24 February 2011

Dead Island trailer: are developers putting kids in harm's way on purpose?

Image courtesy of Wikimedia/Deep Silver

Last week the cinematic trailer (probably one of the BEST game trailers I've seen in a long while) for Dead Island made its way on the Internet and into the hearts of zombie aficionados everywhere. I admit, I decided to ignore the news about this forthcoming game mainly because I'm over the zombie apocalypse and we've already decided that if zombie warfare were to happen, you definitely want to team up with me. But after reading this little opinion piece from CNN titled, Why I can't get behind 'Dead Island', I was intrigued. Writer Omar L. Gallaga sums it up by stating that game developers are taking quite a few liberties in putting young children in the face of danger for the good of the game's story.

"...I'm getting uncomfortable with how comfortable game developers have become with putting children in peril and, often, allowing them to be gruesomely killed."

I went to IGN.com to check out the Dead Island trailer and knew it was pretty serious business when they asked me to punch in my birth date to make sure that I was over 18 (something any 10 year old can easily bypass). The trailer itself is amazing; the quality of the rendering is up there, the music serves as a melancholic dischord to the chaos that ensues, and the story is told in reverse and in slow motion. You can view the trailer at the end of the entry, but please take into consideration that the content is graphic and should not be viewed by/with children under 18.

Gallaga's argument is that the trend of game developers putting children in situations that are deemed harmful and/or potentially fatal is a disturbing albeit popular one; he also suggests that the media's excessive coverage of such subjects has numbed the general population to such topics...but perhaps because these aren't real kids it makes the whole scenario somewhat acceptable.

In my eyes, Dead Island is no different from all the other zombie/survival games, like Dead Rising 2 for instance. Both include protagonists who will do everything they can to keep from dying a horrible zombified death, both happen to have kids that really play no important role in the game, and both obviously include dead things that like to eat brains (although the ones in Dead Rising 2 aren't as fast as the 28 Days Later-esque running dead in Dead Island).

My point here is that, yes, there's a trend here but no, it's not the abuse and exploitation of children in video games. I think that's a bit of a stretch. It's zombies, people...I mean, dead people. You know what I mean.

ZOMBIES aren't picky eaters; they'll take whatever they can get! That means your kid, my brother, your grandma, Aunt Edna, Cousin Ricky, Hannah from next door, mob boss Louie, and Joe from McDonald's are all up for grabs in the zombie buffet. So no, I don't feel like game developers are intentionally subjecting a particular group to this kind of game violence for the sake of the game. Children in video games, like all other characters non-playing and playing, are just that--fictional characters. This goes back to my stance on how games may reflect bits and pieces of current events or pop culture (e.g., the war in Iraq, parkour, Lady Gaga, fitness, etc.) but the general public needs to remember that it's just a game - you know, like Cops & Robbers. It's not real, it's just pretend, and it shouldn't be taken seriously.

My theory is that the developers at Deep Silver needed to market Dead Island in a way so that their core audience, 18-36-year-old gamers, will go out and reserve the title. What better way to do that than to use graphically disturbing imagery, an orchestrated soundtrack, and then put it all together in a 3 minute long trailer? I can tell you it worked for me even though I have no intention to seriously take the time to play this game.

Like all trends, the zombie revolution will eventaully fade away and a new one will take over. Remember Guitar Hero and Rock Band? They were replaced by genres that take more skill and teamwork: war and zombies. The second the next suggestively violent gaming trend comes along, someone will be offended by it and that's okay...if no one's feathers are ruffled then obviously someone needs to work on their marketing and PR skills.

Sidenote: don't think I don't get offended by anything because I do. Katy Perry's video for her single "California Gurls" really pissed me off especially when I walked in and caught my then 4-year-old niece and her 3-year old brother watching the video right as Ms. Perry was provocatively putting cans of whipped cream on her cans. Yeah. Video games rarely offend me, but pop singers rub me the wrong way.

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