Thursday, 24 February 2011

Has the games industry finally crossed the line of good taste?

A recent trailer for new zombie video game Dead Island has divided gamers opinions and fuled furious debate across the globe. Why?  It shows the last moments of a dying little girl and her family. It's brilliantly directed yes and it's clear, to a point, what creators Techland were trying to achieve in respect to the tradegy and loss that the human race would endure in the event of a holocaust; but as a parent of two baby girls myself it left a bad taste in my mouth.  Ben Parfitt, from games industry trade magazine MCV, reflected my own feelings about the trailer in an article he penned at the begining of the week.

Ben Parfitt-MCV: I want to start by saying something right from the off – I hate moral campaigners. I hate political correctness, I hate tabloid outrages, I hate the idea of game censorship.

I was watching films like Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street when I was 13 and I've not grown into neither a holiday retreat slaughterer or a demented dream stalker. And why's that? In the latter instance it's because I've not yet developed supernatural abilities. But to a larger extent it's because I had a sensible upbringing. Despite being exposed to violent media I retain the capacity to tell right from wrong.

Anyone who claims that exposure to media can rob someone of their ability to take responsibility for their actions and decisions is an idiot. However. Yes, I'll also admit that I felt quite uncomfortable when I watched the new Dead Island trailer last night. That is just my opinion, of course.

With regard to Dead Island, though, there's nothing to learn from watching it. 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.

The truth is, though, that more than the actual video itself, I've found the online reaction far more troubling. I only watched the video after seeing my Twitter stream fill with gushing praise, mostly from fellow journalists. Comments included the obligatory "best trailer ever", "it choked me up – no game trailer has EVER done that", "it's amazing" and "I'm definitely going to buy it now".

Having viewed the short I'm somewhat bemused that my peers should heap such praise on content of this sort. Yes, it's clearly a great piece of film making. And yes, it's touching – in a morose sort of way.
But personally I just can't get away from the fact that I'm uncomfortable watching a graphic depiction of the horrific final moments of the life of a young girl. Yes, perhaps that's because I'm a dad and have a beautiful daughter. In fact, having voiced this very opinion on Twitter last night one friend of mine said that "if this is what becoming a parent does to people, thank GOD it'll never happen to me".

My retort? "I'd say being a parent does make me more sensitive to images of child death. Which doesn't feel that unhealthy".

And I stand by that. By all means, if that trailer does it for you then great, good for you. And if you want to play the game when it eventually arrives then cool, do so. That will be firm evidence that the video, as a raw piece of marketing, has been a success.

But perhaps from time to time we do need to ask questions of what we choose to glorify and what elements of our industry we choose to defend and to celebrate. Gaming all too often comes under unfair attack and I've always been comfortable to lead in its vocal defence.

But let's make sure we pick our fights carefully.


Of course you'll make up you own minds as to whether or not its morally dubious or simply a great piece of film making, and yes arguably being a parant has perhaps made me over-sensitive toward the subject matter. But it does raise the question of just how far is the games industry willing to push the boundaries of good taste before the ravings of the Daily Mail and co begin to ring true...

Here's the trailer but be warned, it's quite disturbing.

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