The politics of Hatred

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“At the end of the day you, gamers will judge if we were able to do a game that’s simply fun to play,” reads a press release from the developers of Hatred, a game about killing everyone you meet and then yourself. The trailer shows brutal stabbings and shotgun executions of civilians and policemen; the developer’s website describes it as anti-trend, a reaction to games “heading to be polite, colorful, politically correct and trying to be some kind of higher art, rather than just an entertainment.” Because the real way to create a mass-murder game that’s just entertainment is to infuse it with a politically charged message of artistic and authorial intent, obviously.

Members of the gaming community expressed outraged that Valve removed Hatred from Steam Greenlight after a petition was signed against it. There’s a constant worry among gamers that outsiders are going to take their videogame guns away, as if there’s any actual danger of violent games going extinct. Call of Duty, Grand Theft Auto, Destiny, Halo, Hotline Miami, Tomb Raider, Last of Us, Battlefield — videogame nice guy Nathan Drake makes a charming quip before gunning down two hundred nameless soldiers. Violent games aren’t going anywhere.

Case in point: Hatred is now back up for votes Steam Greenlight.

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I sincerely hope that Valve’s decisions (both of them!) were arrived at by looking at the game and making an informed decision about its content in relation to their service, rather than caving to pressure one way and then the other. As a watcher of extreme horror movies, I appreciate the massive difference between films like Irreversible and Martyrs versus pointless sleaze like Murder Set Pieces and Lucker the Necrophagous. To me, Hatred looks like pure sleaze, and I wouldn’t mind terribly if it were censored — but others might feel that way about the movies I watch, the music I listen to.

This entire situation, though, is emblematic of all the toxicity festering under the surface of modern videogame culture. Playground arguments of Sega Genesis versus Super Nintendo have evolved into internet warfare and defining moral right versus wrong, deciding through digital media where our allegiances lie with regard to censorship of simulated violence, issues of feminism and inclusion, and online threats and e-terrorism ideology. Online videogame discourse is often one of evaluating morals, forming cliques, and debasing anyone who disagrees with you. In such a politically volatile environment, is it any wonder that we should consider Hatred as more (or less) than “just entertainment”?

Considering games as just entertainment, as simple products is partly what’s gotten us into this spiral of negativity in the first place. Forum-goers attack each other, internet commenters trash articles, gamers read review scores but not reviews, and everyone leaps at everyone else’s throat. Because we’re taught to be critical but not to think critically. Contrary to what the developers of Hatred say, we shouldn’t view videogames as entertainment, as products to be mindlessly consumed. We should view them as works of art, works that succeed or fail in their authorial ambitions, works that are worth something or worthless.

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A work of art isn’t just pretty; it also makes a statement. In videogame parlance, games aren’t just fun. They say something about their creators, players, and culture. And the audience is able to interpret those statements on a much wider spectrum of meaning, with multiple interpretations co-existing at once. These interpretations can then be reevaluated and revisited constantly, these works continually judged in their full scope rather than a small sliver of meaning. As gamers, we just choose not to do this.

Of course, it’s in the developers’ best interest to make sure games stay “just entertainment”. A product has no social responsibility. A product is privately owned on an individual level. A product can be reviewed 3% higher than another product and owning that product will make our lives 3% more meaningful. These products keep us in a constant state of consumer hype; we live from one purchase to the next, and in the meantime quarrel like dogs about which product is best.

We take complex works infused with deeper nuance and meaning, and we ask ourselves “How fun is it?” Does this game have more fun per hour than the other game? Is it endless multiplayer fun or limited single player fun? Why did you tell me it was 8.8 funs when it’s really only 6.3 funs? Instead of looking at games from different angles, we’ve condensed them down to one rubric: Could I play this for a thousand fucking hours?

You hold in your trembling hands a very fun product, a top of the line entertainment good vetted by videogame journalists and Youtube personalities, scoring 97% in Metacritic aggregate and developed by this generation’s top design studio. It’s the latest in murder simulation, with one-hundred and twenty-seven authentically modeled military-grade weapons plus a katana that can be licked clean of blood after every kill. It covers scenarios from seemingly every walk of life, from emasculated student to cuckolded wife to abused child to victim of Nazi POW camps. Your victims slowly understand what they’ve done wrong, if anything; they curse, and cry, and swear, and beg your mercy with utmost realism.

Are you not entertained?

 

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