Of Deep Silver, Dead Island, and Conversation Pieces
Editorial Note: Deep Silver have, since this post was written, apparently issued some sort of apology for this. Which is progress! Hooray! Nonetheless, we’re not seeing a reason not to post this anyway, because it’s not as if this kind of shit isn’t part of a wider stream of crap that makes us feel pretty endlessly tired when we’re trying to get on with consuming our pop culture. And a retraction doesn’t really answer the question of why this crap was and is so often considered OK in the first place, and is only reconsidered when some sort of hullabaloo is made. And also, Mia wrote this very promptly, and I, the ed, was under a pile of Stuff and couldn’t get to posting it on the day. But what she has to say about how she felt remains pretty on-point about the issues in general. So: let it stand.
Dear Deep Silver,
I have just seen the parody ad for the collector’s edition of Dead Island: Riptide. While violence against women and graphic dismemberment are fairly cheap, extremely tasteless and far too easy targets for “shock value”, I’m impressed by your provocative attempts to further the dialogue about the sinister and ingrained misogyny of videogame culture by taking it to a disgusting extreme.
Oh… wait, hang on, I’ve just heard from Rock, Paper, Shotgun that you’re actually serious about this. This apparently isn’t just a misguided pastiche of publicity stunts. Oh. Oh dear.
You claim that this hunk of resin will:
… make a striking conversation piece on any discerning zombie gamer’s mantel.
Well, as someone who has notched up damn near 1,000 hours of zombie killing in recent years (thanks, Steam, for keeping track of that. I was starting to worry that I was wasting my life), let’s have a conversation about it. I’ll go and brew up a steaming cup of Sityourassdown while you perch on the naughty stool and think about what you’ve done.
I can hear it already, the rumbling of defensive PR managers approaching.
“But it’s a zombie game! The whole point of it is to commit heinous acts of violence against the undead in self defence! A zombie torso with its limbs severed is a trophy that represents your prowess!”
Before I address this, in the interests of full disclosure, I have to say that I am not a qualified physician. However, from my forays into the study of human and zombie biology, I can confirm that the healthy, warm-tanned skintone, obvious freshness of the blood, the lack of any sort of necrosis or decomposition of the flesh indicates that this torso was certainly not a zombie at the time of her dismemberment.
Exposure of the lower ribs suggest traumatic chest injury; however, it’s not clear whether this occurred before or after the time of death. My working hypothesis is that her death had something to do with either decapitation or the loss of all her blood. Even without formal medical training, I am fairly confident in positing that there is no coming back from complete removal of the head.
There isn’t even any artistic merit in what you’ve created, which is almost as offensive as the glorification of horrific violence against women. You have the gumption to describe it as:
…Dead Island’s grotesque take on an iconic Roman marble torso sculpture.
No. Stop. Please. The skies are filled with the anguished cries of Classics and Art History students, joined by the despairing sobs of everybody with a functioning pair of eyes. There are several salient differences between your abomination and classical works of art, but I’ll set out a few of these for your convenience:
- Artistic merit. Marble sculptures are exquisite works by highly-skilled craftspeople demonstrating the depth of their abilities. Weeks of work go into a marble sculpture, creating something dynamic and evocative from a chunk of something cold and unyielding drawn from the earth. These are not pieces that can be “designed” in an afternoon by a gaggle of fratboy marketers over their weekly office keg.
- Anatomy. Sculptors who work with marble show an intimate and thorough knowledge and understanding of human anatomy. Every muscle, every curve, every millimetre of skin is honed to a perfect representation of the human form. What you have done is plonked two tennis balls on a solid block of resin, doodled in a crude cleavage with a Sharpie, then splashed raspberry sauce all over it and called it a day. Which brings me neatly onto my next point…
- Overt sexualisation and glamourisation of violence against women. Classical torso sculptures are not without limbs due to some horrible run-in with a horde of undead and a crazed survivor with a katana. If any Classics types would like to weigh in on this, I’d be interested to learn. However, I’m pretty sure that the motivations of those classical sculptors was not “Hurr, violence is EPIC. You know what else is epic? TITS! Yeah! But you know what’s not epic? Any part of a woman that isn’t tits or crotch. Let’s put, yeah, some tits and a crotch in a string bikini, and like, cut everything else off. Gamers will eat that up. Oh man, I’m jizzing my pants already. Tits and extreme violence. We’re geniuses.” (Again, classics students, if there’s any evidence of the great Graeco-Roman sculptors having had this discussion, I will withdraw this point. Let me know.)
In summary: what the hell? After the first Dead Island game failed to quite live up to its own teaser trailer, do you just feel like you need to continue along this trajectory of disappointment? Were you hoping to hit rock bottom with today’s sick display in the hope that thereafter, the only way would be up? If that’s the case, I’d be tempted to applaud your shamelessness, had it not been such a swing and a miss.
Now, I’m a feminist, but I also don’t believe that every catastrophic misunderstanding of how to exploit the “desirability” of anything that vaguely resembles a woman’s body (usually one that conforms to narrow standards of Western beauty) is born of true misogyny.
I believe it’s quite possible that you “just didn’t think” of the implications and repercussions of showing a violently dismembered female torso and selling it as an ornament. For those of us – women and some men – who actually live in bodies like the one messily represented in your collector’s edition, it isn’t possible to “just not think” about the possibilities and the realities of violence.
Women are disproportionately more likely to be the victims of domestic violence or sexual abuse, both by people they know and by strangers. We are taught from childhood that our bodies are weaker, that if we don’t want to be attacked we have to dress demurely, to know our limits, to keep our mouths shut and to do as we’re told.
We live in a victim-blaming world that constantly promotes the idea that the only way to not be a victim is to not provoke those strong and burly menfolks, who cannot be held to account if they attack you because you were obviously “asking for it” if and when it happens. Although this line of reasoning was born of institutionalised misogyny, it doesn’t exactly paint men in the most flattering of lights either.
The discussion is thankfully broadening, so this is not an issue I’ll go deeper into here. But Deep Silver, consider yourselves called out. There’s a wealth of resources, information, blogs, zines, articles, and opinion pieces out there. You have no excuse for not educating yourselves about why what you have done is damaging and irresponsible.
Everybody fucks up sometimes when it comes to the way they think about or treat people less privileged than they are. What really proves whether or not they’re capable of meeting the criteria for being a decent human being, or a company with any integrity, is how they handle and learn from their fuckups. My advice? Apologise. Be humble. Be grateful to people who have called you out on this. Make the choice to educate yourselves. And for the love of all things zombie, don’t do it again.
I do, however, have one thing to be grateful to you for about this. Should I find myself romancing a fellow gamer in future, and we go back to their house, this statuette will be an immediate and unmistakable red flag that this person has questionable taste in games, décor and attitudes towards women. This information will be a clear indicator that this isn’t somebody I should be spending time with.
Perhaps your statue could replace the endless whining about “the friendzone” as the hallmark of somebody utterly clueless about human relationships and endlessly disrespectful to women. Then I would laud you for your achievement, because that shit is getting very, very tiresome.