This week I wrote a column about Hatred, the upcoming game where you go on a killing spree and try to slaughter as many innocent people as you can. I’ve been thinking about this game for months, and I actually had more to say about it than could fit in a single column. (And I didn’t think it warranted two columns in a row.) So go read the article, then come back here and read the rest of my thoughts on the game.
For context: I have my Playstation right next to my PC, so every time I took a break from writing the column I’d pick up the controller and play a little more GTA V, where I was trying to see how long Trevor could survive with a five-star wanted level. I killed dozens of civilians and hundreds of cops during the course of writing this column, and it was pretty fun. Then I watched a few segments of the Hatred trailer and got sick again.
In GTA, it’s not your goal to kill the police. (Although sometimes they are in the way of your goal.) More importantly, the police aren’t sympathetic public servants. They’re brutal, corrupt jackasses who will shoot you in the face for denting one of their cruisers and who scream stuff like, “Killing makes my dick hard!” in a firefight. In the Hatred trailer, we only see police officers as victims being sadistically murdered as they try to stop you from killing civilians. So even though both games have killing people as a gameplay element, the framing, tone, context, and focus are completely different.
It’s like nudity: One picture of bare breasts is obviously pornography and another is obviously fine art, and there’s a whole lot of grey area between the two. But the fact that the line is blurry doesn’t mean the two things are the same. Context is everything.
There’s one other thing about this game, which is that I’ve seen people claim that it’s “satire”. I’ve watched the trailer a couple of times now, and I haven’t detected even a whiff of satire. Satire is more than simply presenting a thing. If this was satire, it might sound like this:
Fade in on guns and knives being equipped.
Voice Over: The world has pushed me TOO FAR. No longer will I live in this world of LIES. I have a job not directly related to my COLLEGE MAJOR, and this means MY EARNING POTENTIAL IS LOWER THAN I WOULD PREFER. My parents bought me the SECOND-most popular videogame console. And my barrista is really shitty at FOAM ART.
At some point in the montage it becomes clear that the speaker is preparing more weapons than one person could reasonably carry.
VO: I will have REVENGE for the hellish TORMENT I’ve had to endure. I will have JUSTICE the only way I know how: By KILLING HUNDREDS OF PEOPLE WHO HAVE NEVER WRONGED ME.
Heavy metal music sting. The camera pulls back to reveal a shitty third-generation Rob Zombie knockoff. He’s dressed all in black, and his T-shirt has a frown-y face emoticon on it. He’s bristling with firearms and teetering under the load. He turns dramatically and heads for the door, but the guns on his back get caught on the doorframe. He loses his balance. We SLAM CUT to black, and an instant later we hear him clatter to the floor.
VO: (Grunting.) They will… all… pay.
Granted: The above would be tasteless, but it would at least qualify as satire. Hatred is not satire.
Okay, for the sake of argument, let’s pretend Hatred was supposed to be satire. And let’s also assume that we wanted to remove the satire and play it straight. What would we need to change?
Adam: Hey man, did you see the video I sent you?
Shamus: Uh. The video of you and Steve having hours of sweaty, grunting, red-faced, butt-slapping sex? I kind of fast forwarded through bits of it, but it made me pretty uncomfortable and I didn’t see the end.
Adam: Pretty awesome, right?
Shamus: I’ll be honest, it’s not really my thing. I had no idea you guys were gay.
Adam: (Offended.) What? No way! We hate gay people. We made that to make fun of them.
Shamus: You made gay porn to make fun of gay people?
Adam: SATIRICAL gay porn, you idiot. Couldn’t you see how exaggerated the gay sex was? It’s obviously satire!
Shamus: I guess I missed the joke.
Exaggerating something isn’t always satire. Sometimes it’s just that thing, only moreso.
I understand the desire to call it satire. You look at this and you think, “They can’t be playing this straight, can they? That would be crazy!” But I’m not seeing the satire in zooming in for a cinematic kill shot where a woman is begging for her life and you put a gun in her mouth and execute her. Someone made those models, animated those characters, scripted those blood splats, and positioned that camera. And the result is basically a virtual snuff film.
Having said all that, I want to make it clear that I’m not calling for the game to be banned. I’m not even protesting the game. And I’m not saying anyone is evil if they want to play it. Playing Hatred doesn’t necessarily mean you want to massacre people. Some people are freaked out by spiders, or heights, or cringe a body horror. In some cases those same people are also fascinated by those things and actively seek out media that will trigger those fears. People are strange, and we all have different ways of dealing with anger, anxiety, sadness, or other negative emotions.
Here is what Extra Credits had to say about it:
I’m just hoping that while we discuss the game, we can recognize it for what it is. This thing is deliberately engineered to be nihilistic, shocking, horrifying, controversial, angry, and brutalAssuming, of course, that the trailer is indicative of the game itself.. It’s ugly and there’s no doubt most people will hate it.
But I don’t think this game could turn anyone into a killer. It doesn’t make mass murder seem glamorous or fun. Some people might play it purely out of curiosity, and others might enjoy it in some way I don’t understand, but it’s not an obvious danger to anyone.
Sure, you could build some hypothetical scenario where some already-deranged person might buy the game and it would push them into perpetrating the killing spree they’ve always dreamed of. But that’s all it would be: A hypothetical. I could make a hypothetical where a deranged person is planning a massacre, plays the game, and gets some kind of revelation or satisfaction that keeps them from going through with the real thing. Or maybe Bob buys the game, Bob’s friends find out about it, and they realize Bob’s “jokes” about killing everyone in the office probably aren’t jokes, and they intervene before he does something destructive. We can make hypothetical scenarios all day.
These events are incredibly rare compared to (say) people being struck by lightning, and we know very little about how disturbed individuals respond to stimuli and what sets them off. Particularly when we’re talking about cases that end in murder-suicide, because we can’t study them afterwards. And so I’m not eager to jump onto any sort of bandwagon. I don’t know why the developers are making this game, I don’t know why fans want to play it, and I don’t know how well it will sell. (My prediction: This is not going to be the next Minecraft.) These are all interesting and useful things to discuss as long as we can keep calm about it. This game isn’t a threat to anyone, and seeing how people react to it might teach us something.
Having said that, I don’t plan on playing it. I find the topic interesting, but I get ill just watching the trailer.
 Assuming, of course, that the trailer is indicative of the game itself.
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