Dead Island Trailer: A Video Too Far?

Dead Island Trailer: A Video Too Far?

Oh, video games. They just want to show us a good time, but lately, they can’t seem to help but upset the apple cart.

Typically, any controversy relating to video games pits the mainstream media against gamers. But the most recent disturbance has actually erected a partition between brothers and sisters at (virtual) arms. Not long ago, we were united in our cause to tell off Fox News for stripping Bulletstorm of all context and using it to deepen the fears of jittery parents who already believe they’re raising their children in Satan’s kingdom. Now we’re asking one another if maybe Deep Silver has gone a bit too far with the launch trailer for its upcoming zombie-smackin’ game for the PS3 and Xbox 360, Dead Island.

The trailer, which has gone viral since its launch, illustrates the misfortune of a mom, dad, and young daughter whose travel agent seemingly misheard the dad’s request for a vacation on “Fun Island” and instead stranded the family on Zombie Island. Joking aside, the trailer depicts a young girl who suffers a zombie bite and is rescued by her parents, only to resurrect and attack her father–who unintentionally flings her off his back and through a window.

On paper, the trailer for Dead Island sounds like an attempt to rile up the Internet and (yet more) news stations, this time through violence and the death of a child. Nothing invites controversy like a child harmed. After all, children and animals are typically not allowed to make the choices that most profoundly affect their lives. So when terrible consequences occur as a result of a parent’s bad choice–say, a vacation that turns into a zombie’s dream buffet–we feel a deep, terrible pang of sadness for that child. Hurting or killing a kid in a movie or game is guaranteed to pull a gasp out of a viewer or player, but it can also be looked upon as a cheap, easy way of doing so.

The difference with the Dead Island trailer is that it’s thoughtfully put together. The trailer runs in backwards slow-motion to grant an identity to the dead zombie-child lying on the resort’s manicured lawn. First, we see her as a corpse, and we feel that initial jolt of shock. But then time begins to work backwards. The girl flies upwards and becomes a monster who attacks a random man in a fit of bloodlust. Then that random man becomes her father. He endures wounds and fights like a tiger to pull his daughter from the jaws of zombies in the trailer’s most striking moment: He reaches out to her, and she reaches out to him, but as the sequence is running backwards, their outstretched hands drift further and further apart.

Oof.

Despite the trailer’s masterful pacing, there is still a generous serving of blood and zombie-guts that some game writers find a bit disturbing. On February 18, James Brightman from IndustryGamers.com wondered if the trailer for Dead Island isn’t just part of a “larger trend.”

“Whether it’s extreme violence in Bulletstorm, sawing an enemy in half in Gears of War, or massacring innocent civilians while playing as terrorists in Modern Warfare 2, we [at IndustryGamers] can’t help but think that game makers are deliberately pushing the boundaries in an effort to boost sales.”

Yes, there are a lot of disturbingly violent games on the market. There are also a lot of violent movies in theaters, on store selves, and on Netflix. But the violent acts that happen on-screen don’t damage The Godfather‘s status as a classic movie, or Gears of Wars status as a solid franchise (the first game, incidentally, was introduced through another great trailer).

IndustryGamers’ concerns over violent games are valid, but it’s not as if we lack alternatives. Anyone who doesn’t want to bust up zombies and aliens can play a Mario game, or Pokemon, or Angry Birds. And we’re not saying “Go home and play with your sisters’ dolls, wimp.” Violent games, no matter how well done they are, simply aren’t for everyone. Nor are geysers of blood necessary to prove that a game is “mature.” For instance, the gaming community at large acknowledges that Nintendo’s Kirby, the genderless pink blob who frolics in the pastel-colored Land of Dreams, is indisputably bad-ass.

MCV’s Ben Parfitt also stated that the trailer for Dead Island makes him “uncomfortable.”

“There’s nothing to learn from watching it,” he wrote. “It’s not designed to make you think or to explore a point of debate. It’s a video that uses an image of a dead girl and images of her dying to create an emotional bond with a product.”

With every ounce of respect to Parfitt and his status as a loving father and husband: That’s the point of a trailer. Will the final product make us think or explore a point of debate? We’ll have to wait and see. For now, the trailer for Dead Island has done its job: It’s connected us to a family and its plight. And below the gore, the splintered wood and the roar of the undead, there’s a quick, dirty story that socks you a little harder in the gut every time you witness it.

The entertainment industry is brimming with zombie flicks and games. Deep Silver has put together a commercial that has made even the most zombie-weary gamer prick up her ears and start talking about how the trailer made her feel. That’s not an accomplishment that every game trailer can boast.

About Nadia Oxford
Nadia is a freelance writer living in Toronto. She played her first game at four, decided games were awesome, and has maintained her position since. She writes for 1UP.com, Slide to Play, GamePro and other publications, and is About.com’s Guide to the Nintendo DS.

10 Comments

  1. I thought it was a fantastic and powerful trailer. When I first watched the video it was rough. I don’t know if they will be in the game or not, but if so I hope we can save them. This “controversy” reminds me of the first five minutes of The Walking Dead where we see a little girl zombie get shot in the head.

  2. WTF is wrong with these people??!
    First, they demand the mainstream take them seriously; while also demanding the video game industry to supply them with emotional, mature video game content.

    Then we actually GET it with the Dead Island trailer, and now they’re backing off like a bunch of scared brats? We finally can claim a piece of art that is as heart-wrenching as the best drama movies; we can stand side by side with all those tearjerker films and books, and we can’t handle it?

    Maybe Bulletstorm really is the pinnacle of maturity this industry can handle. I’m ashamed to call myself a gamer alongside these man-children.

  3. If there’s anything that bothers me about it, it’s that I sat through the whole trailer and didn’t see an actual “game” anywhere. But a lot of trailers (and games) are like that anymore.

  4. I think it’s an incredibly well made trailer, no matter what medium or genre. It’s a great example of the impact editing (and music!) can do. Played chronologically (and at normal speed) you basically just have a fairly standard zombie attack and oh, a kid dies. It’s the way the material is handled -not the material itself- is what makes it great in my opinion. It’s more depressing than shocking.

    That said, the trailer was made (like most trailers) from an outside production company, and not the developers. The “footage” shown may not even be in the actual game for all we know.

    What is known, however, is that the characters in the trailer aren’t any of the four that you’re able to choose from in the game. Which is my disappointment in the whole thing; there’s very little chance that the game itself will live up to this amazing trailer. Before the trailer hit, the big selling point of the game was its “groundbreaking” gore system, where multiple layers of damage are depicted. For example, burned flesh will bubble and peel, skin will give way to bone, and so forth. So the game would have (and probably still will) raise controversy with or without the trailer. Unfortunately though, no mention of emotional depth as a standout feature has been made.

  5. I think the Dead Island trailer well done in its quality and theme. It did very well on reaching out to emotional level of the audience including myself. It gets you thinking on the human factor in zombie world where people’s reality changed to a nightmare.

  6. Very nicely done…I think this is great trailer.

    @heatman – its an announcement trailer…like a teaser, you don’t see gameplay.

  7. I think it was awful. I never got the whole zombie thing anyway. Sure it was powerful, but yeah it makes me a little uncomfortable. I guess it just comes with age and having children of your own. Get back to me in about 15-20 yrs and see what you think.

    I have no problems with vilonce in vidoe games. I don’t think it turns kids into Columbine killers. I do think the imagry gradually can chip away at you soul though.

  8. I really don’t understand why many authority sites have voted this trailer as one of the best trailers for a while. Ok, the graphics are good and going back in time is something not frequently used in trailers, but what can you say about all that extreme violence, lack of story and personality…

    If you want to see a really nice game trailer, then go watch the opening cinematics of Diablo 2, which was made about 12 years ago! That video, my friends, is the true combination of graphics, story, spirit, music and atmosphere.

  9. @gamer nail.

    and that comment, my friend, is why you will never be a paid critic or reviewer of anything in our culture. A trailer doesnt have to have good graphics to be considered “good”. that trailer was very artfully done and fully immersed the viewer by forming an emotional bond with characters that you know nothing about. The fact that it was able to evoke emotions in people who are completely ignorant to the fact that dead island is even a video game, is what makes it a powerful and enchanting piece of artwork.

  10. While the trailer was amazing, emotional (and i loved it 😉 it hyped up the game to much. Months on after the trailer release the game has been released and is pretty much nothing like the trailer.

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