Dead Island: Cinematic Preamble

Three days ago IGN revealed the world premier of the cinematic trailer for Dead Island, a game trapped in development limbo for going on four years now. While the trailer showed absolutely no gameplay, it quickly went viral due to the subject matter and presentation. For those out of the loop the trailer can be seen here (suitable only for those aged 18 and above).

What is most striking is the different reactions the trailer brought out in people based on their situation or beliefs and the assumptions made afterwards about the point to it. The point of a trailer is to garner interest in a product that is to be released sometime in the future and, in keeping with Hollywood blockbuster trailers, game trailers have become increasingly cinematic in order to get attention and as a result focus less on what it is actually like to play.

As a marketing tool for the game, the Dead Island trailer succeeds in getting worldwide recognition. It fails, however, to properly demonstrate the game. That is unless you read into the trailer more than perhaps you are meant to. One common assumption is that based on the obvious emotions in the trailer that the game will reflect that same level of intense feeling. This is a common marketing trick and is a pretty large jump for a four player, first person zombie brawler-come-shooter.

It’s at this point I’d like to make it clear that I loved the trailer, despite it being useless as far as teaching me about the game goes. The tragic death of a little girl shown from the point of her zombified death reversed to the point her father first tries to save her is very powerful and is helped along by a wonderful piano piece from Giles Lamb, not to mention excellent production values. However I did not fall into the trap of assuming too much from too little, and instead simply enjoyed a three minute bit of macabre cinema.

Another common reaction to the trailer is a far more negative one. This reaction can perhaps best be summed up by watching Geoff of Achievement Hunters attempting to watch the trailer here. Watch as the timid coward gets barely a few seconds into it and then turns it off based solely on the fact he has a young daughter. Would the same kind of pause apply to, say, a character in Fallout or Oblivion? You can’t kill kids (bizarre mods aside) but you can kill somebody’s child technically, or somebody’s parent. Did that kind of thing give him pause? I like dogs, best not play a game where I need to kill some. That pedestrian in the street on GTA IV looks a little like my aunt, best not run her down in my car.

It is flawed reasoning that bad things happening to children is a no-go area for games. It’s 18+ PEGI rated so real children aren’t going to see it for a start (in theory, anyway – if you are a parent of a young child and you let them play those high rated games then you are traumatising them far more than a trailer like this one is traumatising you). Secondly, it puts a bizarrely heightened value on a younger life compared to an older one. The father died in that trailer as well you know (at least presumably, based on his daughter biting him) and all those other zombies were people once too. Ah, but they were middle-aged, so who cares?

It is understandable that if you have a young daughter of the same age and that kind of look that watching the trailer would be slightly uncomfortable. I mean, you might need to launch your little zombified girl out a window as she bites you if a zombie apocalypse happens for real. And it might. There’s an outside shot. Possibly.

If you do a search for ‘Dead Island Trailer’ you will see the internet is already full of arguments (well, it always is about one thing or another I suppose). Is the trailer art or a step too far? Others hail it as the best trailer of all time whereas even more accuse it of exploiting images of a dead girl. They know she isn’t real, right? If anything, it is the exploitation of emotion, but that’s the point of most forms of media. Once Fox News stops giving Bulletstorm free publicity I’m sure Dead Island will be next. They may wait until a bit closer to the release date though just to help it break that one million sales mark.

If it isn’t already obvious: my opinion of the trailer is that it falls on the side of art. It is slightly uncomfortable to watch, but that’s the point. It has succeeded in its role as a marketing tool because I, like many millions more now, will be keeping a closer eye on a game thought long dead – even though I am under no illusions that it will be as dramatic or evoking as the cinematic trailer. The trailer was impressive preamble that sets goals extremely high for what will follow. It was the warm-up act for the main event that now has perhaps too much to live up to.

A release date has yet to be set for Dead Island, though if you didn’t wimp out of watching the trailer through to the pre-blood splatter moments then you may have noticed the date printed on the father’s shirt indicating the middle of June. It’s one to look out for, even if you hate it.

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Written by Ian D

Misanthropic git. Dislikes: Most things. Likes: Obscure references.


  1. To me, the reasons for the child imagery being more emotionally provocative than similar violent imagery against adults (for some people) are obvious. Perhaps that’s just because I have two young daughters myself, and more understanding of psychology and advertising than perhaps I would like. I’m not here to argue with Ian however, who has written a very good article.

    I don’t even want to discuss the controversy, at least not directly (although I will say that, although the dead girl disturbs me, suggesting the trailer should be banned is ridiculous). I want instead to express my dismay and confusion at the gushing praise the trailer has received.

    This seems largely to stem from a mistake Ian is keen to stress he has not made; namely, inferring depth and intelligence that the game may – but quite likely will not – have, from this trailer. This pseudo-artistic short is exactly the kind of thing journalists and gamers who secretly suspect videogames are a childish pursuit crave. Events are played out backwards – slowly! To some nice music! It MUST be art… and so must the game!

    Word that movie companies are circling the trailer has now planted the whole issue firmly into the land of farce. What’s in that trailer that isn’t in a thousand other zombie stories, and therefore needs to be licensed? The characters aren’t even named! If you’re taking Hollywood’s interest as vindication of the trailer’s worth – wake up. They’re not interested in the story, the characters, or even the trailer itself. They’re interested in the huge amount of publicity the trailer has garnered in a short amount of time, nothing more. By buying the name ‘Dead Island’, they win that publicity by proxy for any movie carrying that title – good or bad.

  2. Jaykray /

    I didn’t actually realise what was happening in the trailer the first time I watched it, I thought the dad was giving his daughter a piggy back to protect her from the zombies and accidentally threw her out the window. It just made more sense in my head as I didn’t really think that people can change into zombies that quickly.

    However, even though I didn’t understand it I would agree that it was the trailer of the year and I suppose it will stay that way until the next Arkham City one (assuming it’s as good as the Hugo Strange reveal).

  3. KrazyFace /

    There’s no doubt in my mind that the industry knows it’s demographic; namely 25 – 35 yearold males (with kids). I definitly connected with that trailer, but really only because I’m also a father with a little girl, and as such my brain instantly connects with that kind of imagary. There will however be a million 16 yearold zombie fans out there more focused on the severed heads and arms, and think little of the girl’s plight – or see it from a parents point of view coz y’know, parents are scum!

    Anyway, Ian is right. There’s absolutly nothing here that even hints at what the gameplay is like, going just by the trailer, I wouldn’t be able to tell you if it’s an FPS, top-down shooter or even a re-vamped zombie version of UNO! Which is a shame because (as this article states) the idea of a “game trailer” is to let you know what the game’s like, and not just show off how real the graphics dept have made skin or blood look. It’s exactly this kind of position games should be trying to keep away from, because all the end result ever is, is dissapointment in the actual game.

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