Unintentional, but Ultimately Problematic Racism within Video Games

This issue was brought to light in the lectures during the last week and even more so in the tutorial, and it got me to think of a particular instance within a video game which could certainly be identified as a scene containing an example of problematic racism. I have almost no doubt in my mind that this was not intentional on the part of the producers or game developers, so who, if anyone, is at fault?

WARNING!!! The following contains potential spoilers for ‘The Last of Us’

The particular scene I am thinking of comes from arguably the game of 2013, ‘The Last of Us’. In this particular cut scene the character of Sam turns from a human into one of the infected due to a bite on his leg. To put this into perspective and give it appropriate context, the two main protagonists in the game are Joel and Ellie. Both can be considered as white, middle-class Americans living in an apocalyptic wasteland. Joel and Ellie encounter two other characters named Sam and Henry. Sam is 13 and Henry is his much older brother. Both characters are African-American, and can be considered to come from low to middle class America. As mentioned previously, Sam, is bitten on the leg while attempting to escape from a horde of infected. He doesn’t actually tell any of the group this and in the morning when Ellie goes to check on him, he attacks Ellie and as a result, henry ends up shooting his infected, younger brother before shooting himself as he cannot bear the thought he has failed in protecting his younger brother.

When playing through the game, I thought nothing of any racial ramification this scene may have had, but on looking back it’s rather obvious that there’s an instance of problematic racism in that it is the young, black child that turns into one of the bloodthirsty infected. This may be looking into it too far, but having Henry shoot himself straight after doesn’t help with giving a positive image of the two main African-American characters within the game. Sam, turns into a monster effectively, and Henry kills himself, possibly leaning toward a notion of cowardice?

The latter part of that may be a stretch too far as the crippling emotional pain is unfathomable unless you’ve experienced something similar, but coupling Henry’s action with Sam succumbing to the infection does not leave a positive image of the two main African-American characters within ‘The Last of Us’.

Is anyone really to blame for this? The truth is, it’s very difficult to say. Being able to take a more critical viewpoint into games now may mean I see these instances recurring more often in video games, in which case maybe these moments of problematic racism are so much the norm that we regard them as normal, hence why I didn’t pick up on it in the first place


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