You know, some people just don’t get art. Yesterday, a number of websites reported on a special collector’s edition of the upcoming zombie-game sequel Dead Island: Riptide. Available now for preorder in the United Kingdom and Australia, the “Zombie Bait Edition” comes with a few extras commissioned by the studio, Deep Silver. The package includes special artwork and a steel case to protect your copy of Dead Island from the elements. Oh, and there’s also a scale model of a nubile, bikini-clad woman’s dismembered corpse.
That last item created something of a stir. And yeah, I guess I can see how this 12-inch-tall vision of raw depravity might bug folks, since it is, objectively, the worst object ever created. But I would hate to see Rotting Bikini Torso dismissed as merely another marketing-department “oops!” moment. Let’s appreciate this thing as a work of shock art—an inspired sculptural snapshot of a certain ugliness that pervades the mass-market games industry. This lump of hand-painted resin both encapsulates and indicts a few decades’ worth of game-studio testosterone. It belongs in a museum.
The exhibit would start, of course, with the sculpture itself, because the longer you look at Double-D Decomposition, the more it has to offer. Right off the top there’s the violence. In this “grotesque take on an iconic Roman marble torso sculpture”—an actual thing said by an actual human being who works for Deep Silver—the limbs aren’t just gone. No, their gory absence suggests a struggle. This anonymous woman’s limbs and head were ripped from her, presumably amid spurts of blood and a few prerecorded voiceover-booth moans rendered in sparkling 7.1-channel surround sound.
Flesh Husk (In Swimsuit) is all about the details. Note the spinal column that juts out of the neck. The way your eye is drawn to an insouciant bit of bone on the arm. These are important cues in the visual vocabulary of Modern Game Studio artworks. They symbolize worship of the deities Dark and Gritty. According to lore, anyone who gazes upon these gods—and isn’t too much of a pussy to handle it—is granted the power of being a badass who nobody should mess with. On account of the darkness. And grit.
You’ll notice, too, that every part of the figure’s body is mangled except the breasts. A couple of the gashes on Oh God, You Just Know Someone Is Masturbating To This Right Now come close to the boobs, but they stop short, out of solemn reverence. This is in keeping with the long game-industry tradition of honoring huge bazongas above all (and honoring the ass, too, if there’s any development time left over after programming the huge bazongas). Even in the early years of 3D games, when female characters had faces that looked like bulging hexagons with lipstick, developers managed to give video game breasts hyper-real motion and buoyancy. Game women benefited from an experimental field of game science known as “boob physics” or “teat-jigglies.” This piece is a salute to that heritage.
The gore serves as a complement to the misogyny, because without that face and those limbs to distract the viewer, a clear point of focus—boobs—can emerge. It’s so elegant how it all fits together. You know in A Beautiful Mind when all those numbers and equations are connecting together around Russell Crowe’s head, like a dazzling crystal? This is like that, except with hating women instead of math.
The final touch of grace is the nationalism element. The statue comes in two versions, one with the Union Jack for U.K. buyers and one with the Australian flag for those Down Under. Thus Deep Silver quells any lingering queasiness with the soothing balm of patriotism. We can all rest easy knowing that while this woman tits may have met her tits end, she died tits for tits queen and country tits tits.
The sculpture is a showpiece in itself, but an ambitious curator would enhance the experience with supporting materials. For instance, the previously linked GameSpot article about the figure is filled with its own charms. Highlights include the affectless, haiku-like presentation of facts (“includes decapitated female statue”) and a Deep Silver marketing flack’s claim that his company “wanted to provide…a striking conversation piece on any discerning zombie gamer’s mantel.”
This artist commentary adds new layers to Union Jackin’ It, inviting the viewer to ponder the existence of a person who 1. has access to a mantel, 2. would desire to put this object on that mantel, and 3. would then endeavor to engage others in conversation of the object. The existence of the object does, after all, imply that such a person exists, a notion that lends the work a vivid sense of reality. Dark, gritty reality.
You could argue that the figure doesn’t deserve consideration as art, because it wasn’t created by an “artist” per se, and Deep Silver didn’t mean to send up the worst impulses of big-budget game studios. But that only makes it better. You’ve heard of outsider art? This is insider art, crafted by forces deep within the beast. The fact that it was meant to showcase the most appealing aspects of Dead Island is the cherry on top of the depravity sundae. It’s rare that we get to bear witness to an expression of awfulness this pure—it’s perfectly ugly. I hope to see it in a museum someday, as a relic of a bygone era.
Note: Deep Silver has apologized for the promotion. At publication time, it’s unclear whether the “Zombie Bait Edition” will still be sold as planned.
UPDATE Apr. 23, 2013: Reports from Europe and Australia indicate that the Zombie Bait Edition did indeed go on sale, complete with headless boob sculpture.