U.S. Foreign Policy as Explained by Resident Evil 4

Bloggified by Jake on Sunday, April 29, 2007

About a month ago, I picked up Resident Evil 4 for Playstation about a month and a half ago when it was marked down to $14.95. Unfortunately, as evidenced by my lack of recent posts, I hadn't had time to play it until last week (when I'm sure you'll say I should have been posting stuff about Bizarro Jimmy Olsen for you guys to enjoy). It took me about 10-12 hours spread out over the course of four days to finish the game. At the end, you get a few new games to play plus the option of replaying with your current inventory still in tact. I always find this option one of the most cathartic things a video game can offer. Nothing quite compares to the satisfaction of going back and slaughtering the bosses that beat you up and bled you out, killing you multiple times, with one shot from a weapon you picked up five levels later. It's what I imagine it would be like to go back in time as an adult and kick the living shit out of the bullies who took your lunch money in elementary school.

On my second tour of duty, however, it occurred to me something was different and the more I thought about it, the more it helped me understand US foreign policy in general and Iraq in particular.First, let me explain a little about the game for those who haven't played. For those who have, you can save some time by skipping down to the picture of Leon crossing the rope bridge.

Resident Evil 4 a bit of a departure from the previous ones because the zombies you fight aren't dead nor are they the unfortunate results of a research accident at the Umbrella Corporation labs. Instead, the story revolves around Leon Kennedy (the rookie cop from Resident Evil 2), who is now an agent for the Secret Service or something. Whatever the case, he's investigating the kidnapping of the president's daughter in a small village in (one assumes) Spain. The impression I got was that it's an Eastern European country, but everyone speaks Spanish. Let's just call it Spangaria.

Anyway, Leon and two cops pull up to the dirt trail that leads into the village. The cops wait in the car while Leon walks up to a ramshackle house. Inside, he finds this guy and tries to question him, but, without a word, the villager attacks.After you gun him down, three more guys try to kill him (you're going to have to forgive any pronoun confusion because I'm not sure whether to refer to the main character as "him," "you," or "me" and will probably bounce between the three haphazardly). Upon investigating the house, Leon discovers something on par with Jeffrey Dahmer's house if he didn't have a fridge. Rotting corpses stacked in a closet are the first of many gruesome discoveries you come across early in the game, including a woman hanging stuck to a wall by a pitchfork through her face and stew pots bubbling with what appears to be maggots-in-sewage soup.

Leon runs back to the cop car, but find it's been pushed off a cliff by a large truck and the rickety bridge leading back to civilization has been destroyed. With no option but to move forward into the village, he continues down the path where he is attacked by a knife-wielding woman and a bald, pitchfork-thrusting man. The path is littered with bear traps and tripwires attached to dynamite, and soon it is littered with the corpses of every villager who dares to take up arms against Leon.Once you reach the village--where one of the cops from earlier is being burned at the stake and some guy is continually yelling, "Heeeeeeey, FuckAR!" and another keeps going, "Yyyyeffum"--you have to search the houses, but no matter how sneaky you are, eventually someone will spot you and then it's you against everyone in the town, including a guy with a chainsaw and a potato sack over his head.As you continue on, you learn all the villagers are being controlled by a parasitic lifeform that's been fossilized and kept in a sealed mine for centuries. A religious cult has dug them up as part of a grand conspiracy to take over the world. The president's daughter has been taken as part of that plan. She's been infected and they're planning to send her back home where she can be controlled by the master... or something.

This has long been the main complaint I've had about the Resident Evil franchise--and let me preface this by saying I have a long standing love of Resident Evil. I own both movies on DVD and all the novelizations of the games. One of my great disappointments of any con is that I once saw a guy with some Lee Bermejo original art from one of the Wildstorm comics, but it was Sunday and I'd blown all my cash by then. More than once I considered doing a Resident Evil-themed sketchbook full of zombies and monsters. In fact, at one point I was going on and on about how cool it would be to have a bunch of artists at cons to zombie versions of familiar comic book heroes. I should have written that down and pitched it to Joe Quesada, but instead Robert Kirkman took the initiative and now Marvel's doing zombies in everything.

Back to my point, I've never really understood the overarching theme of Resident Evil bad guys, which is one of "we're going to be all-powerful controllers of the world... by turning ourselves and everyone else into horrible monsters that drip slime trails, eat each other's flesh, and grow exponentially with agonizing results.Whoo-hoo, where do I sign up?

So, the rest of the game is a long trek through the rest of the village, a castle, a graveyard, a church, the countryside, a swamp, a lake, some mines, another castle, a clock tower, and an island fortress. Along the way, you upgrade your weapons and increase your health and when it's all over you can start anew with whatever you had with you at the end of the game. Plus, you can now purchase a rocket launcher with infinite ammo for $1,000,000.So, back to the aforementioned shack in the woods I went, but this time instead of a puny 9mm handgun, I was decked out with a semi-automatic shotgun, a pistol that is 4.5 times as powerful as a standard handgun and has a 35 round magazine, a mine launcher, a .44 magnum, a sniper rifle with both a scope that can zoom in and let you blow someones head clean off from about a half mile away and an infrared scope, a rocket launcher, a half dozen grenades, a bulletproof vest, and enough medicinal herbs to treat all the casualties at Gettysburg.

This guy is dead in one shot.His buddies show up and I take two of them out with the sniper rifle from the upstairs window. The third comes in and I remove his head with the shotgun. I don't even bother to go look at the wreckage of the police car in the river. Instead I head down the path and see the woman with the knife. BLAM! Her head is gone. The guy with the pitchfork comes running toward me and I decide to play with him, shooting him in the kneecaps with the pistol. He goes down and I jog over to slice him up with my combat knife to conserve ammo (even though I have roughly 200 rounds of 9mm bullets).

It was at this point I chuckled, but something felt a little wrong. "Damn, I'm such an ugly American!" I muttered jokingly. I continued on, tricking one man into walking into his own dynamite trap, picking off most of the people in the village with the sniper rifle while standing on the path leading into town, then lobbing incendiary grenades at the mob running toward me with pitchforks, burning them alive. I could have killed just about everyone in town without ever entering the village square, but decided that was no fun, switched to the shotgun, and plowed through anyone left standing without getting so much as scratched.And so it went, with Leon running almost nonstop for miles, rarely even slowing down except to pick through the remains of the dead and to damage the barrels and boxes in their homes in case they might contain valuables that could be sold to raise the million dollars needed to purchase the coveted Infinite Rocket Launcher.

Here I was, bumrushing this village, guns blazing, and slaughtering anyone in my path. Granted, I knew that woman with the knife was, in fact, going to attack me because that is what the designers programmed her to do. She couldn't be reasoned with and I was fully in the right when I put her down like a rabid dog from 30 feet away. But in the context of the game, in which this is supposed to be a fresh situation, I was fully in the wrong. In point of fact, I had shown up to this Spangarian village to investigate the kidnapping of the president's daughter. I was attacked by four men who clearly were involved in a ritualistic mass murder conspiracy. Based on a previous case (the first time I'd played the game), I automatically jumped to the conclusion that everyone in the village was a part of it and posed a threat to me.

Thus, it's just as likely--in fact, it's probably more likely--this woman heard gunshots coming from her crazy neighbor's property, came outside with a knife to protect herself in case the nutjobs from next door were up to something, and was gunned down by the pretty boy American with perfect blond hair. Her husband, having just watched his wife's face, brain, and skull turned into a red mist, charged toward her attacker, pitchfork raised, and was shot once in each kneecap then bled out as the American sliced him up like a Thanksgiving turkey. The American then shoved his hands in their pockets, took whatever loose change they had, then went into their one room hovel with no door and broken windows to steal their only possession, a potted plant with some medicinal value.

And so we get to the Bush Administration's foreign policy. Iraq has become the equivalent of Bush's second trip through Resident Evil 4. In short, when you have only a knife to fend off an entire village of people hellbent on killing you, you warrant sympathy and support of the world community.But when you have a rocket launcher and you're facing off with a group of monks armed with torches and their teeth, sympathy swings the opposite direction no matter how evil you insist those priest are.The thing is, I know all these villagers are a threat to me. I have to kill them for my own safety and I also know they have a wide reaching plan to infect everyone in America, so it's important that I fight them there so we don't have to fight them here. Sound familiar? Unfortunately, I have no way of proving the villagers are a threat to an outsider other than pointing to my first game and saying, "Those people and these people are the same. Those people were a threat, so these people are a threat." Not the most convincing case, even though I know it in my heart.

Worse, my arrogance through the second round of Resident Evil 4 is obvious. Once I got enough money to buy the Infinite Rocket Launcher, I began using it for everything. Where I regularly would break open the various boxes, vases, and barrels containing goodies by hitting them with my knife, I now would step back and pepper the room with high explosive blasts, then casually walk around picking up the booty.

At one point, I got so cocky as to declare before fighting a boss monster, "One shot!" I went in, hit it with the rocket launcher and it didn't die. I shot it again and again and it didn't die. In fact, it fought back. I'd beaten it the first time through with a complex and frustrating strategy of running, shooting its eye, dodging, and trying to hit a vulnerable weak spot on its back that only opened for a few seconds at a time. Regardless, I kept firing the rocket launcher and standing defiant in the face of the monster, dying five or six times before finally defeating it. My strategy was flawed, but numerous deaths and morale-crippling defeats couldn't convince me it wouldn't ultimately win out in the long run. My own daughter started yelling at me to run around, but despite popular opinion and the evidence, I couldn't overcome the belief I would be redeemed by virtue of my Infinite Rocket Launcher initiative.

I even came to get angry at my daughter for suggesting my strategy was flawed and, while I never actually said it aloud, a part of me in retrospect silently accused her of being on the monster's side. Not intentionally, mind you, but questioning me in a time of battle distracts me and thus gives aid to the enemy. Therefore, the First Amendment was temporarily suspended in the living room to prevent its further abuse.

Looking at a larger picture, I've come to a village full of people who have been victimized by some religious clerics and the ruler of this land. Those two guys and their soldiers are my real enemy, but to get to them, I have to go through the masses.This has made me very unpopular with the people of Spangaria and my poll numbers are slipping at home as well as my girlfriend has passed a resolution requiring me to set a deadline for when I will be done playing the game. What she doesn't understand is that there are many levels to this game and when I finish the second round, there may be more new weapons and options available for a third. I also haven't played the Mercenaries nor the two Ada Wong solo missions. It's simply not prudent to set a time table for ending the game at this time.

The upshot is that my actions may seem irrational to outside observers, but while playing the game, everything I did seemed the same decision any perfectly normal person would make. I set my mind to playing the game and finishing it. There's no reason to play if you don't intend to win it all and I cannot understand when Theresa or my daughter tell me I should just quit in the middle because I'm having trouble getting past a certain stage. The president has expressed similar sentiments about the recent war spending bill and you'll notice how often he makes a point about "winning" the war while no clearly defined benchmark of "win" exists. "The American people didn't vote for failure," was a recent comment he gave in response to the suggestion the Democratic victories in 2006 reflected a desire to bring home the troops soon.

I know a video game (especially a two-year old one picked up on sale) pales in comparison to a war, but the mindset is the same. If I could play a bigger game, my attitude would stay the same. The war is much larger, but Bush isn't playing by himself. He has his advisors, the military industrial complex, and the vast neo-conservative cabal all committed to the current strategy and the beliefs they've held all along. Backing down would be admitting they were wrong in the first place, which can't happen. Instead, they hope history will prove them right or that they can go restore at the last typewriter save point.

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