Congratulations, video game community. You have graduated.
Like film and television before you, you are now mainstream. In the same way there are those who see lots of films and those who only see a few films, there are those who play lots of games and those who only play a handful.
Some play more, some play less, but the video game community now belongs to us — all of us. Resistance is futile, but that isn’t stopping purists from trying, desperately, to fight back.
They long for a time when video games were underground and playing itself was an act of rebellion, and no doubt the past year in games has been a tough one for them.
Changes are not just afoot, but are in fact galloping over long-held tropes. This year proved that technology is no longer the primary mover — characters and plot are. This is, after all, the post-“Last of Us” era, wherein an adolescent girl can be a star of the show. If gruff white men haven’t been replaced (far from it), there’s certainly others dining at the table.
As a result it’s been relatively common in 2014 for unsavory yet almost always anonymous voices in the video game universe to rage against the maturing medium in the form of ugly screeds and threats against women, developers, critics or anyone else who threatens their fragile universe.
This brings us to “Hatred,” a relatively small game from a Polish studio dubbed Destructive Creations that became the talk of the video game world this week. “Hatred,” which seeks to simulate the act of a mass shooting, wants attention, if that wasn’t clear by its very plot. Thanks to a defensive media campaign the company’s been running, “Hatred” has been getting it.
When the developers of “Hatred” argue that their game, one in which the main character wants to commit genocide, is “promoting equality” because “everybody dies,” it’s funny in a way that may have passed for a chuckle in 1995. This, remember, was a time when the likes of Eminem and Marilyn Manson were turning violence into a macabre joke. This was before civilians armed with cellphones could post their footage of a man being choked to death, or show parents grieving over yet another school shooting.
Yet in “Hatred,” a trench-coated shooter accosts a black man on the street — a victim who is shown screaming “nooo!” as a bullet blasts his brain over the sidewalk. And there’s the woman who’s being held by her collar, begging “please, please” while a gun is shoved into her mouth.
Where there was once a shock value in this kind of outrageousness in games — “You can do what in ‘Grand Theft Auto: Vice City’?” — today, at best, it leaves the nagging sense that your creation looks outdated. At worst, it appears as if you are frantically holding on to an era that no longer exists, one in which the mere act of presenting something new in a game, be it prostitutes or Middle East wars, gave it a pass. The medium was young, after all, and the graphics were crude. No one would consider them reality.
Thus, a game like “Hatred” is late to the party — a couple decades too late, in fact. And though it’s too late to stop progress, that hasn’t stopped the game’s makers from vying for much-needed attention in a field crowded with far more interesting offerings.
The publicity-seeking title was in the news this week (of course) when online distribution firm Steam rejected the game for a developer-submitted “greenlight” program, which seeks to help independents get their games onto the platform. It was later reinstated, but not before publishers proudly bragged of the “ban.”
From the game’s manifesto on its website:
“These days, when a lot of games are heading to be polite, colorful, politically correct and trying to be some kind of higher art, rather than just an entertainment — we wanted to create something against trends. Something different, something that could give the player a pure, gaming pleasure.”
This is online trolling in place of creativity, and it’s coming at a time when the growing complexity of the video game medium is presenting opportunities for developers to challenge themselves. It also indicates that there are those making video games who believe the medium holds no accountability toward culture at large, as if unloading bullet after bullet into the face of suburbanites pleading for their lives is “gaming pleasure” for the sake of “gaming pleasure.”
The language gets even coarser, and more goading, on the Steam site. “Hatred” is described as a game in which you will “have the full control over lifes [sic] of worthless human scum.” Even for a society obsessed with sociopaths — just look at any of the evening crime procedurals on network TV — “Hatred’s” marketing offers little more than over-the-top bloodlust and the sense that the world is moving backward.
Yet “Hatred” isn’t an example of a video game industry struggling to mature; it’s proof that game culture is maturing. “Hatred’s” stated existence is to fight against maturity.
There are always going to be some uncomfortable side effects of becoming part of the establishment. Why would the video game world be immune to its own little pack of survivalists, hunkered away in bedrooms obsessing over digital guns?
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