Sheva Alomar and the Racism and Sexism in the Gaming Community

 

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With the announcement of Resident Evil 6 and the wholly positive reception of the new characters, Helena Harper, Jake Muller and Piers Nivans, the biggest question on my mind is the absence of Sheva Alomar. Why isn’t she there? Introduced in 2009’s Resident Evil 5, Sheva was a new and refreshing character for the series; a BSAA operative of South Africa, Sheva acted as a guide for the Jaded Chris Redfield, who obsessed over the disappearance of his partner, Jill Valentine, who sacrificed herself to save him from Wesker on a mission prior to the events of RE5.

A strong willed young woman, Sheva follows Chris into certain danger and when the mission claims dozens of BSAA operatives and most assuredly seems to go over and above their heads, rightfully advises Chris that should “get the hell out of here” and let base or whomever deal with Erving and the Majini. She, of course, reconciles her decision to step out of mission, remembering that her home and its native inhabitants are at risk and follows Chris on a definite suicide mission to save one woman and stop Albert Wesker. Sheva, by her very definition, is a hero in spades and probably one of the most thought out characters ever conceived in Capcom’s survival-horror-action title.

She stands next to Ada Wong as a polarizing female character among the fandom, but for all the wrong reasons. It’s no secret that Resident Evil fans who spend their time on community forums or have access to a keypad, make it known that they despise Sheva and preferably for the weakest reasons they proudly defend like a badge of honor.

They cite her relative newness and the fact that she is a playable character (after you beat the game), among other poor arguments, as the reason they dislike her and incorrectly lay the blame for their dislike at Capcom’s feet. Yet, the plethora of other new characters this series received not even half the vitriol sent in her direction and somehow it’s still Capcom‘s fault that they hate her. Now, as much as I enjoyed Resident Evil 5, I can openly admit that it has some serious mechanical and social problems that cut it off at the knees from being anything besides playable for the co-op and action, but Sheva as a character is not one of them. (However, as an avatar, there are unfortunate implications of a light-skinned African woman killing her darker skinned brethren. Then there’s that “tribal” costume…).

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Fast forward, almost three years later, Resident Evil 6 is announced, Helena Harper is announced as Leon Kennedy’s partner, Nivans Piers as Chris Redfield‘s; RE6 has co-op and both characters are presumably playable. The reception to both new characters is wholly positive, with little argument or objection to their presence in the least. Fans site that Helena looks like a great character they can love, and the same with Piers and they know next to nothing about them and proclaim they have “depth” (a word often misused). Neither character is being treated as though their bringing down Leon and Chris, but being welcomed as great additions to the game. Yet, for all intents and purposes, Sheva’s role in Resident Evil 5 is ultimately the same as theirs and she is the alienating and “useless, boring, racism abating” character that should’ve never been added to the game or died during the course of the narrative and been replaced with the brainwashed Jill Valentine? Are you sensing a double-standard here? Because you should be. Ultimately these are people I know you cannot argue with because they are comfortable with being entrenched in ignorance and are supported by like minds who dabble in the same level of ignorance. They don’t need an argument because they know they’ll be backed by the aforementioned mentality who derail arguments such as these with high frequency, painting the defender of characters such as Sheva, as bitchy or whiny people who are uncool or lame. You can’t have a normal conversation about Sheva’s personality, past or role in RE5 without some unwelcome rolling in and proclaiming their hatred for Sheva and gathering others to derail the subject. Excella Gionne gets more respect than Sheva from a fandom that presumably hates her, probably because she wears a titillating outfit and she bites it at the end.

THE FOLLOWING ARE A LIST OF “I HATE SHEVA BECAUSE…” FALLACIES OF FANDOM: 

#1. The Artificial Intelligence Argument:

Arguments and bashing threads (or posts) about Sheva’s usefulness as AI controlled character are as alive and well as they were in 2009 when many were finally able to play the game. Resident Evil is notorious for poor gameplay mechanics in the same way Silent Hill is; it finally gained considerable improvement with Resident Evil 4 and more so with Resident Evil 5. The biggest argument most have against Sheva is that her “AI is horrible”. Most complain that Sheva robs the player of ammo and health, using both up unnecessarily during battles, or worse, mowing down the horde of Majini, effectively ensuring your survival to the next level by clearing said level. But, you know, she’s wrong for doing the latter because you didn’t get to kill anybody.

Resident Evil 5 is not a JRPG, the number of enemies you kill don’t matter so much as how well you kill them if you’re that concerned with the scorecard the game shows everytime you complete a chapter. However, if one completes the game and plays as Sheva and allows the game to control Chris, he repeats largely the same behavioral patterns as Sheva without a human co-pilot at your side. Seeing as many complain about this, it’s clear they’ve no idea what exactly “Bad AI” is. Sheva is the very opposite of a character with poor AI. If you want that, take a peek at Elle Norway in Silent Hill: Homecoming. That is a broken AI purely on the fact that the character is not allowed to do anything in helping your protagonist (Alex Shepherd) and simply stands in the middle of a fight when monsters are bombarding the player, and gets whacked for it. Better yet, play any poorly conceived tie in game for a movie and you’ll be plagued with broken AI. AI-controlled Sheva or Chris, if anything, is the example of an AI who knows what the heck it’s doing, but unfortunately has its fair share of problems like most games, but does her AI define the character? No, the story, backstory and the plot of said story does and Sheva is hardly affected by a gameplay mechanic in this case. Thus we come to the end of poor argument numero one.

#2. The “Boring” and “Weak Character” Fallacy:

Like many characters in Resident Evil, Sheva’s backstory is that of a tragedy or unlucky trope. Chris has the “tragic card accident”, “obsessive hero” as seen in characters like Martin Riggs in Lethal Weapon; Leon has the “unlucky son-of-bitch” trope as seen in characters like John McClane. Sheva shares Chris’ “tragic car accident” trope past, but shares none of his action movie mentalities. Her parents were workers in a factory owned by Umbrella; they killed by Umbrella as a means to cover up some dirty dealings of theirs. She evaded execution by Umbrella with the help of a neighbor while everyone in her town was systematically murdered by Umbrella Special Forces. She lived with her uncle for a time before departing from the starving family that cared little for her, became a guerilla a part of an anti-government movement, worked with them for a while before learning they were going to purchase Bio weapons from a renegade Umbrella, got them pardoned when she foiled their plans and moved to America. In the states she got a new chance at life, studied and became a full time member of the BSAA.

Despite the tragedy in her life, she maintains some positivism because of the work she does. She utterly determined to stop terrorist organizations like Umbrella (and Tricell) and will face people like Albert Wesker, even though she hesitates and like any sane person, thinks it’s best to high-tail it the fuck out of there before remembering there are others at stake besides her. Sheva is the definition of a defined character in Resident Evil, a series that is sorely lacking in such personalities. She’s loyal to a fault, willing to sacrifice herself for the good of the mission (not unlike Jill). Sheva is everything a character should be and yet, many of her detractors will fall back on the “Oh, she’s a weak and boring character” and will not give examples of why without realizing they effectively cutting into their own favorite characters in the process because they share the same trait’s they profess they don‘t like in Sheva. Sheva is a definite highlight in Resident Evil 5, a serious breath of fresh air that the series waited too long to surface and take.

#3. The “Added because of Racism” Fallacy:

“Sheva was originally set to be a member of a private militia, but became more like a partner with a co-op play, so we altered her design to make her seem more like a main character. Her theme color is lavender, to avoid doubling up on colors with other characters. Historically, theme colors used in Resident Evil were more muted, but I wanted to make sure she’d stand out in the African daytime background. I think choosing such a color as her theme color influenced her character in many ways, although it was a bit more difficult for me since I was not used to working around the color lavender. The five variations above are other color styles used we tried on her before settling on lavender .”

During the earliest stages of RE5’s development, there are many (and justifiable) accusations of racism lauded at the game. (And if you want an actual definition of racism, don’t turn to the Webster’s dictionary for it.) During the earliest demos previewed for the game, Sheva was nowhere to be seen during Chris’ rampage in the fictional town set in Africa. Many believed that those who complained of racism were simply seeing racism where it wasn’t, often citing that “duh, Chris is Africa, so of course he’s going be killing black people! And their ‘zombies’ and trying to kill him, so of course he’s going to do the same!” What many failed to realize was that those who cried racism were simply citing the unfortunate and definite implications of racism (or anti-blackness) in the montage of Chris (a white man) routinely unloading his gun on black men and women, something that still occurs in today’s so called “post-racist” society, where you don’t have to be doing anything to be hassled or shot if you happen to be Black.

You just have to breathe and if their reason dictates it, then your out of luck, you will be shot (or beaten) and no one will really question why if the perp is white. Of course, even then, many will try to argue a reason “why” and it’s usually as simple as “no reason at all”. Then there is the disparaging issues of the “white savior” complex defined in Chris Redifield and the constant depiction of Africa as a continent that needs to be rescued from its plight by the mighty white savior who sees wrongdoing and ventures to the country to fix it, no matter the circumstances that bring him or her there. And whether or not he was there to look for terrorists, Chris’ role is undoubted that of the white savior. Long story short, we’re dealing with Japan, a country so racially insensitive about the cultures of Black America or Africa that they often tend to step into the offensive shit because they never think to research or consult someone. And believe you me, there was no research used in RE5’s depiction of Africa and its people.

That said, as the development for RE5 progressed and new E3 trailers were released, we were suddenly introduced to Sheva Alomar, Chris’ new partner and many began and still assume that she was added because of the racism accusations. For lack of a better word, their stone-dead wrong about this. Sheva, not unlike what Serah Farron of Final Fantasy XIII, was a NPC whom Chris would’ve encountered on his journey in the game. She still would’ve been a major part of the storyline, only you wouldn’t be able to play her and she was still central in stopping Wesker despite the radically different narrative (see link here for more and see concept image above). She was to be a part of a “private militia”, but at the behest of the developer or producer, who desired there be co-op in the game, Sheva’s story (along with the whole RE5, for completely different reasons of course) was rewritten and she became Chris’ partner and a member of the BSAA. Long story short, before Capcom stepped into it with the imagery, Sheva was always going to be a part of the game, what she wasn’t going to be, however, was Chris’ playable partner. Sheva never was and never will be some addle-padded attempt of Capcom’s to appear un-racist. She was made playable because someone in the development wanted co-op to be the central focus of the game. Of course, Sheva-bashers will never believe this because they need another reason to hate Sheva and you’re definitely not going to take it away from them with researched and cited data from Capcom’s art book and interviews.

#4. The “She stole Jill‘s Spotlight” Fallacy:

There’s a belief that, despite the plot wholly hinging on the search for Jill Valentine and the need to stop Wesker, that Sheva somehow stole Jill’s spotlight by merely existing and acting as Chris‘ partner. This is in and of itself a fallacy of the ignorant, because the game is not about Sheva; though she has her own stake in the storyline and is a fully realized character in her own right, the story is never about Sheva. It’s about Chris’ man pain and the need to find Jill Valentine. Resident Evil 5 revolves around Jill like the sun revolves around the planet earth or vice versa; the damn game even has Excella make fun of it for that very reason (“Jill, Jill, Jill. You‘re like a broken record, you know that?”). When you encounter Jill, you have to save her, you can’t kill her (which resulted in many a throw-the-control moments anytime I killed my “not-partner”). After you save her, she gets her own DLC, accompanied by the most awesome Josh Stone (Sheva’s best friend and surrogate brother), covering her absence in the game’s final moments.

The Resident Evil Gold edition provides the players with a Chris and Jill DLC that covers what happened during the mission wherein they encountered and lost to Albert Wesker right up until she jumps out the window with Wesker in tow. Jill, for all intents and purposes, is the sticking point of Resident Evil 5 despite Capcom’s attempts to rile its fans up with a magazine scan of Chris kneeling at her headstone. What Jill was never intended to be, however, was Chris’ partner in the same sense of Sheva. Jill was never going to be the one to kill Wesker, it was always going to be Chris and Sheva because of their emotional and personal involvement with the storyline and how Wesker affected it. Jill is not owed the chance to kill Wesker because she fought him with Chris; no, she is simply the MacGuffin-with-a-name that gets Chris and Sheva to that point and is never once seen as envious or bitching about the fact that two people who’ve spent the better time of their narrative chasing this bastard, put him down like the dog he was. However, it’s her fans that somehow warp the entire situation into a “Jill should’ve been the one to kill Wesker with Chris, because their total waifus who are entitled to it because they‘ve been in the games longer than Sheva!” Yeah, whatever.

#5. The “Resident Evil is better off without her” Fallacy:

There is also this belief that because Sheva even exists that her presence as somehow diminished Resident Evil as a series. No, seriously, I kid you not and these are the same people who somehow think “Neo Umbrella means Capcom hasn’t forgotten about us old fans!” (no, it just means their plum out of ideas when it comes to zombies on a massive scale). T_T If anything, Resident Evil is less without her, because without characters like herself and even Josh Stone, you really can’t say that the developers are even trying anything new with their characters or their series. She’s a fresh face that can be wholly appreciated for being unsullied by the entirety of the Umbrella conflict and having a different motivation beyond “Wesker, Umbrella, Wesker, Raccoon City all those years ago. And did I mention Wesker?”

#6. The “Sheva is the Black [insert resident evil character name here]” Fallacy:

If there is one thing I utterly despise when it comes to women of color characters, it’s the fact that their described as the “Black Version” of the all too often assumed “White Default Female” character. And no it’s never done out of admiration. It drove me up the wall in the Power Rangers fandom (Tanya is the Black Trini, Aisha is the Black Kimberly) and it makes me mad anytime I see it elsewhere (Black Panther is the Black Batman). “Sheva is the Black Sheva, who just happens to be Black”. I cannot say that her skin color or race doesn’t matter because she is a female POC, they happen to get less representation the “default” white female character and like it or not, it’s a part of the character‘s makeup. However, I am quite tired of Sheva being called a Black Steve Burnside, Claire Redfield and Jill Valentine. She is of her own personality and character; she is none of these characters, Black or white.

#7. The “Helena is a better character than Sheva” Fallacy:

As mentioned before, Helena is a new character for Resident Evil 6; she works in the secret service, protects the President of the United States (default old white guy who looks like actor James Cromwell) and acts as Leon’s partner in his scenario of the game. She has a sister that’s been kidnapped by “Neo-Umbrella” (and she’s probably dead) and for reasons yet to be revealed she blames herself for the G-Virus incident that’s spreading across the globe (or just those certain areas the protagonist happens to be in). She’s green around the gills when it comes to killing zombies, she repeated states “she can’t believe any of this is happening” in the Tall Oaks Demo and that’s about it. Despite how little is known about her, she’s already being hailed as some fantastic character that somehow avoids all the so-called “awfulness” that plagued Sheva in the eyes of her bashers. No one holds her “relative newness” against her in the least, yet there’s nothing remarkable about her character that incites that she is somehow better than Sheva. Yet, I can only suspect is as to do with the following actually to below.

THE ACUALITY OF SHEVA HATRED:

#1. Sexism and Racism

What a lot of people fail to realize is that because of certain laws and events that took place in the past, racism is not the overt and free roaming creature it once was. It’s become a covert enemy that skirts behind weak arguments, pretty works and beliefs that the racist person or ideas of that person have come to believe so strongly that they can’t see otherwise when their being told “Uh, brah, that’s racist, cut that shit out now.” If anything they will go on the defensive and immediately accuse you of being racist for pointing out racist tendencies. Sexism is another unfortunate byproduct of male privilege and the belief that women are somehow inferior to men. Sheva, not unlike Rochelle of Left 4 Dead, suffers as a character because of both these mentalities.

The gaming community and fandom itself tends to uphold racist and sexist ideals because they either don’t know any better or believe their in the right when they spout stupid things like “lolz, bitch, go make me a sandwich” or “not racist, but I think she’s ugly”. All of the arguments above stem from jaded entitlement in the same way they stem from sexism and racism. If you’ve read the brilliant article on “Fandom’s Hatred of Black Women” then you’ll know where I’m coming from. Combined with the sexism Sheva faces, she also faces racism because she is a both a prominent black and female character in a primarily white dominated or white identifying title, taking the place of a prominent white female. (And no, her being light-skilled or possibly half-white does not save her from this, because if you are or identity as black and happen to be a POC, prepare to be dammed by the many.) Now, wait a minute, you’re probably thinking that because so many people apparently like Jill, Claire, Ada and Rebecca, that they can’t possibly be either racist or sexist. The truth of the matter, however, is that liking another female character (Black or White) and heralding her for being some “strong progressive archetype” does not spare you from being racist or sexist. If you don’t believe me, just check out the Merlin fandom that proclaims to love strong female characters (ah-la, Morgana) and piss all over Guinevere because the character is portrayed a woman of color and just happens to be Author’s main squeeze and Queen.

Most of Resident Evil’s protagonists are white or half white, both male and female alike. Characters like Jill, Rebecca, Sherry, Claire, Leon, Chris, Billy are all immortalized as awesome or “hot” characters, yet when Sheva appears and embodies all of the same qualities and traits, she treated outright disdain. Should someone dare proclaim she is prettier or better looking or more awesome than Jill and Claire, prepare for the same list of demotions as described by the aforementioned article to appear alongside Sheva’s name. Internalized sexism and racism is a creature that is not acknowledged as serious issue within the gaming community, primarily because most try to parade it behind the cloak of “Well, that’s just your opinion and this is mine.” Sure, it can be your opinion, but when it carries the damaging and offensive ideals of sexism and racism, then it’s not just your opinion, it’s a defamation of a character or person and something that should be treated with the fires of judgment.

#2. Male Privilege practice in Fandom

Nivans Piers is Chris’ new partner in Resident Evil 6 and many people of the fandom are being extremely welcoming of him in the same way they are being of Jake Muller (primarily because of his affiliation with Wesker despite some complaints his role should be given to “Alex Wesker”). Naturally, slashdom is at the crux of this welcome, as most people have created fan blogs and communities dedicated to shipping Chris with Piers. Yet, despite the lack of information about him beyond what’s been provided by the trailers and demos, he isn’t being slashed to ribbons for being Chris partner or a possible co-op character or a potential fandom love interest for Chris like Sheva is. Why? Naturally it’s because of his status as a male character.

Male characters are often spared of any accusations and vitriol poured onto female characters, despite the fact that many are guilt of whatever “crimes” female characters are guilty of committing. Piers is an awesome character because he a male character many (both male and female) want to identify with and fap to in front of their computers. They’ll read all of fan comics and information about Piers or Piers and Chris because they want to like him. Yet, when Sheva was in his very same position, she was somehow in the wrong for even daring to be a close and loyal partner to Chris, or worse, having a mind of her fucking own. It’s downright “DO NOT WANT” when people even mention Crave (or Creva) or the possibility that Chris might’ve had a thing for Sheva, because well, jeez, she’s a woman of color, het is ew, slash is beautiful and everything is awesome there. Piers is awesome all those same and opposite reasons. Sheva is guilty of nothing except existing in a world where males are king and can do no wrong and females are “bitches” and “whores” who need to gtfo.

#3. Jaded Fandom

As a fan of the Resident Evil movies, I know how the RE fandom operates and what the RE fandom is. They’re not unlike the Final Fantasy or Silent Hill fandom; or hell, why don’t we just say, it, fandom as a whole. Their a group of jaded individuals who believe, after a certain period of time, everything created is somehow tailor fitted to their personal needs despite the fact that businesses run and die on the need to branch out, change and appeals to others. The fandom, wholly disenfranchised with everything that’s been given to them prior to RE5, were looking for something and someone to piss on in 2009, and Sheva just happens to be the character that got stuck in the circle jerk of racial and misogynistic abuse.

There is no real reason for the massive hatred this character garners, there just isn’t, especially given how widespread and viral it is. There’s disliking a character and then there’s the shit that happens to characters like Sheva and Rochelle. The RE fandom is a group of old and getting older people whose become accustom to something for far too long, suddenly believe it’s their “baby” and believe they have a say in what’s right and what’s wrong, when in actually, they don’t. Capcom might try to appeal to them, but only to an extent. Resident Evil is not theirs to command, Sheva is not a horrible character created to balm over racism accusations, and Capcom does not owe them anything. But try to argue with them and you’ll end up with a migraine for months trying to figure out their erratic thought process. The best thing you can do is beat them down when you have a chance at ripping them a new one or avoiding them at all costs when you encounter them. And there’s always the ignore button if you’re on a forum. It’s like magic.

CONCLUSION: BRING BACK SHEVA

I think my biggest disappoint about Resident Evil 6 is the fact that Sheva appears to have been dumped to the wayside no particular reason. It’s a malady that’s afflicted characters like Carlos Oliveira of RE3 or even characters like Billy Cohen and Rebecca Chambers, yet with Sheva its all the more eye siding because what she happens to be (a Black female), her importance to Resident Evil 5, and Chris Redfield as a whole. There’s nothing in RE6 that says she couldn’t have been in Piers place or doing something else entirely in the narrative. While I realize the narrative between them was a beautiful example of what happens when Japan watches too much “Lethal Weapon” and “Black Rain”, this woman is basically embodied “ride or die”. She was Chris’ partner in the sense that nothing would keep them apart and they would be kicking ass and taking names against Umbrella and their affiliates (Damnit, they said “partner“ enough.). While she had her own priorities before she met Chris (and would be lovely to see those priorities, Capcom), I really can’t imagine this woman leaving Chris’ side in a situation like the one being depicted in RE6. If anything, Resident Evil 6 would be a natural progression of the character, appearance wise. Capcom, in my honest opinion, created too strong of a character to NOT use her ever again they’ve so shamelessly done with Mr. Oliveira.

Sheva, like most characters, started out as an unknown variable. There was no guarantee you were going to see Chris, Jill, Wesker, and Barry again in any future titles, especially with the introduction of other once-new characters, Leon, Sherry, Ada and Claire. Yet, with the constant installments that use these characters, the fandom has been convinced that these characters are “mainstays” because Capcom has used them in such volume. The fandom’s racism and misogyny aside, if Sheva were given the same levity and usage, they would be none the wiser. In fact, Sheva deserves the chance become a character with the same number of appearances and event-related storylines. This is not entitlement or favoritism of the character speaking, this is something I strongly believe to be true, because it’s a right kick in my non-existent balls that Capcom would even dare to leave her behind in 2009 when there is much they can do with her (and even Josh Stone). But despite my optimism, it’s Capcom and they tend to listen or monitor their unfortunately jaded racist and sexist fandom as the trailers and demos of E3 2012 have shown.