Rise From Your Grave

Rise From Your Grave
The Ballet of Death

Robert Rath | 26 Apr 2011 12:00
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Though Ubisoft's marketing blitzkrieg is impressive, Dead Island is a completely different beast. Up until this point, game trailers have appealed to our fantasies. Instead, Dead Island appeals to our fears and sorrows. While other cinematic commercials tell you to buy a game because it makes you feel like a badass, Deep Silver hooks customers by making them empathize with the characters. It's a videogame pitch made purely on pathos.

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Deep Silver has accomplished this because they've done what the best science fiction, fantasy, and horror films always have: Connect with the audience through their material, rather than in spite of it. Ultimately, the themes of most games are not unique to their setting. The story of Assassin's Creed II could easily be transferred to the French Revolution or the Depression-era Bronx without fundamentally changing its themes, and Halo: ODST would be much the same if it were about a scattered squad of paratroopers on D-Day.

The story of the dead girl, on the other hand, could not exist in any world but the one where it's set. The elements are so deliberate and necessary, that to alter or delete a single one would diminish the impact. It had to be this girl, and this exhausted father, and the setting had to be a tropical resort where people go to escape the stresses of their suburban lives, and instead find its manicured landscape prowled by the feral dead. Most of all, it had to be zombies. No other creature, fact or figment, could instigate the cycle of death and rebirth that's central to the plot.

In fact, the trailer may have been too successful. Deep Silver is already taking steps to cool the overheating hype engine. "The story focus for Dead Island is more on the bigger picture of the situation on Banoi and less on an individual tragedy," insists Borkel. "Our emphasis for this game is on the gameplay, but the game story and struggle for survival by the players and survivors is an important aspect of that game."

But with excitement about the Dead Island trailer spreading like the T-Virus, it's important to gain some perspective. Even the best trailers are transitory things. Twenty years from now, a great game will still be remembered, but a great trailer will be a footnote. The Dead Island trailer may help us spread the word that games can carry emotional resonance and deal with serious issues, but ultimately it isn't an innovation in videogame storytelling, it's an innovation in videogame marketing.

Whether Deep Silver will cause a revolution in videogame narrative remains to be seen, but if they do, it will be through the game they sell, not how they sell the game.

Robert Rath (twitter: @robwritespulp) is a Hawaii-born novelist and freelance journalist headquartered in Austin, Texas. He would like to thank his friends at Blue Goggles Films for providing expert consultation on zombie-related issues.

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