The Imperial Imaginary of Video Games

The other day I watched the Resident Evil 5 trailer online. It’s part of a popular video game series where you basically just kill zombies. There has already been controversy about this game regarding its racism. Resident Evil 4 was set in Spain, but that wasn’t totally clear and many people assumed the zombies were Latino (they were portrayed with dark skin). This time around, RE visits Africa, where “you” go around killing black zombies. It’s designed as an over-the-shoulder game so you can feel immersed but still cinematic. This is what an over-the-shoulder game usually looks like:

Over the shoulder

In “The Imperial Imaginary,” Shohat and Stam argue that cinema and imperialism arose around the same time and that cinema served as a tool to construct and control imperial spaces–spectators could see themselves as “audio-visual masters” of an imperialized place. This made me wonder how video games related to neo-imperialism and globalization. Video games like Resident Evil and Tomb Raider allow the person who was previously only an spectator to become a viewer-user. In cinema, people mostly participate in a passive way. Though this is a little complicated, since viewers do take an active role in watching and responding to and analyzing films, they don’t create visible actions with inmediate consequences in the framework of a film. In video games however, they cannot only be the “all-perceiving subject,” they are the all-controlling subject. Also, many videogames work on a system that reward a capitalist-imperialist ethos–acquiring more and discovering more (knowing more) is always the objective. What do you think are the differences/similarities between film and videogames in this respect?


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