Inside Looking Out – A Critique of Games Media’s View on Law Enforcement
Let me begin this piece a little differently, this is not a fun article. This is going to a thorough critique of several writers and their positions on law enforcement, these writers have used games as a wrapper to spread misinformation, whether through ignorance or malice, about law enforcement. If the writers I refer to in this piece read this, I happily accept having a conversation about the finer points of law enforcement, just message me or write in the comments. With this preamble laid out, we can discuss what it means to be in law enforcement, the harm these articles present, and how writers and readers can be better informed in the future.
For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Mason Caughron. In December of 2018, I enrolled in my local Sheriff’s Academy. As of now, I have been in the academy for 8 weeks, a third of the way through. The whole academy is 24 weeks long, 920 hours. This level of deep training is exhausting, painful, and sometimes overwhelming. But I can’t think of anywhere else I’d want to be. This experience has been so eye-opening, being a peace officer is one of the hardest jobs in modern times. I won’t pretend to speak as an officer who has several years devoted to the career but I will be speaking with the knowledge given to me by my instructors, all individuals who have had successful careers in law enforcement. This job isn’t for everyone, in law enforcement you often see the worst sides of humanity; drug abuse, murder, assault, domestic violence. But you can’t let it phase you, for the victims you are their only path to justice. The things you see will stick with you, holding a hit and run victim, a five-year-old girl, in your arms as she succumbs to her injuries, going to a medical service call only to find the person dying because a tumor burst in their throat. These experiences are horrific and no one should have to go through them, but we do because it is our duty to protect the communities we live in. Officers often have a dark sense of humor, but this is a coping mechanism. Hearing all my instructors talk in vivid detail about that one call, the one that still comes in their dreams is a heartbreaking experience. We aren’t robots, we are human, we hurt, we bleed. That seems to be the disconnect that many people have with law enforcement. We aren’t perfect, but we stick with our training and enforce the laws as best we can.
Now to address the elephant in the room, games journalist’s and their misunderstanding of law enforcement. For this piece, I have selected four articles that I think best demonstrate the disconnect that these journalists have with law enforcement. Let’s start with an article from Deadspin written by Tom Ley. This article, while short, bemoans that Spiderman in 2018’s release by Insomniac is too much of a cop. He says the game suffers because Spiderman helps the police oppress citizens and maintains their high-tech ‘spy’ network, linking that somehow with the real-world Palantir organization. For those that don’t know, the City of New York contracted Palantir to essentially make stats for high crime areas, low property value areas, and more factors to see if the data points correlate. This isn’t spying, this is trying to improve the quality of life for many in the Big Apple. Contrast this with the in-game towers, which are a radio communication network that is supposed to be an improved form of dispatch for officers. This allows them to better report crimes in progress and, by extension, allows the player to swoop in, stopping the crimes in progress. This isn’t a spy network, this is to help people. Ley also says that Spidey is a ‘commoner’, alluding to the idea that police are some sort of separate entity from society. To quote, “He’s from a shattered family, he works multiple jobs, he can’t pay his bills, he’s stressed out all the time. He’s not a hero who swoops down from on high in order to save the commoners from themselves, he is a commoner.” This one quote is so demeaning, these characteristics often apply to officers as well. We are common people, out of my uniform I look like any other civilian. Some of us do work more than one job, some of us are struggling to pay the bills, and we are all faced with a level of stress that it actually has an effect on the average lifespan of an officer. In our training we are never told we are better, in fact, our instructors have repeatedly mocked officers who think they are above civilians. The truth of the matter is we aren’t better, we just strive to be held to a higher standard. This high standard comes from the respect we have for the community at large, the people who give us our power. To say we are just thugs for the upper class as is implied by Ley is an insulting notion, we are an extension of the law, those designated to bring justice to the innocent and marginalized.
Another article featuring Spiderman is up next, this time from Kotaku. In the piece from Heather Alexandra, she criticizes the games because the representation of police in the game is ‘too naive’. While she hits similar points as Ley she differentiates her comparison of the tower system by talking about IBM’s ‘profiler’. This camera technology can recognize details such as skin color, which critics say is illegal racial profiling. This line of reasoning is incredibly faulty, mostly because it’s a supplemental system. For instance, after a crime is reported and the officers have details of a potential suspect they can use the army of street cameras along with the recognition technology to see where the suspect may be or when the suspect arrived at the scene of the crime. Does this lead to surveillance tracking? Yes, but this tracking is in the confines of the law, allowing the police to keep the streets safer. Heather also takes issue with how the prisoners of Rykers are represented. Yes, low-level offenders are housed there but those aren’t the people taking the fight to our Wall Crawler. Instead, it’s killers, gang members, and near superpowered individuals, not including the Sinister Six. Just because this doesn’t represent the real world doesn’t matter, it’s literally a world with SUPERHEROES. If Alexandra thinks all those you fight during the Rykers section is the whole population of the facility that is a naive way of thinking. Lastly, she argues the game’s depiction of Yuri Watanabe and Jefferson Davis makes the cops seem too stoic, incorruptible, and friendly. This is ridiculous, officers are human, so yes that means we do make errors but we don’t go out of our way to be evil to people of color or marginalized communities. Yuri and Jeff are shining examples of what a person with a strong sense of justice can be. But they aren’t an outlier, everyday officers go out to help in any way they can, even if that means stopping and playing a game with local kids. Policing is probably the most diverse field I’ve worked in. We have people from all different backgrounds, first-generation immigrants, poor, rich, black, white, brown, Asian, Hispanic, gay, straight, and everything in-between. She references that the game should have been more critical because we live in an age of Black Lives Matter. I frankly think that’s ridiculous, while I agree with the message that black lives do matter, I cannot support an organization that has shown itself to be violent to both officers and civilians. Some of their martyrs were criminal actors. Michael Brown assaulted an officer before he was shot, slamming the officers head into a steering wheel. That’s one example, there are more. Yes, officers use deadly force on unarmed suspects, but what should the officer have done when Brown was trying to kill him, just let him do it? There’s a term we use to define what constitutes a crime, we call it ‘the totality of circumstances’. Applying the totality of circumstances to the Brown case, the officer was justified in shooting him. It sucks, the last thing we want is someone to die, but this is the unfortunate reality we live in. Ultimately the piece comes across as someone who has a deep misunderstanding of what officers actually do.
Resident Evil 2 is back on the scene thanks to its new remake. But this remake has drawn some ire because of its representation of police. Our first article comes from Waypoint, in an article written by Danielle Riendeau she is upset by the idea that she can’t be a more ‘compassionate’ survivor. While it feels like she missed the point of the game, she has one particular issue with the game that I can’t wrap my head around. To quote, “[T]he police station as fortress/safe haven is laughably naive (particularly for people of color). It certainly was in the 90s as well, and really, when has policing in America ever actually been about keeping neighborhoods safe as opposed to keeping a racist status quo up and running?” What is she even talking about? In a disaster situation most public buildings, including police stations, would be somewhere to go. With medical supplies, shelter, armaments, and ‘guards’ it would be the best place for survivors of the T-Virus to go. With few points of entry and lockdown measures, it would also be particularly safe. The whole notion that people of color would brave the disaster because the police are racist is a bewildering notion. Then she questions whether police have ever actually kept neighborhoods safe. When I first read this I closed out the article, how can anyone say this seriously? While I do admit that during the Civil Rights Era officers upheld unjust laws, this is not the current reality of modern policing. Nearly every department now uses what is called the Community Policing Model. Community Policing has a major emphasis on working together with community members to improve the quality of life of the community, using events like Coffee with a Cop, Ice Cream with the Chief, or community luncheons. These let people meet officers who work their beat and allows officers to better understand the most pressing problems of the community. We are also given diversity and discrimination training, this training is less about teaching us to be good people, rather it is used to weed out those who would discriminate against others. The policing system is not made to be racist or oppress others. We are taking strides for the community to be closer to our processes than ever before.
We return to Resident Evil 2 for our final article. This one is written by Cynosure’s own Andrew Gerdes, on how RE2 fails to tackle police corruption (no hard feelings Andrew). The article argues that Leon never changes his optimism about the Racoon City police, even though they are partially to blame for the outbreak in Racoon City. Another critique Andrew has is that the narrative doesn’t evolve from the one told in 1998. I don’t particularly understand this criticism as it is a 1:1 of the story beats, so radically changing it wouldn’t be a faithful remake. But talking about police corruption we do need to dive into some spoilers, so you have been warned. Playing through both stories of Resident Evil 2 we get a full picture of how the outbreak occurred. After the events of RE1 several infected dogs escaped the Arklay Mountains, finding their way into Racoon City. While this is happening Chief of Police Irons, an Umbrella plant alerts the company that William Birkin is trying to sell his prototype G-Virus to the US Government. Birkin infects himself after Umbrella forces attack him and the infected dogs kick off the virus by attacking people. The city quickly fell into hell. Fast forward to the events of the game and we see that the Racoon City Police Department has tried their best to help the people of Racoon City find shelter. In playing the game we see two kinds of peace officer, kind-hearted people like Marvin Branagh and the corrupt piles of crap like Chief Irons. This is probably some of the best writing in the game, we see the officers on the ground were good men and women, doing their duty to protect the lives of the citizens. Meanwhile the man everyone sees as a benevolent, good-hearted, philanthropist is a monster behind the scenes. In Irons office in Claire’s campaign, we find a journal written by him about his taxidermy ventures. While initially tame we learn he…gets off to this particular hobby, with a hint that he’s gone beyond stuffing animals. This contrast is great and does have a nod to the concept of police corruption. Andrew tries to draw a connection between the Tyrant, Mr. X, and the shadow of police corruption. Andrew, you’ve lost me. Tyrant was made by Umbrella to kill off any survivors of the outbreak, whether due to immunity or capability. The creature is single-minded, tough, and emotionless, stalking the halls, listening for your steps or gunshots. Tyrant represents urgency, fear, and the terror of an invulnerable threat. There’s no narrative or symbolic hints that Tyrant is even remotely related to police corruption. I understand if you haven’t played Claire’s story but to frame the narrative that the game doesn’t have hints or narrative beats about police corruption is silly. Leon doesn’t change his position helping people, true, but it has nothing to do with him being an officer, rather Leon believes in standing up for others, which is why he goes on to save Ashley, why he stops multiple outbreaks, why he has a relationship with Ada even though she’s a villain, he believes in the good in her. Leon is a good person, cop or not.
To wrap up, I do not hate any of the people I have mentioned in my article. In fact, I think a conversation with them is more beneficial than anger. But the article’s they have put out hurt because of the misinformation they contained. If one really wants to understand what it means to be a peace officer, talk with one, go to Coffee with a Cop, talk with family that work in law enforcement, read up on law enforcement education. The problem we see is that the media paints an ‘us vs. them’ mentality when it comes to civilians and law enforcement. But the truth of the matter is we are the community, we have kids, husbands, wives, brothers, sisters, we are human. To paint us otherwise is awful, no one should be treated less than human. So next time you see a headline about police representation in video games, take a moment. Is there truly any universal behavior of a law enforcement officer? I know this piece was long but I wanted to address every point I could think of. If you enjoyed this piece I highly suggest taking a look at other articles from our talented and amazing staff. As with my other editorial, the links of my sources are in the article. If you want to have a discussion feel free to hash it out in the comments. Finally, thank you to all the men and women who serve as first responders, our job isn’t easy, but nothing worth doing ever is. Thank you for reading.