This deft touch is also present the narrative, particularly with the events set into motion by the discovery of the secondary character Jin, whose father helps the game's main characters fulfill one of their early missions before himself succumbing to the zombie virus. When Jin is later abducted, her rescue, while definitely the primary objective of one of the game's key missions, is nevertheless underplayed, as if rescuing a woman held captive were not the storied, heroic act it has been portrayed to be since the earliest days of videogaming, but instead simply something that has to be done for the sake of doing it. That the main characters then treat Jin with barely-masked (and in some cases open) contempt for getting herself into her situation only adds to the impact of the game's emotional artistry. Similarly, when Jin must face her zombie father, the event is allowed to unfold with a minimum of commentary and melodrama.
That Dead Island will largely be remembered for its design excellence and the sheer amounts of fun to be had with it is not a condemnation of the inclusion of a deeper meaning in the telling of its story, but rather a compliment to it.
It's as if the game's developers, in creating this world with all of the depth and complexity of our own, were nevertheless aware that most gamers couldn't give a shit, and would rather get straight to the part where they get to beat zombies in the brain with a barbed-wire-wrapped, flaming baseball bat than waste time contemplating the implications of Western excess. That such statements regarding the state of the global economy are themselves presented within the context of a multi-million-dollar entertainment product to be consumed by the use of a highly-advanced technological creation, designed in the West and constructed in the third world and which, as a generous estimate, consumes approximately the same amount of electricity over the course of playing Dead Island as many homes in the developing world will consume in a year only extends the necessity of taking a light touch. Not to get all "meta," but it's important to keep the overall picture in mind.
That Dead Island will largely be remembered for its design excellence and the sheer amounts of fun to be had with it is not a condemnation of the inclusion of a deeper meaning in the telling of its story, but rather a compliment to it. In the grandest traditions of entertainment media, Techland has created a game that is engaging and fun, yet dares ask its players a few, well-chosen and very well formulated questions. Gamers and media critics asking themselves when videogames will take their rightful place in the hierarchy of meaningful entertainment would do well to notice.
Russ Pitts is the former Editor-in-Chief of The Escapist and the mastermind behind its domination of game-related web video. You can read his blog at Falsegravity.com and contribute to his embarrassing proclivity for social media experiments at About.Me/RussPitts