Dead Island is no stranger to controversy, and certainly has not been accused of having an excess of taste. From the original game’s impressive cinematic trailer that ultimately left a great many people disappointed with the final product’s lack of emotional involvement to Riptide’s pre-order bonus of a limbless, bikini-clad torso, there has been a fairly consistent influx of questionable marketing decisions on Deep Silver’s part. Now their latest ad is being banned outright in Australia due to its depiction of suicide, and not just the CG suicide in the ad itself.
The depiction in question is two-fold. The first half of it is the ad itself, in which a couple eventually chooses to detonate an explosion to consume themselves in flame rather than allowing themselves to be consumed by the approaching zombies. The official word on this depiction asserted this act as a response to a fantasy world and as an arguably less-violent or at least less gruesome alternative to being eaten alive.
The second depiction, however, and the one eventually cited as the ultimate reason for the ban comes from the logo displayed during the ad, which shows a hanged man completely removed from any sort of context. The image was noted as being potentially traumatic for individuals who may have lost loved ones to suicidal acts.
On the game’s side, the argument is maintained that even the logo’s depiction of what they specify as a hanging zombie is given proper context within the fantasy setting of the game. It is intended as a representation of the hopelessness inherent in the game’s atmosphere and setting.
I normally am in full agreement with artistic merits behind imagery, but in this case I can agree with Australia’s decision. While the advertisement itself is within the context of the unique fantasy setting sufficiently to stand on its own without problem, the logo is far less forgivable.
Specifying the hanging individual as being a zombie does not change the impact of the image, nor does it actually provide any semblance of context. The ad gives us a bit of backstory, it shows us the helplessness and hopelessness of the situation much more clearly. The logo only shows a hanged man beside a title.
It is not even clearly a zombie. If they wanted to make it a zombie, having it reaching its hands someplace, doing anything at all other than simply hanging there would show it. The hanging individual in the ad does nothing. He hangs, as any hanged man ever depicted has done in the past. It is a disturbing image for a reason, and given the game’s legacy of pushing the bounds of taste, I find it difficult to believe it was as deep and thoughtful as Deep Silver would want us to believe.
I have not played Riptide, but I played Dead Island. I actually enjoyed it quite a bit. This ad, like the initial ad for the original game, plays up a very heavy emotional theme. It portrays deep emotion and the strength of human spirit to take some sense of control over a helpless situation.
As much as I enjoyed Dead Island, it was not an especially emotional game. It had individual moments, a few side-quests and random individuals who I felt genuine emotion for, but most of the game was foul-mouthed violence. It was entertaining, but hardly something that made me feel particularly sympathetic. As a matter of fact one of my biggest problems with the game was how all of the playable characters were assholes, ranging from course and blunt to full-on self-absorbed shallow jerk.
If you want to create sensationalist imagery, do it. If you want to make a game about powerful emotion, do it. If you want to make a violent, mature-rated zombie-fest, do it. Just don’t try to mix all three of these things together when the finished product does not represent it. I can forgive sensationalist violence a lot easier when you are honest about it.
I will wait for the next The Walking Dead from Telltale for the emotional side of things.