I feel like a Dead Island Trailer perspective is the kind of thing that I, a game-theorist in training, should endeavor to write about. It’s been all over the place that controversy this trailer caused because it depicts violence against children. The trailer, set to some somber music, starts at the “end” of scene and moves backwards, showing the girl being bitten and infected and her father essentially abandoning her when he realizes she’s been infected. In the end, the whole family is slaughtered by the zombies.
It’s a very emotional moving piece–arguably one of the most well done trailers I’ve ever seen, I would say even surpassing Blizzard’s CGI abilities. So this stirred up some rage from people saying that the company was trying to profit from depictions of violence against children, and called the piece manipulative and salesy. For once, (and this is a rare thing) Jim Sterling and I are in agreement in that this is a needed piece of media.
I wouldn’t say that I loved the trailer–that implies a degree of … affection for it that I don’t really have. What I do–I admire it, it amazes me, and most of all, it’s revealing. A large portion of cultural theory (of which game studies is a part) deals with looking at what we take for granted, those things that we choose to ignore on a daily basis. Violence against children is one of those things that we hide our heads in the sand about, effectively plug our fingers in our collective ears and yell “LALLALALLA” until it goes away.
Again, I agree with Mr. Sterling here when he says that often in media, children are rarely the subjects of violence–they almost always emerge unscathed as if somehow their perceived innocence of the world protects them from the horrors the rest of the world is facing. But the reality is – that isn’t the case. Violence far worse than what appears in this trailer happens to children every day. Literally. Every. Day. In a conversation with a friend recently, he mentioned in a class about genocide, that children are not exempt from genocide, are not sold into slavery. To the best of my knowledge, Hitler didn’t make exceptions for children. The European colonists didn’t make exceptions for the Native American children during the push west.
Yet, we find even amongst gamers, there are those that are crying this is too far, that this mere marketing stunt is manipulative and immoral. Even those who have been staunch proponents of free expression in games. But I think this is a farce. There’s the assumption that this makes light of their deaths, and yet the same is never said of movies that show similar content–and really a movie is only a longer trailer designed to get money without the middle-man of the game. Both a movie and trailer function to make money. A trailer and a movie are functionally the same, and yet we treat them differently here because one is less underhanded and is thus vilified for it.
We claim it inappropriate to show this kind of imagery. We say it manipulative, underhanded, immoral, insensitive. The argument has already been made by others that it’s accurate. It’s not that it’s manipulative or any of those things that we find it reprehensible–it’s because it’s true. For all of our ostrich head in the sand tactics, it’s still true. It’s still accurate. More than that, I think that more than a few people would have abandoned the girl the same way, knowing she was already lost. I think that knowledge, that urge of self-preservation when you know the child is lost to you scares people. There’s a sense of helplessness that comes across in the video, and a sense of finality, and doom for lack of a better word. They were always going to lose–the family was always going to die. In this way to me, the trailer is beautiful because it elicits those responses; because it deliberately makes us unapologetically uncomfortable.
For me – the fact that this trailer is uncomfortable to watch, that it forces us to think about lose-lose situations, that it shows us even the innocent are not free from violence makes it all the more important to *have* this kind of media available. These are the kind of things that if gaming ever wants to be viewed as more than just something for kids–as Mr. Sterling states (I can’t help but imagine with a bit of a sneer), “take games seriously.”
This isn’t about the game–tangentially it could be – we don’t know the game. The game could be profound and different from all the other zombie games and live up the precedent set by the trailer. Or it might not. But that’s not the point. This is an argument about what is OK to display in media, the issues that are OK for us to explore in media. This is an issue about games (as opposed to the game). If we start claiming this early in the fight that, yes there are certain things that shouldn’t be in games, that sets the precedent in a way I don’t think we want.
See the Trailer here.