Rise From Your Grave

Rise From Your Grave
The Ballet of Death

Robert Rath | 26 Apr 2011 12:00
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And there's the rub - the Dead Island announcement spot isn't really a trailer - it's a short film. Moreover, it's a good short film. It wouldn't look out of place at SXSW, Toronto, or Tribeca, screened as part of the "Midnight Shorts" programs that feature horror staples like serial killers, cannibals, and vampires. Unlike a traditional advertisement, the trailer doesn't tout the game's arsenal of weapons or its co-op capabilities; in fact, it never even mentions that Dead Island is a game. Instead, it tells you a story - one that grabs you by the liver and won't let go.

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For years, game developers have attempted to legitimize their craft as a narrative medium, rather than being seen as toymakers, and they're gaining traction on the issue. Ten years ago, claiming to play games for the story was about as convincing as professing to read Playboy for the articles, but games are becoming mainstream with shocking speed and the perception of them as a storytelling tool is now common. In 2006, the BAFTAs recognized games as having equal status to films and television, and L.A. Noire was recently accepted for a screening at the Tribeca Film Festival.

I would argue that one of the largest factors in the growing acceptance of the medium has actually been game advertising rather than the games themselves. Ads serve as ambassadors to non-gamers, forming opinions about a medium that viewers might not connect with, or even understand. The fact that game trailers regularly air on Monday Night Football and late night television means that they influence people outside their target demographic, and overall the industry has put its best foot forward in portraying itself as more than a venue for ventilating aliens with double-ought buck.

This positive influence is due to a specific marketing move by the games industry. Recently, game advertising has shifted from touting product features to putting the spotlight on a game's narrative. These days, game footage is often cut together like a film trailer summarizing a game's story or mood, which makes the medium more relatable to non-gamers, since they're already acquainted with movie previews. In addition, story-driven advertising hooks game players into an ongoing narrative that will keep them coming back over multiple installments. Essentially, what these trailers do is sell a game's experiential dimension, focusing more on how the game will make you feel rather than what it lets you do. That's an important distinction in the ongoing argument about whether games are an art form.

Dead Island was not the first to make a short film. Bungie produced live action short films for Halo: Reach and ODST. The latter, depicting a young man's journey from war orphan to scarred combat veteran, was particularly well done. However, the major innovator in the realm of narrative trailers has been Ubisoft, which crafted a full transmedia experience telling the story of Assassin's Creed II across multiple platforms, including a three-episode webseries that set the stage for the game's opening scenes. Ubisoft obviously considers the campaign successful, since it has announced that it's developing a short film prequel to Ghost Recon: Future Soldier.

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