It’s almost too perfect that those words were used to name the now notorious Dead Island Riptide Special Edition (basically what it is) that came with, among a couple of other things, a gory statue that was apparently the game’s take on the Roman marble torso. A beaten resin sack with tits. I find myself looking around the internet and distinguishing between two types of reaction to it: zombie or bait.
Let’s establish a few things before we get started – I don’t want to be part of this debate. But as I never do partake in anything even slightly divisive if I can help it due to what I diagnose to be a fear of conflict induced in me since being a toddler, I’ve decided that being completely silent on the matter isn’t going to help me in any way. So maybe this is therapy. But then I remind myself that writing about this ‘thing’ is only falling into the trap it may or may not have been intended to be. But again, this comes with a brash “fuck it” murmured from my mouth.
First off, I think it’s a ridiculous way to market a game, or that any one would consider it a selling point. But, then again, I’m aware of how marketing works. Is it offensive? That’s always going to be subjective, but let’s be clear here – the damn thing came with a prominent label that states it “INCLUDES CONTENT THAT MAY CAUSE OFFENCE”. This has been excused as simply referring to the game’s jolly ribcage hampering players can perform with a variety of blades and blunts against the barely clothed undead. But at a time when violence in games is being debated in the press once again it almost comes across as a shiny red sign placed prominently so as to invite anyone to find offence within it, somewhere. Anywhere.
“Make sure to send that press release to XXXX with a big bumper plate about how offensive it might be. Make sure they bite. Get it? Because the game is about zombies, right? Oh forget it.”
Unless you’re like me and mostly apathetic towards the entire notion of taking personal offence from anything, it’s likely that your superego will kick in and tickle your ear with a whisper about “social responsibility”. It’s a woman’s torso, with bloody gouges in it, completely dismembered and decapitated, and in the center lies a pair of prominent, almost glossy bosoms. It’s almost like a parody of itself. Of the hate, of the arguments, the violence, the conflicts, the call-outs, the preaching, the idiocy. The slurs, the gaze, the spin, the headlines, the circle jerks, the echo chambers, of responsibility. Of society.
It’s smut, sexploitation and satire placed in the palm of your hands and then squeezed together. The unnecessary fat is then cut off and the details applied for maximum shock. There – it’s a piece of fucking art. After all, the ‘kid zombies’ in the trailer for the original Dead Island sparked a few “oohs” and “errs” from parents (and others) who physically just could not watch it, apparently. What can we do to top that performance? A quick look around the internet and it’s not too hard to find today’s stinging issues that cave way to mass ramblings and outrage.
Remember that song that simply repeated the lyrics “Zombie Nation” to a repetitive techno beat? Oh how we loved it back in 2000 when we were yo- oh, you don’t remember it do you? Well here you go:
Appropriately, the music video is a parody of shopping channels in which sunbeds and microwaves are sold with the aid of women in bikinis. Take it as you will, but the message there is loud and clear if you ask me. And although the lyrics are simply repeating the name of the band, let’s just take it that they’re making a mockery based upon the reality of the consumerist society with its unquestionably faecal methods of advertising, what are quite frankly, unneeded and awful products.
The point? This is ‘gamer’ culture in a ball sack.
Unfortunately, the culture surrounding gaming is perceived by those trying to make money from it as one that thrives on what could be considered misogynistic content. Look around – take a step back and breathe it all in. There’s plenty of variation in the small corners, but the demographic that is considered the mainstream (where all the money is to be made), and the one that most of the marketing is aimed at, is one that plays violent games and mostly directs a male gaze at the screen. There’s no hard evidence for this, but that’s what PR and marketing teams see when they’re trying to hamper to the needs of the ‘gamer’. Frankly, I don’t particularly like the word ‘gamer’ because of the connotations it has, mostly. It implies that games and those that play them are wrapped up in this neat box that pitches can be measured against during the “Will It Sell, Though?” debates that publishers and marketers presumably have.
So when Deep Silver claim that the tits torso would be a “striking conversation piece on any discerning zombie gamer’s mantel”, to their knowledge that’s entirely true. Gamers, right – they love this crap!
And don’t think this perception of the gaming demographic (because that’s a thing that exists apparently) is cleared up when the PR and marketing folk reach out to them for opinions on what they want sold to them. Deep Silver did this exact thing when they invited fans of theirs to fill out a survey which was supposed to be a way of determining which products ‘gamers’ would like to see in the Collector’s Edition of Riptide – what would they pay the extra money for? So they reeled this list out in front of these supposed ‘gamers’ like it was the bloody Generation Game. Here comes Brucey – what’s that old dear? Remember as many as I can and don’t forget the cuddly toy?! Oh wait, it’s not a cuddly toy, it’s a “zombie hula girl” that you can place in your car to ensure you meet your quota of disapproving head shakes from a woman in bobble head form. How thoughtful.
Here’s said list:
- Dead Island branded pillowcases
- Wooden postcards with Dead Island scenes
- Zombie hula girl car ornament bobble head
- Branded microfiber screen cleaning cloth
- Inflatable axe
- Zombie arm bottle opener
- Inflatable beach ball
- Dead Island Resort key + keychain
- Sam B chain replica
- Character ID cards
- Fabric banner/poster
- Liquid paperweight with Dead Island Riptide scene
- Diorama of Dead Island Riptide scene with zombies
- Wall cling(s)
- Keychain flashlight
- Luggage Strap
- Sam B figurine
- Xian Mei figurine
- Logan figurine
- Purna figurine
- Headset to use in Multiplayer
Out of all of those on offer, guess which ones were picked as the most popular. That’s right! The zombie hula girl car ornament bobble head and the zombie arm bottle opener. Obviously that’s so a bloodied and shaken woman’s body can be stared at more often and you can open those beers you want to guzzle so bad. Whatever. Their tacky, branded products appeal to the modern day ‘consumer’ due to their apparently quirky take on something that already exists. The zombie apocalypse will end after the undead accidentally choke to death on our throwaway gimmick products.
But consider that the Zombie Bait Edition was then planned around this idea of what Deep Silver’s players said they would pay extra for. A quirky rebranded version of the Roman bust – of course! That also combines the slow-motion (read: arty) bloodlust-to -gentle-piano trailer that they won awards for after having caused heads to turn, with some turning away again in disapproval and shock.
For all intents and purposes, Deep Silver were serving up the processed meat that ‘gamers’ have fed on for years. And the ZOMBIES lap it up. There was never a warning about how playing so many zombie games marketed to you and your demographic would turn you into the very thing you aimed a pistol at on a daily basis. Where was that warning? Bastards! The all-moaning, all-groaning slaves to the marketers of the gaming world. And when you try to take away from them the things that they’ve become so attached, no matter what they may represent, expect hostility with no boundaries as to the offence they probably don’t realize they’re causing to you. Not that they would care anyway. They’re ‘gamers’ and it’s their culture. You got that?
Ah, there’s always two sides to every story – that’s something I’ve been told at least. There’s actually more than that, there always is, but as humans we create narratives out of the things we perceive, touch, feel and experience. That’s how we come to understand everything about ourselves and our surroundings. The media knows this and so if they see a narrative they can tap into, that either agrees or stands against their opinions then they’ll probably make sure to exploit that.
I’d like to think that this whole torso debacle wasn’t what was intended and the marketing team who conjured up the idea over at Deep Silver were just attending to their zombie players in their similarly zombified way. That is, following the guidelines that gaming culture dictates and not putting any thought into what they were attempting to sell beyond the money it might bring. I’d like to think that. But I fear there’s a hidden agenda at play here, or even a dual agenda as they attempt to appeal to their gamer ‘demographic’ as well as rile up the media through outraging the shouty internet activists that can more or less be relied upon for big press nowadays as they ascend into the artificial heaven of social justice rioters.
Every time I see people getting up in arms about a product or a particular part of a game’s promotion, I’m just reminded of how “PR Guru” Max Clifford played the media by taunting them constantly with the controversial violence within Grand Theft Auto. He drummed up a lot of noise for the game and sales reflected that – not to mention that the series was planted firmly in public memory. So I wouldn’t be all too surprised to find out that some PR whackdaddy is rubbing their hands in glee over at the Deep Silver offices right now after a day’s hard work of bringing attention to Riptide. They played the media and the vocal opposers, and they were more than happy to perform the dance just as they had planned. And why might that be? Well it plays into the narrative they’re drumming up in a rage as part of their social image. And some people, not everyone, may take this further than it being just about responsibility and justice as it has other benefits for them as they become a figurehead for their movement. There might even be big money involved in some cases. This might be an individual, a media outlet or a group of people making publicity for themselves out of calling out a publicity stunt that relied on their het up reaction. We see narratives in everything and often tunnel any worthwhile discussion into a disapproving and often angry rant that may have good intentions at times but often just adds another punch to the brawl.
Don’t get me wrong here – the underlying concepts driving social justice is sound and important for people defend and represent. But the problem here is that all too quickly a divide is caused and an avalanche of conflicts open up between those considered part of the marketing cut-out of a ‘gamer’ and those who are fighting for social justice and responsibility. It’s this that those press releases and product designs are sometimes constructed as bait for. The problem is there’s a wave of knee-jerk reactions which see this bait and immediately fire a mouth-sized laser across the entire internet. Then there’s a call to arms as the sides are split, the leaders determined and then set to lunge at each other over whatever social media they prefer.
Any chance of progressive discussion to be had on the matter is tossed out the window and replaced with guttural war cries from either side, avid to defend what they believe in. It’s a kyriarcal shitstorm in which, eventually, no one is right and everyone comes out no better from it. No one apart from the PR pushers who ignited the whole thing with their commercial product at the center, that is. Thanks everyone – now don’t forget to stuff your pacifiers back in until the game is released in a few months time when we’ll be releasing another controversial trailer for you all to get angry about! Oh and you will forgive us after what was said in the pre-planned apology that we just released, haven’t you? Now we almost look good as we fake our naivety in our public sorries after having being beaten down by the angry voices that made our intentionally controversial product worthwhile just for the exposure (may not actually be a recount of what happens).
Now we’re getting to the point where no one can say a damn thing about anything for fear of coming under the hammer of justice being waved about on the internet. So we’re stuck in a rut, or will be eventually if we’re not already. But what can we do about it? Should we stop calling out these promotional and commercial products in the hope that they’ll just disappear? Well, that’s what the gaming media has been doing for years now and that’s got us nowhere. Ideally we need to focus on sensible discussion without the conflict and hate, in which we don’t entertain the playground antics the various groups perform on cue in their emerging chorus of PR bullshit heaven. If we’re going to discuss social responsibility and how to criticize the sludge that gaming marketing often dribbles out and calls a product, then perhaps we should gather our thoughts first before simply posting an article, a tweet or a post on Tumblr that basically says nothing more than “GWAAAARGH!”