If a violent game is okay, then so is using a violent ad to promote it
A fortnight ago, it emerged that the Ad Standards Board had banned a television commercial for the video game Dead Island: Riptide, due to its depiction of violence – specifically suicide.
In its ruling, the ASB stated “Advertising or Marketing Communications shall not present or portray violence unless it is justifiable in the context of the product or service advertised.”
This particular game involves players travelling to a remote island to fight and destroy hordes of reanimated corpses. Players use household items, gardening tools and even propane tanks to rid their surroundings of the undead.
Decapitation, dismemberment and other gruesome acts are a core part of the game. The more spectacular the kill, the better. It’s for these blood-soaked reasons the game received Australia’s newly implemented R18+ rating, the most restrictive available. Due to the nature of the content, the ad was aired on a subscription television channel aligned with programs appropriate for its audience.
The message was clear – this is not a product for children.
It’s worth noting that most gamers aren’t children, either. The average age of a gamer in Australia is 33 years old. They’ve been playing video games for 12 years. They have grown-up jobs. They have mortgages. They have their own children. It is for the average gamer that the R18+ category was introduced in the first place. An adults-only rating for adult gamers.
There are many violent products or services advertised on TV. UFC bouts show real, living men punching each other in the face.
All this doesn’t take away from the fact that what happens in the advertisement is confronting. Real life suicide is, of course, a matter of grave concern. But no one is trying to glorify the act or use the pain and suffering endured by those left behind to sell a product, like Citroen and more recently, Hyundai.
The key distinction here is that the characters in this game aren’t real. The protagonists can’t be mistaken for a family member, they’re not people you may bump into on the street. They’re a collection of polygons and texture maps knitted together to depict something ugly.
The situation itself is truly a flight of fancy. This advertising is not going to bring about flashbacks of a real-life trip to Fiji where the island just happened to be filled with ravenous human-shaped monsters. Even when running for their lives, the ASB would appreciate it if people “adhere to Prevailing Community Standards on health and safety.”
What kind of violence is “justifiable in the context of the product”? In a game where players find themselves pursued by predatory, demented, flesh devouring creatures, isn’t it possible this last act of freewill may be their only option? That stacking piles of flammable tanks and lighting a match may be the only way to protect their loved ones?
Games are designed by their very nature to be fantastical. If we are going to allow this type of content to be sold in our country, which was what the introduction of the R18+ category means, then there need to be allowances to advertise the product.
Yes, this advertisement is intense and impactful. It’s a depiction of desperation and defiance, but it’s also based on an entirely fantastical game, where desperation drives the gameplay, and players’ lives are on the line. Like it or not, it seems entirely justifiable in relation to the context of the product being sold.
- James Whitehead is GM of IGN Entertainment Australia. IGN helped launch the game with a preview event in Sydney