and she doesn’t see a problem with it.” It couches the ability or inability of a person to understand a matter wholly upon the framework of their circumstance. It imagines that people are without imagination and without empathy. That’s not just racially insensitive, that’s anthropologically insensitive.
What’s more: it destroys our ability to communicate. Obviously our contexts give us culturally tendencies in thought. Frameworks within which we culturally view the world. These should be taken into account always. But the riposte always fails to take into account the fact that individuals are not mere products of their cultures, that rather than being enrolled in every instance to speak culturally, we very often (those of us who care to try) speak individually.
Yes. I am a product of a waning patriarchal system, Danish/German/Scottish heritage, a product of white Orange County, a product of an artisan household, a product of the Protestant faith. And yet I speak like no other male Danish/German/Scottish Southern Californian artist-colony Christian in the world. I find it highly offensive to imagine that I would. I find it sexist, nationalistic, racist, classist, and religiously intolerant to presume that the culture that shaped me would render me unable to think clearly on any particular issue.
Huh. I kinda want to punch this guy in the tooth. But gently.
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