Eight Women, Eight Responses, and One Dead Island Riptide Statue
A collection of reactions to last week's questionable marketing tactic from a variety of women in the video game industry.
By Patrick Klepek | Jan. 24, 2013
Deep Silver likely did not anticipate the intense reaction to its UK-specific Zombie Bait bundle for Dead Island Riptide when it was announced last week. The news came alongside other bundles for the sequel, but the Zombie Bait bundle received attention for a statue of a torn apart woman that featured nothing more than her bikini-wearing torso.
Deep Silver's issued a questionable apology in response to the furor. The company did not discuss how this bundle even came into existence, and still hasn't said whether it will be sold or not. One would hope not? I've asked the company for further clarification on that point, but as of publication, nothing has come back.
Here's the company's previous statement in full:
"We deeply apologize for any offense caused by the Dead Island Riptide "Zombie Bait Edition", the collector's edition announced for Europe and Australia. Like many gaming companies, Deep Silver has many offices in different countries, which is why sometimes different versions of Collector's Editions come into being for North America, Europe, Australia, and Asia.
For the limited run of the Zombie Bait Edition for Europe and Australia, a decision was made to include a gruesome statue of a zombie torso, which was cut up like many of our fans had done to the undead enemies in the original Dead Island.
We sincerely regret this choice. We are collecting feedback continuously from the Dead Island community, as well as the international gaming community at large, for ongoing internal meetings with Deep Silver's entire international team today. For now, we want to reiterate to the community, fans and industry how deeply sorry we are, and that we are committed to making sure this will never happen again."
The story featured my own opinion on the subject, as do most pieces of content on Giant Bomb. You might have suspected part of my response, based on previous articles I've filed at the site, and the reaction was along the lines of the last conversation about #1reasonwhy. When I was mulling a follow-up, I didn't want to have the same back-and-forth, and hoped to introduce some new voices.
So, I reached out to a number of women members of the video game community, and asked them to provide their individual reactions. There are voices from everywhere in games, from development to fellow writers. I didn't specifically seek out people who had expressed an opinion about Dead Island, I just figured they had one. Some chose to speak directly to what happened, some didn't. There weren't any rules.
I'm also going to start something new here. I won't guarantee it'll happen every time, but for big features, I want to make sure there's a dedicated time slot for spending time responding to comments. It won't happen until the story has been up for a little while, and people have had a chance to digest it. In this case, it's going to be for 30 minutes at 11:30 a.m. PST. As always, anything I don't get to can be addressed in PM, on Twitter, or through my Tumblr site.
Rhianna Pratchett, writer (Tomb Raider, Mirror's Edge)
I'm both a horror fan, and a Dead Island fan. But my initial reaction to Riptide's mutilated torso was one of shock, bewilderment and confusion. I wasn't morally outraged. It was more a deep sigh and eye roll of "Oh come on... really? REALLY?" Yes, horror and sex have been intertwined forever, but there was something about the visual depiction of this one that was unexpectedly disgusting for a number of reasons. A mutilated corpse (of either sex) is pretty disturbing, sure. A sexed-up (and there no other way to describe the perfectly round, barely covered up and non-zombified knockers) female corpse, offered up as a reward, has particularly nasty connotations. Especially when combined with the fact that it's described as 'bait'--a confusing title for what was apparently meant to be (according to the developers) a zombie's torso, rather than the mutilated and cut up human torso that it actually looked like. Zombies are not normally known for the penchant to chew down on the flesh of other zombies.
I'm accustomed to game companies marketing towards men. But rarely is it quite so blatantly i.e. "Here are some tits!" It's a mistake to ignore the legions of female gamers out there, who enjoy their zombie killing just as much as the guys. It's an even bigger mistake to outright annoy them. Believe me, I know this. I've got first-hand experience of being caught-up with a video games "controversy" on Tomb Raider, and so I know that marketing and the way we speak about and depict our characters and games is important. Industry and player debate about how we go about this is also valuable.
I was glad to see Deep Silver apologising for this rather large misstep, although I was a little perplexed by the fact that they seemed to use the fact that players apparently do this in the game (or at least have the option to) as some kind of get-out-of-jail card. I've done some horrendous things in games. I don't particularly want to see them immortalised in statue form.
There's been a lot of talk about whether it would have been okay if it was a male statue. But the fact that it isn't (and we can only really talk about what we've been presented with, not what we haven't) combined with the way the torso's been depicted, strongly suggests that the marketeers would never have done that. A sexed-up male torso (and even with a six-pack it's not quite the same) wouldn't have appealed to the intended audience (straight men) in the same way. If they'd wanted to keep up this mutilated torso theme then a male torso and female torso, leaning against each other in zombie-baiting harmony, would've been a better way to go about it. And, given that the first game had a 50/50 male to female ratio of player characters and a similar ratio in the AI, rather more in keeping with the general tone of the game.
Better still, something like AMC's Walking Dead collector's edition head would have been more appropriate and arguably less offensive.
Follow more of Rhianna's work at www.rhiannapratchett.com and on Twitter.
Clarice Meadows, writer and former sales operation manager at Take-Two Interactive
When marketing departments come up with various tchotchkes to get people to buy a video game, there are a lot of factors that come into it. Theme, desirability, originality, and more. It's a matter of making something unusual and interesting enough, and yet appropriately themed for the game, that fans will absolutely HAVE to buy it. I like to think that there are focus groups involved in the choice of object, or at the very least more than just a bunch of marketing types being locked in a room for days fueled by caffeine and junk food until they come up with an idea and are let out. Sadly, I am pretty sure the latter is usually the case. The zombie torso created specifically for Dead Island Riptide was, in my opinion, a marketing catastrophe. I've heard many responses to this particular item. From "well women don't play games anyway" to "by getting mad about it and yelling, you guys are giving this company free advertising" to "it's like a classical sculpture of antiquity, but a zombie!" So let's break this down a bit.
1) I am a woman, and I play video games. I am not particularly unusual in my gender group in choosing to play video games. I grew up in the 80s, video games were around, and I liked them. I also happen to know quite a few other women who play games, including games like Dead Island. By ignoring women as a market demographic for a video game, companies are losing out hugely. By assuming women will only buy pink, glittery items or games that are about clothing and boyfriends, these companies are losing money. By putting out a completely sexist and crass marketing ploy, they are losing money. Seriously, isn't the point of triple-A games to make scads of cash? I really don't get making choices that lead to losing it instead, can you tell?
2) By yelling about something offensive, we're making a case that offensive marketing is unacceptable. By not yelling, we're giving silent consent to continuing crappy and cheap marketing choices. And trust me, this is crappy, cheap AND lazy marketing. Oh look, a pair of boobs! How innovative! Apparently these marketers think the only people playing video games are under-sexed pubescent mole men. I mean... seriously? Lazy.
3) The last time I checked, classical sculptures did not have boob jobs. Also, the last time I checked, real boobs did not do that while in a string bikini. There's this thing called gravity... And if we're going to have an argument that this torso is not overly sexed up and has turned a live woman (or live lady zombie) into a bunch of sex organs, then... well... someone is lying to themselves. Is it appropriate? Is necrophilia really acceptable now? Because that's what this feels like it's promoting to me.
Lazy and cheap marketing ploys don't make money, they cost money in PR nightmares and hours of dancing around apologizing. It doesn't take much to be smarter, and who knows? Maybe a new market full of lots of money will open up and be willing to spend that money on video games! I mean, didn't you hear that women have jobs and make money and LOVE to spend it? Think big video game companies. Think about all that cash you're letting slide right through your fingers, and play it smarter.
Follow more of Clarice's work at Plays Like a Girl and on Twitter.
Kate Lorimer, composer and writer
For my part, yes, I found it offensive, it was "the straw that broke the camel's back" (though I am sure it won't be the last such incident) after a year of dodgy marketing (Hitman, Booth Babes, Tomb Raider, Girlfriend Mode, Anita Sarkeesian). And from a personal viewpoint, even a close friend expressing his being fed up with online "outrage" and "Feminist point-scoring pandering" from game websites like Rock Paper Shotgun--his words--and his complete (and somewhat deliberate) misunderstanding of the concept of Feminism (being supposedly more about pursuing Women's interests above male's, as opposed to actually being about equality for both genders).
Unfortunately, amongst teens and younger players in general (but as Jenny Haniver has shown, far from exclusively) there's likely to be a kneejerk reaction backlash at the outrage and offence caused by it, as kids love a bit of blood'n'gore, and certainly amongst the heterosexual hormone fueled boys that whole "cor... boobies" thing has an attraction. See: http://www.southparkstudios.com/clips/153
The reasons for it being offensive are obvious to the clear of thought--it's objectification at its worst. Remove the person from the body, inexplicably leaving a pubescent boy's idea of the perfect female figure, with balloon boobs (mysteriously untouched by hungry zombie snacking) and a peek at a panty enclosed crotch--of course, hiding the vagina within--which would likely be too offensive/edgy to the same boys!
Would the situation have been mitigated had there been an alternative option of a male torso? It might have slightly balanced the equality issue, though of course there is a special obsession with boobies--especially globe-tastic ones on an itty bitty waist! But the fact that it's just a female torso they decided to go with speaks volumes about their marketing, and the usual narrow-minded targeted demographic. It might have been just as grisly but slightly more in line with the zombie ethos to have had a scary looking zombie head?
Follow more of Kate's work at K8-bit and on Twitter.
Elizabeth DeLoria, staff writer at Gameranx and cosplay photographer
In September last year, Jill Meagher, a 29-year-old ABC employee, went missing while walking the short walk home from a popular Melbourne street. Thanks to a somewhat viral social media campaign, the entire country began to follow the case, people everywhere wanting Jill to be found alive and well and brought home.
When she was found murdered, buried in a shallow roadside grave after being kidnapped and sexually assaulted by a complete stranger, the entire country went from hopefully to angry. Angry that someone would do this, angry that she wasn't alive and well as we'd hoped, angry that she was minding her own business in her own suburb when she was attacked. People were so angry that when the alleged killer's name leaked, social media erupted with people from every walk of life wanting his head. An entire nation was in mourning, and thousands in Melbourne marched in her honor.
I mention this because we know it's not okay to kill people. We're angered and heartbroken when women are violently murdered (and that's just the cases we hear about.) The news of Jill Meagher, as an example, was devastating to thousands that didn't even know her. Yet at the same time, we're sent these messages that sexualize, glamorize and exploit a woman's decapitated torso. That use violent murder for the purpose of sex appeal and thus profit.
When I see the same people who I saw march for Jill, whose heart sank when they heard the news of her death ask me why this torso statue is "such a big deal," I don't even know how to begin to explain to them how they've come so close to the right thing, yet they sit so far from it.
I'm not really offended, I'm just mortified at how easily we seem to forget.
Follow more of Elizabeth's work at Gameranx and on Twitter.
Vanessa Hunter, artist and game design graduate
We need to start at the beginning if we are to stop the pervasiveness of sexism in gaming culture, and by sticking this statue in a set that will be received by kids and young adults, Deep Silver is reinforcing an already warped attitude toward women held by the gaming community.
If this statue had been reminiscent of Venus de Milo or the statue of David, and posed in a beautiful, creative way, perhaps I could have even admired it. But as a hunk of flesh plopped into a lifeless pose and trussed up in a string bikini, I seriously have to question the thought behind it.
My main reaction to this statue, however, is that it presents a woman as a literal piece of dead meat. It beheads all personality and life and strips away individuality to present the viewer with what is simply a hunk of flesh in a gaudy bikini. This figure gets up and screams "all I am worth is to fulfill your pleasures"
To a woman like me, it's sickening because it represents how some men see real-life women every day.
From someone who has seen firsthand how a monster who holds this attitude can choke the life out of someone beautiful and radiant, this bust is a nightmare come true. And what's worse is that the attitudes behind such an object reinforce this behaviour as okay.
As for Deep Silver's "apology" placing the blame on its fan base, many of whom view them as a role model, teaching them that sexism is okay if someone else has done it before is unacceptable. They need to grow up.
Follow more of Vanesssa's work through Instagram and on Twitter.