A Response to “Why I Can’t Get Behind ‘Dead Island'”
In case you missed it, an enormous buzz practically set the gaming community on fire recently. Deep Silver released a trailer for the game Dead Island and gamers across the planet sang praises and wrote about how they couldn’t wait to get their hands on the game. If you’ve seen this trailer, then you might agree the production value is high and the story engaging. However National Public Radio contributor Omar Gallaga wrote about his issues with the trailer on CNN.com last week. Gallaga writes, in part: “But, increasingly, I’m getting uncomfortable with how comfortable game developers have become with putting children in peril and, often, allowing them to be gruesomely killed.” I have no problem with that statement. After all we should be uncomfortable when children are killed, even if they are virtual children. More on that later. Let’s wrap up Gallaga’s line of reasoning first.
He concludes that point when he writes: “I wonder if our tolerance for virtual gore and bloodshed in games has numbed us to the mutilation and torture of children because they’re virtual characters…or, more disturbingly, maybe we’ve become so used to hearing about violence directed at kids that its depiction in video games is just another reflection of our culture.” Here he misses the point. I believe the premise of this conversation should not be that the game narrative reflects culture. It doesn’t. Games never have. The point should be that in order for game content to mirror society then game characters must respond to and be held accountable for their actions. In our society, there are consequences for abusing and killing children. If real people killed hundreds of zombie children on this island, you can bet they will not emerged unscathed from the event. Why is it that we accept that game protagonists have no emotions and can wade through untold numbers of zombies/terrorists/alien bad guys and not feel anything? The only game recent game character I can remember having any recriminations is Alan Wake, and then only briefly.
However the scariest part of the article is not Gallaga’s concerns about children, but rather the comments readers posted about his article. I read through most of them and the reactions of gamers must also be taken into account because they change the nature of the conversation. There were numerous deriding his views because Dead Island is “just a game” and that means the virtual characters are not real. Well of course they are not “real” but our reactions to them are very real. I like to test the “not real” theory by asking if those same players would enjoy a rape game. I wonder if they would feel the same way if asked to play a Nazi guard in a concentration camp or perhaps the captain on ship full of slaves crossing the middle passage. After all, you can’t really rape, burn, or enslave anyone, can you? It’s just a game so the argument goes.
I suspect most of them would answer that they would never play something so distasteful and offensive. But they are “just games” right? If that is the case, then why do we draw a line between is acceptable and what is too much? If these characters are not real then why should we make a distinction between “killing” them and “raping” them? Neither scenario is real. Yet we do and in doing so find justification for tossing zombie children out a window but not raping young virtual women. How convenient.
We will have to wait and see what Dead Island has to offer. It may turn out that Mr. Gallaga’s concerns about children find a larger platform with this release. I find it more likely that the same attitude we find in the comments will mute the conversation or at least relegate it to “it’s just a game.” That would be sad, though not unexpected.