I recently started playing "Bodycount," a new first-person shooter published by Codemasters, on the Xbox 360. I'm only four or five missions into the game so far, so please keep in mind this article is not a review.
It's an indirect missive to Codemasters, asking them WHAT THE HECK ARE YOU THINKING?!!
OK, sorry for shouting. It's just I'm kind of flabbergasted and bewildered by my experience in the game to date.
It's been an experience that a lot of people would label as racist.
Yes, racist. You heard me.
So far, I've been running around in generic African locales, shooting every black person I see. They range from skinny suicide bombers to hulking, shirtless fellows, smeared with body paint and toting giant machine guns.
For an accurate idea about most of my other enemies at this point, look at current photos of troops and rebels in Somalia or pretty much any other black African country. Those are the guys "Bodycount" is having me kill.
Yes, they're all trying to shoot me, but how much does that really matter, at least as far as racial perception is concerned?
As far as I've gotten in the game, I haven't encountered a single character with any sort of personality, good or evil, other than the disembodied female voice guiding me to my goals. The result: the game feels like little more than a shooting gallery, one where stereotypical black African thugs take the place of wooden ducks.
To be honest, I find it even worse that the game has me joining battles between two separate factions -- a nation's official military forces and an armed rebellion -- and killing everyone. Right side? Wrong side? I'm not sure there is any such thing in this game. Just cannon fodder to be mowed down.
Certainly, one point of view is that if you're killing people in Africa, you're probably going to be killing black people, because lots of black people live in Africa.
There's more than an element of truth to that statement. But ask Capcom how much that matters.
"Resident Evil 5" was mostly set in Africa, too, but the images of players controlling a white male character to kill black people -- even if they were "zombies" -- didn't go over so well with the gaming community.
I expect that if "Bodycount" was as high profile a game as "Resident Evil 5," we'd have been hearing plenty of complaints about the opening missions by now. But it's not exactly going to be a blockbuster title, so I understand perfectly well why it has flown under the radar.
Still, that doesn't excuse the game's creators for being so stupid and insensitive.
Maybe -- and it's a big maybe -- if they'd created clear good guys and villains or encouraged something more complex than a game of kill everyone in sight, there be some sort of excuse for the game-play I've experienced so far.
As it stands, "Bodycount's" racial politics are pretty inexcusable.