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Last fall, I moved to New York City to begin my doctoral studies in English education at Teachers College of Columbia University. Shortly after, just as the air was getting crisp and the leaves were beginning to turn, Resident Evil 6 released.
As a dutiful fanboy, I got it and jumped straight into Leon Kennedy’s story. It begins immediately after a zombie outbreak on Ivy University’s campus in the city of Tall Oaks. The President of the United States (presumably an alumnus) has just given an address, but he doesn’t make it to the reception.
Leon and a mysterious Secret Service agent must travel across the city for clues pointing to the perpetrator of this biological attack. I’m not going to lie. These first few levels creeped me out because it was clear that this game was simulating a zombie outbreak not just in my new city but also on the very college campus where I live.
I mean, come on! Are you going to try to tell me that Ivy University isn’t a reference to America’s prestigious Ivy League of colleges, which includes Columbia? The real president even gave a commencement address at its sister school last spring. And not only does the branding of the game’s subway system match New York City’s exactly, but take a look at the map. Tall Oaks, U.S.A., which is situated on the New England coast, sure looks a lot like the southern tip of Manhattan, along with Staten Island. As I mentioned above, this freaked me out. I hated taking the subway that whole Halloween season, actually. And at the time, I thought that this was all that bothered me about this segment of the game.
But as fall settles on Columbia University once more, I find my studies more and more interrupted not by memories of zombies in the game’s hallways but by the hallways themselves, which look nothing like any of those I’ve taken to class. The game’s location starts out nice enough. There’s a huge banquet hall; stained, hardwood banisters; royal, lush purple carpeting; and large windows — in short, everything you’d expect from the location of a presidential reception at an Ivy League institution. But then you’re in a different building. It’s dark, the wallpaper’s peeling off the walls, there’s garbage on the warped floorboard, and piles of boxes litter just about every nook and cranny. And pretty soon you’re walking into 309 Havemeyer, the most filmed classroom in all of cinema.
Sure, it doesn’t look exactly the same, but this is a famous design that’s been replicated in many universities and, clearly, Resident Evil 6. Watch a couple of minutes from this walkthrough to see what I’m talking about:
Ivy University, a school so prestigious that it hosts a presidential address, has really let itself go.
Part of my studies has taken me to the history of my field. What did English classes look like 100 years ago? What’s changed, and why? One of the things I’m learning is that many of the decisions of the Ivy League influenced the direction that universities across the country would take. Unfortunately, that process can be slow to the degree that many teachers still instruct in a style we know isn’t that conducive to learning. This extends to fields beyond English. But we’re making progress, right? Well, apparently not, according to Resident Evil 6.
I’ve written before about how much the Resident Evil series borrows from Victorian literature, particularly the Gothic aspects. And even my students who are only halfway through Dracula can tell you that ruins are a key trait of Gothic novels. These ruins are a metaphor for human decay, whether it’s mental, moral, or physical.
That brings me to my point: What are you saying about my school, RE 6? Because it looks to me that the game is commenting on American higher education, and it’s something to the effect of, “you’re falling apart.” I shudder to imagine what it thinks the Brooklyn community college where I teach looks like.