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 (don’t hate my parents) 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. And in the interest of fairness I’ll embed the video below if you wish to make your own mind up.
But be warned – if you don’t like gore and you don’t like images of dead children you might not enjoy it very much.
There’s never once been a gaming content "controversy" in the past that I haven’t opposed. The GTA Hot Coffee scandal? Gimme a break. I’ve read copies of the Beano that are more explicit than that. The whole saga was nothing more than a vehicle for US lawyers to make a cheap buck.
And Bulletstorm? Silly violence that adults can consume quite safely and definitely won’t turn them into rapists. Medal of Honor and the Taliban? American and British troops aren’t shooting fictional characters in Afghanistan. I really don’t understand the harm in representing both sides in a not-fictitious conflict.
Straying back a bit further, I also defended Infinity Ward and its decision to include the No Russian level in Modern Warfare 2. I think the level treated the topic with a certain level of respect. And by the end of the game the number of civilians that I may or may not of shot was kind of lost amongst the thousands of terrorists (many of whom would also have been husbands and fathers, I presume) I’d slaughtered on the way.
When I played No Russian, it made me think. Thinking, in general, is a good thing.
I even thought the reaction to Manhunt was absurd. It’s gore porn, for sure, Just like films like Saw (which I don’t watch as I don’t enjoy gore porn) and books like American Psycho (which I did enjoy as it’s a marvellous piece of character writing). And the idea that the game could prove a "training tool" for anything aside from manipulating a joypad is absurd.
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 IMO".
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.