When my fiancé proposed we get Dead Island (DI) to play with our friends, I was a little skeptical. One, I hate zombies. HATE. They terrify me (at least the running types). Two, many horror games use a trope involving sexy women who are frequently caught within extreme, violent acts. Three, it was set on an island ripe for over-sexualizing women. Despite all these preconceived notions, I have greatly enjoyed the game thus far for its diverse cast, playability, and not being offensive towards women.
You have two characters who are women and two characters who are men from which you can choose (not including the expansion). Both gender and ethnicity are awarded equal footing in DI. I chose the ranged character, an Australian aborigine, Purna, who was once part of the New South Wales police force; one of my friends chose the other woman who was a Chinese local hotel worker, Xian; my girlfriend chose one of the tanks, the white-Latino football player, Logan; and my fiancé chose the tank who was a black rapper, Sam.
The game begins without your appointed team. You must play through the first chapter alone. Imagine my fright when my original plan was just to use the guys as bait. I mean that’s the obvious choice, right? Of course, at this point, the lights are off and you can hear screaming and sirens outside your hotel room. Someone on the radio walks you through to the safe part. Or attempts to do so. Instead, you wind up in a room with a zombie, which garnered an ear-splitting scream from me. The catch? Your characters are immune to the zombie virus. You can still be killed, but you will never be infected.
As the story progresses, I am continually impressed by how diverse they made the main characters and NPCs. I have noticed that the main quests tend to be mostly directed by men. One exception, thus far, is the main quest we received in the city from a nun. Otherwise, women only seem to deliver side quests. The main quests, however, have proved to be engaging and, to some extent, challenging. I really enjoy how much emphasis the developers put on collaborating as a team to complete a quest in the co-op version.
Due to the game taking place on a fictional vacation island, Banoi, everyone on the beach resort are in bikinis and trunks. Within the city, however, everyone is clothed. The main characters are appropriately dressed, too. Ironically, the most sexualization a player witnesses is on the propaganda in the game (i.e. billboards, posters, magazines). I have an issue with all the billboards displaying lingerie models and random porn magazines and posters. It bothers me because it is entirely unnecessary and irrelevant to the gameplay and story.
Another issue we came across this last weekend was concerning rape. One of the NPCs, a young girl who lost her father, innocently believes she can work with the “punks.” These punks will shoot anything and anyone. This girl attempts to deliver food, but doesn’t come back. When you find her, she is huddled in a back room, shaking and distressed, but there is nothing to cause unrest—except your imagination. Even the cutscene shows the women, Purna and Xian, throw out the men to have “girl talk.” With that said, I respect how the developers approached it—there was no gratuitous violence and it was satisfying dealing out justice to the rapists. Other than these small nuances, the island isn’t overly sexualized.
Ultimately, I would highly recommend Dead Island for those looking for a diverse game and a great co-op. It does lack a firm and detailed story, a favorite aspect of gaming for me, but I believe this may be due to our playing it as a co-op. While I don’t think DI is the prime example of diversity that we need in games, I think it was a solid step in the right direction. After all, there’s nothing more satisfying and disturbingly entertaining than kicking a rabid zombie to death with your friends. It’s all the rage.