(This is my second attempt at writing on this, while the issue is still fresh. I threw together a hastily-written, poorly constructed blog entry last night with way too much caps lock. I looked at it this morning, and thought I must have been crazy. I'm truly grateful for the honest feedback I received on that, I slept off whatever craziness got into me, now let my try to tackle it with a bit more coherency beyond yelling at everything)
I don't get it.
I saw more hostility towards the industry from fans last year than any other. Gamers get angry when their franchise adds multiplayer. They get angry when a different developer is working on a spin-off or reboot. A few weeks ago, we were acting like the generic Bioshock Infinite box art was the worst thing that could possibly ever happen.
So why? Why are we not angry at THIS? Why is this better than those things? Why is this where gamers say "this is acceptable" and that they shouldn't have to apologize? Because I really don't understand. I think that there's something REALLY wrong with the fact that they thought this would appeal to their audience, the average gamer.
For those who somehow missed the story, Dead Island's developers Deep Silver decided to release a "Zombie Bait" edition of Dead Island: Riptide. It came with a model of a dismembered zombie woman's torso, wearing a bikini. Now, the purpose of packaging a product like this with a game (or movie, or book) is that it represents the franchise, or what people are supposed to like about it. So Deep Silver thought what you, the average game, enjoyed about Dead Island was chopping women to bits.
When I turned caps lock on in the first version of this blog, I was basically trying to emphasize how indescribably crazy that is. So in a calmer fashion, let me ask you to just forget about everything you know about Dead Island and its setting. And just imagine some product you had little knowledge of being packaged with something like that.
Now, there are two things that stand out about the statue: the boobs. Notice how despite the body being utterly butchered, complete with a nice, big missing chunk of flesh at the bottom of the ribs, they are intact. They don't even have that much blood on them. Again, this is all subjective, but I think there IS something amoral about sexualizing a dismembered corpse. All we know about whoever this once was is that she was at least an eight out of ten. I think that's messed up, reducing a person to that, fictional and plastic or not!
"But the game has plenty of bikini-clad zombies. Is there a problem with that?"
Good question. I DO have a problem with it, BUT, I think it's a problem the designers intended. The whole sexy outfit on scary monster creates a kind of cognitive dissonance that perfectly fits the horror genre. It really isn't that much unlike the sexy nurse monsters in Silent Hill 2. (though that also had personal meaning for protagonist) And it fits the game's theme as a whole, centering on the whole paradise-turned-bloodbath idea. If the game came with, say, a model of a living- er, functioning - zombie woman in a bikini, that could work. The sexual elements at work there are offset by the horror and desperation, adding to an uncomfortable atmosphere. Because the bikini is on a zombie trying to eat your face.
So zombie with sexy outfit works. This isn't a zombie, though. It's a corpse. There is no life, (or un-life) no character. That horror, which could have made it work, is all gone. There's plenty of blood and guts, but that's the first thing a horror aficionado will tell you is NOT actually scary. Take the horror away, and now all you have is the sex. It is literally nothing but T' n A'. And I know art is all subjective, but I think good art, especially in games, is defined by character, which this no longer has. When people tell me that there's art in this, it sounds like something a serial killer would be saying about the carefully intricate arrangement of corpses in his basement.
And question: How do we KNOW this was a zombie? Usually a zombie corpse looks like it's been dead a long time, but this is plenty fresh. Maybe if she had a damn head, we could tell from the blood dripping from her mouth or her whited out eyes. Guys, out of context, this just looks like a normal woman got chopped up.
And I know this isn't SUPPOSED to be a sex thing. But it has utterly failed at being everything else, or making the sexualization part of something more interesting. I know nobody wants to buy it as a sex thing, but then I have to ask why you would buy it at all.
So that's, at least my case, why it's bad "art." Or at least not the kind of art that fits the game. But that wasn't even the intention of the piece, according to Deep Silver. They said it was meant to be like the zombies players chopped up in the game. It's a TROPHY. For your triumphs in a horror game. Okay, that idea COULD work in a zombie game less about actual horror, like Dead Rising, or the last three Resident Evils. But ever since the first trailer, Dead Island has been at least trying to be a serious, emotional horror story. It's about despair, not triumph. We're not supposed to be celebrating our digital murder, at least in this game.
So yeah, bad art. Doesn't fit the property in any sense, even in the way the makers intended. Whatever. They can put out whatever crappy merchandise they darn please. I'm not gonna argue with their right to sell it. I wouldn't have seen it in the U.S., but I'm pretty sure Europe's a free country too. (/joke)
What bothers me isn't so much the existence of this product. Or that it's terrible. It's the idea that at some point, they honestly thought this is what their audience, us gamers, want. And I'm extra baffled that so many of us are okay with that.
I would be pretty disrespected if a guy saw me playing Dead Island and offered to sell me a plastic dead woman's torso. Not to mention confused. Even if that summed up the game perfectly, (and I would never want to play a game where that was the case) does he really expect me buy this in a public place, and that I'll go home and display it on my shelf? That? The mutilated bikini corpse? What would the point be? Usually this kind of merch is a statuette of a character, or a replica of an iconic weapon. Something that can still be interesting out of context. A piece of some random (alleged!) zombie you killed isn't interesting. It doesn't really say anything, except that no one should ever let kids in your house, and you should probably see a doctor.
I mentioned the Bioshock Infinite box art earlier. Gamers thought that the developers didn't have respect for it's property. So why is Deep Silver allowed to disrespect its property? (I know Dead Island isn't great anyway, but they were making effort before) More importantly, why are they allowed to disrespect US? I see them trying to sell this product as them telling gamers "this is what you want, right?" I certainly hope not!
And I know they apologized, and probably won't sell it now. But I still want to know why they thought it was a good idea in the first place!
So that's why I'm offended as a gamer, and why I'm very, VERY confused at some of you. I'm sorry, people who think this is a sensible product, but you're going to need to sit me down, and convince me how this even fits the game or why a normal gamer would want this. I'm not telling you you're crazy, I don't think you're crazy, but I just don't have a good answer to why you aren't.
One last point I'd like to make is that sometimes controversies come along and people who value free speech of games are complicit or silent because they have to support games at all times. I think some of us believe if we speak up, we're admitting to people that there are problems within the industry and community, and surrendering something. But I think it actually shows we're MORE mature, if we call the industry out on stuff like this. That we're not all drones that will literally buy anything with boobs and blood. Take some pride in yourselves and gaming as a whole, and hell, take pride in Dead Island if you actually like it!
Thanks for reading!