I drew a little fire this afternoon on the ol’ Twitter feed when I dropped some criticism on that Dead Island video game trailer that’s going around. Believe it or not, my major criticism had little to do at the time with it being another god damn zombie game and had everything to do with it being a gigantic bummer.
Let’s assume for a moment that you didn’t watch the video before reading this. In a nutshell, zombies lay teeth into the child of some vacationers while they fend off an approaching wave of running zombies in a hotel. She turns and attacks her father who flings her off his back and out a window. This all happens in reverse slow-mo and is set to a moody piano piece. As a demo for an upcoming video game, it’s not too shabby. There are console games with far better graphics going around but it demonstrates an interesting particle system where blood splashes on player models in a fairly realistic fashion. Let’s set that aside, though. Let’s also set aside the glaring fact that there’s, like, nine million zombie themed games out there and like the glut of zombie themed movies, about one percent of them are any good. Let’s focus, instead, for a minute on the subject matter of this trailer. A game which tantalizes you to play it by watching a child die.
I’m not so much outraged that the rather graphic death of a child is being used as marketing as I am confused about how this was supposed to make me want to play the game. It’s a piece of blatant shock publicity and, no doubt, this trailer was crafted to get people talking because this game “went there”, as it were. At the last Super Bowl, there was an ad for Groupon that pissed a lot of people off because it made light of the tragic human rights situation going on in Tibet right now but let’s be clear: that was the point. TV advertisers have to fight tooth and nail these days to get people to pay attention to their ads. Game publishers don’t. Cable subscriptions are on a steady decline so fewer people every day are seeing ads on TV. Game publisher marketing takes place almost exclusively online, so what’s the deal with this viral trailer? LA Noire, whose trailer is like a fucking movie, never resorts to cheap shock tactics to communicate the message to me that I want to play that game. The same goes for Heavy Rain.
I guess I’m just mostly disappointed that a mostly underwhelming game trailer with a neat reverse time gimmick resorted to such trashy measures to sell its product. When a game or a movie does something like this all I can think is ‘publicity stunt’ and this translates in my mind as: We have no confidence in our product. Dead Island strikes me as a game by a developer who has no confidence in their product. The shock gag didn’t really shock me so much as it bummed me out. Bummed out will not convert me into a customer.