How our zombie obsession led to “Dead Island”

The booming horror genre was missing one thing: Human touch. Can a dead girl in a video game help bring that back?

Topics: Video Games, Horror, Television,

How our zombie obsession led to "Dead Island"Don't cry for her, she's already undead.

A little girl lies prone on the ground, eyes open, staring at nothing. All around her is broken glass and her little pink shirt is covered in blood. Behind her, a man on fire runs in a circle. We wait for some sign of life, but when the girl does begin to move — backward, flying through the air — her story is not the one we’re expecting. Gut-wrenching? Yes. Sad? Incredibly. But this isn’t a PSA or even a film trailer that we’re watching. It’s a preview of the new zombie game for Xbox and Playstation 3, “Dead Island.”

What an epic video,” wrote a YouTube commenter after the video was released on YouTube yesterday. “I cried watching the little girl who was running from the zombie turn into one,” wrote another. Of course, not everyone feels as affected (or infected) by the imagery as we do. Ben Parfitt of MCV wrote a lengthy article against the “Dead Island” trailer, claiming that it set up a false relationship between person and product.

With regard to “Dead Island,” though, there’s nothing to learn from watching it. It’s not designed to make you think or to explore a point of debate. It’s a video that uses an image of a dead girl and images of her dying to create an emotional bond with a product.

Which doesn’t make much sense to me, because that’s what most successful film trailers do, except their “product” is a movie that you sit through, not a game that you interact with. I wonder if Mr. Parfitt (who admits his judgment might be clouded by the image of his own daughter in this scenario) would have the same complaints if he had bought the game and played it without ever having seen the trailer.

I only bring this up because a) the trailer is quite powerful, and b) it touches on a growing trend of “empathetic zombies” that have been growing almost as fast as our blood lust for these brain-eating creatures.

Unlike vampires or aliens, zombies are almost universally portrayed the same way: They are emotionless, have no brain functions other than motor skills, and want to bite you. Also, you have to shoot or decapitate them, always. But somewhere between George Romero and “Dead Island,” people started to realize that zombie scenarios worked best when little children were involved, even though kids had generally been kept out of zombie films for decades. (Ostensibly, a post-apocalyptic world was for adults only.)

But you can only watch so many movies with the same conceit before you become so jaded by gore that a self-sacrificing best friend who got bit so the lead character could escape just wasn’t cutting it anymore: Ironically, what was missing from zombie films was a human connection. And what better shortcut to people’s heartstrings than the image of someone’s daughter covered in blood, trying to bite your neck? Thus the 2004 remake of “Dawn of the Dead” involved both a little girl zombie and a baby zombie. “28 Days” and “28 Weeks Later” both focus on the plight of children during the Rage Virus, with the sequel focusing almost exclusively on two young kids in Europe during the infection. And in the first season of AMC’s epic gun-toting series “The Walking Dead,” no major characters under the age of 13 were harmed. But some secondary children were, and if the show is headed the way we think … well, there’s always season two.

Of course, if you ever find yourself in a zombie scenario but don’t have a little girl handy, you can always go back to zombie dogs, a la “I Am Legend.” Those work equally well to get those tears flowing over little monsters.

Drew Grant is a staff writer for Salon. Follow her on Twitter at @videodrew.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 17
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    John Stanmeyer

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Container City: Shipping containers, indispensable tool of the globalized consumer economy, reflect the skyline in Singapore, one of the world’s busiest ports.

    Lu Guang

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Man Covering His Mouth: A shepherd by the Yellow River cannot stand the smell, Inner Mongolia, China

    Carolyn Cole/LATimes

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Angry Crowd: People jostle for food relief distribution following the 2010 earthquake in Haiti

    Darin Oswald/Idaho Statesman

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    “Black Friday” Shoppers: Aggressive bargain hunters push through the front doors of the Boise Towne Square mall as they are opened at 1 a.m. Friday, Nov. 24, 2007, Boise, Idaho, USA

    Google Earth/NOAA, U.S. Navy, NGA, GEBCO

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Suburban Sprawl: aerial view of landscape outside Miami, Florida, shows 13 golf courses amongst track homes on the edge of the Everglades.

    Garth Lentz

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Toxic Landscape: Aerial view of the tar sands region, where mining operations and tailings ponds are so vast they can be seen from outer space; Alberta, Canada

    Cotton Coulson/Keenpress

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Ice Waterfall: In both the Arctic and Antarctic regions, ice is retreating. Melting water on icecap, North East Land, Svalbard, Norway

    Yann Arthus-Bertrand

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Satellite Dishes: The rooftops of Aleppo, Syria, one of the world’s oldest cities, are covered with satellite dishes, linking residents to a globalized consumer culture.

    Stephanie Sinclair

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Child Brides: Tahani, 8, is seen with her husband Majed, 27, and her former classmate Ghada, 8, and her husband in Hajjah, Yemen, July 26, 2010.

    Mike Hedge

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Megalopolis: Shanghai, China, a sprawling megacity of 24 Million

    Google Earth/ 2014 Digital Globe

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Big Hole: The Mir Mine in Russia is the world’s largest diamond mine.

    Daniel Dancer

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Clear-cut: Industrial forestry degrading public lands, Willamette National Forest, Oregon

    Peter Essick

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Computer Dump: Massive quantities of waste from obsolete computers and other electronics are typically shipped to the developing world for sorting and/or disposal. Photo from Accra, Ghana.

    Daniel Beltra

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Oil Spill Fire: Aerial view of an oil fire following the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, Gulf of Mexico

    Ian Wylie

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Slide 13

    Airplane Contrails: Globalized transportation networks, especially commercial aviation, are a major contributor of air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Photo of contrails in the west London sky over the River Thames, London, England.

    R.J. Sangosti/Denver Post

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Fire: More frequent and more intense wildfires (such as this one in Colorado, USA) are another consequence of a warming planet.

  • Recent Slide Shows



Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>