Does Dead Island Promise More Than It Can Deliver?

Geek Culture

It’s not very often that I am moved to write something just an hour or so after seeing or playing it. However, the Dead Island trailer caused such a personal reaction, I wanted to post it right away.

There have been plenty of intelligent and engaging things written about this short video, but not an awful lot from a parent’s perspective. I’d be fascinated to hear if the following relates to your reaction to the trailer.

Dead Island is a first person combat game with four player co-operative gameplay, weapon customizations, an open world, role play elements and a gratuitously shocking trailer. In fact its trailer made me so uncomfortable that I had to stop watching it about 30 seconds in.

The short video depicts scenes of a family’s demise at the hands of a horde of zombies. More excruciatingly it focuses on the last couple of minutes of the life of a little girl (possibly between five and seven) — unwatchable to many who (like me) have children of that age.

Ironically, though, the reason I stopped watching was that it was not convincing enough. It suggests, through the piano chords, slow motion and rewound action, that there is something very different and substantial happening here. I would be happy to watch on if only the trailer could convince me that was true.

But of course I know this isn’t very likely. As eloquently set out in Tadhg Kelly’s Dead Island post the rest of the marketing story around this game screams derivative survival horror experience.

I find the same unease here as I do with Halo 3′s use of World War II survivor imagery in their Museum video and Reminisce video shorts. I imagine if I had been anywhere near those two settings in real life I would struggle to stomach that marketing as well.

But beyond my sensitivity to the family setting, I actually wish it was more convincing. Truth be known I would relish a game that really dealt with issues of loss, abandonment, powerlessness and fleeting innocence in modern family life. This could be something substantial and significant if only there was the will to address these topics head on in a big budget videogames. But recent history has taught me that (so far) progress here us largely left to niche titles like Flower, Passage and even Let’s Catch.

The Dead Island trailer turns out to be a timely reminder of how far games still need to progress in the common consciousness to get anywhere near the level of maturity found in film, theater and books.

I’m reminded of Mr. Beebe in a Room with a View: “If Miss Honeychurch ever takes to live as she plays, it will be very exciting both for us and for her.” One day a game will come along that actually follows through on this sort of marketing. When that happens, that will be a very exciting and surprising time for us all. Sadly, I don’t think Dead Island is it.

Haven’t seen it? Watch the trailer for yourself:

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