Thursday, 17 January 2013

Dead Island Statuette Controversy

Hey all. I meant to update sooner but my computer broke last week, so I've had to put it off until now. This post will be a shorter one than usual though.

Today, I was browsing for topics to write about and found that Deep Silver, the developer of Dead Island, were planning to release a collector's edition of the game ... which they promptly apologised for later the same day. The reason, for those who don't want to click the links, is a hand-painted statuette that was to be bundled with the game:

(Image cropped. It's unknown if Deep Silver will alter the collector's edition in any way.)

First of all, I'll say that I certainly find the statuette to be quite tacky (and from what I've seen of the Gamespot comments, that seems to be the main issue that everyone there has with it too). I suppose I can picture it on an out-of-the-way shelf alongside Bioshock's Big Daddy limited edition statuette but it's certainly not something I would put on display.

From what I've seen, the controversy seems to surround the correlation between the sexualisation of violence against women. It was much the same criticism that was directed at the trailer for Hitman: Absolution.

However, there are a few points that need to be raised. The first is succinctly summed up by a Gamespot member called gsbliss: "If that were a bloodied male torso no one would give a damn." As of this writing, nobody has replied to gsbliss' comment but if I had to guess at what the counter-argument to that would be, I'd say it'd be along the lines of "well, men aren't as sexualised as women, so it's less significant".

There are a few problems with that argument. I believe there are significant examples of men being sexualised but let's play devil's advocate and take the above statement as fact. To that, I would say that violence against men isn't taken as seriously as violence against women either, so that'd be another reason why nobody would care about a bloodied male torso. The fact that we don't bat an eyelid at violence against men is a significant problem. Secondly, it wouldn't necessarily have to be a torso; even if it was a lot more sexualised, like a bloody, bulging male crotch and buttocks, I don't think people would care as much as they do when a woman is the victim. We're that desensitised to violence against men and I get the feeling that an exaggerated male physique would be treated as funny rather than sexy. While violence against women being related to sex is heavily criticised, I feel like very, very few people would complain that violence against men was being treated as comedy. Mainly because it's been treated as comedy many, many times before in sitcoms. Maybe Deep Silver would even go down the Jeffrey Yohalem route and describe a bloodied male torso or crotch as "meta-commentary" on the way women are treated.

The other comment I want to highlight is by a Gamespot member called PsychoChick966:
I will state the same thing I stated elsewhere...  Yeah, I gotta agree with you (  I don't know how fans of the game can possibly call this offensive or gruesome.  I'm a woman, and a fan of the game (just put in about 4 hours last night), and if I'm offended by anything, it's a company wanting to charge me a boatload of money for some super special limited edition with a bunch of crap I don't need.  I just want the damned game.

I have read the comments of innumerable people on several gaming sites, and I'm rather surprised by all the backlash.  Intent is a large part of anything, and when this edition was announced, Deep Silver stated the statue is a "grotesque take on an iconic Roman marble torso sculpture."  Now whether you think it's in good taste or bad, I'm not sure how you can really take offense by it.  You spend 99% of your time in-game hacking the hell out of zombies.  There are usually hunks of male and female zombies on the ground when you're finished, that look just like the statue.  For heaven's sake people, that's all it is...just an image from your game.  There is no political, or sexist meaning behind it.  I TOTALLY get people not liking it.  I just don't get their reasoning behind it
PsychoChick966's comment highlights one of the big reasons I'm confused by Deep Silver's apology. The statuette and the collector's edition as a whole is released in the hope that it'll attract fans of the genre; fans of gore, horror and zombies. If you look at the picture above, Deep Silver even gave a warning that it might offend. Why exactly are they apologising when it does? And presumably (note the emphasis) to the people who wouldn't be interested in the genre in the first place. It would be one thing if the bloodied torso had nothing to do with the game itself but, as PsychoChick966 noted above, it does; Dead Island is set in the tropics, so lots of zombies (male and female) are light on clothing. This, combined with the game's hack-and-slash gameplay, leads to a lot of corpses looking like the statuette above.

Before anybody thinks I'm being unreasonable, this reminds me of when I wrote "A subject nobody likes to talk about ... (NSFW)". You don't have to read the post but there was a visual novel I wrote about called Discipline: The Record Of A Crusade. I found the game offensive because it featured many, many instances of female-on-male rape ... but as harsh as it might be to say about a game that features rape, I didn't believe that I should have a say over that game's content just because it didn't suit my preferences. Like it or not, games like that continue to be made because they have an audience that's willing to pay for them. Who am I to try to dictate a game developer's vision?

The best thing for people to do if they disagree with a developer's decisions is to "vote with your wallet", as people say nowadays. Don't like it? Don't buy it. I believe I have some say as a consumer -- enough to voice my criticism of Discipline or, say, the Mass Effect 3 ending -- but as someone who doesn't own the game and expecting the developer to change elements about it to suit me? That's the very definition of "gamer's entitlement" that comes under fire so often these days. And I don't wish to stereotype or make blanket assumptions but if the critics of the Dead Island statuette are so prudish about the sex/violence correlation that they believe exists, will they really be buying the collector's edition with the statuette removed? It's still a violent game with scantily-clad women, so I can't imagine there being many more sales of the game coming from that audience. All-in-all I find voting with my wallet to be more sensible than stomping my feet and saying "everyone else is wrong" until they change things to suit me. That attitude comes across as very immature and I don't think it portrays the gaming community in the best light.

However, if Deep Silver remove the statuette from the collector's edition, I'm not saying I'll be losing any sleep over it or tearing my hair out. I just think the reasons for doing so are a bit daft.

Two final, unrelated, points of interest before I go; late last year, I was interested in trying to make some money from this blog. I've noticed others have adopted a "tip jar" system with PayPal and I was tempted to do the same thing ... until I paid a visit to FeministFrequency. Seeing Anita Sarkeesian's six months of event-twisting and painting herself as a victim soured me on the whole idea. I didn't think I could put a Donate button on this blog without being compared to Anita and that's something I really don't want. More importantly, I would find it morally questionable. After people donated to someone whose actions I hold in such low esteem, could I really justify dangling a Donate button over people's heads and asking them to do the same for someone they don't know? I couldn't.

Secondly, I'd like to say that I really appreciate all the comments on this blog. I don't often reply but I do read them all and I'm thankful for every one of them. This blog doesn't get many views so trust me, I'm very appreciative of the readers I have. Feel free to leave a comment or send me an e-mail at