Warning: In case you haven’t seen it, this trailer contains some f**ked up s**t.
It wasn’t long after the shooting in Sandy Hook Elementary School where 20 young students and six faculty members were gunned down that I had come across School Shooter. Caught up in the outrage following the tragic mass shooting, School Shooter upset me. Why would anyone swing for the lowest common denominator that even the likes of Postal didn’t stoop to? Why would anyone design a system of actions and rewards that revolves around killing fleeing innocents in a school setting? I was swift to believe that such subject matter was completely off limits in the realm of video games.
Shortly thereafter I read Polygon’s feature on Super Columbine Massacre RPG! – a video game developed by now filmmaker Danny Ledonne that was inspired by the mass shooting in Columbine High School, by putting players in the shoes of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold. This had then encouraged me to investigate what the game meant to the families of those killed at Columbine in 1999, what the game meant to the video game industry at large, and what Ledonne was hoping to achieve with his project. I was eventually led to the filmmaker’s documentary, Playing Columbine – where the minds of Ian Bogost, Jenova Chen, and Shigeru Miyamoto enlightened and challenged me to view things differently.
Ashamed that I became so dismissive of this medium’s capabilities to handle murder and tragedy within the context of the real world, I made a commitment to myself that I would approach games tackling questionable themes with an open mind, giving them the fair shake before forming an opinion. Earlier this month I treated Hatred, the yet to be released isometric shooter by developer Destructive Creations, with the same level of pause. What are they trying to say here? What are gamers supposed to take away from this experience?
Learning that Super Columbine Massacre RPG! – a game in which the player commits horrific acts of violence – was partially intended as an exploratory device for players to assess their own emotions of carrying out said actions, I gave Hatred the benefit of the doubt. But after watching the trailer above and reading interviews with studio head, Jarosław Zieliński, I cannot see a deeper meaning than mindless acts of violence.
Perhaps I should be more specific than “mindless acts of violence”, as Zielinski compares Hatred to other violent video games. After all, a lot of the games we play are mindless, and a lot of them are violent. Zielinski prides his studio’s game as taking an “honest” approach to the depiction of violence, aligning itself to games such as Postal, Kingpin, and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 – particularly its “No Russian” mission. However the brutality in which we’ve seen in the aforementioned titles are far flung from what we’ve been presented with in Hatred.
Take Kingpin. Its ballistic style isn’t unlike the torture porn we see in games like Manhunt. And like Manhunt, most of your victims are thick-necked, well-armed, “mother f**ker” slinging thugs that have as much of a taste for blood as you do. Postal (which is very much one of the easier comparisons in this argument) achieves a similar level of shock-value that Hatred tries so hard to accomplish. However, with its offensive toilet and black humor, there is a certain level of irony and self-awareness that Postal wears on its sleeve, especially when you kick a store clerk and send him rag-dolling across the store, piss on his stock shelves, and then shove a rifle up a kitten’s arse before fending off a wave of oncoming skirt-wearing ninjas.
And then there’s “No Russian”.
Infinity Ward faced much criticism back in 2009 beginning with the leaked gameplay footage from their “No Russian” mission. The sequence put players in the shoes of an undercover agent while accompanying terrorist Vladimir Makarov, and was given the opportunity to take an active or passive role in gunning down droves of civilians in an international airport. Many described it as “vile”, “horrific”, “disturbing”, and “unsettling”, all in which gave the indication to Infinity Ward that the design of “No Russian” was a success.
The studio’s intent delved deeper than superficial shock value, despite what you may think of their actual execution. “No Russian” served as an intimate storytelling device to elevate the sinister nature of Makarov to Boogieman status. Donning the role of an undercover agent masquerading as a terrorist, you were given the opportunity to betray your duty and country to commit mass murder. As a toolset to combat terrorism, you were asked to part take in it.
So back to the question: what is Hatred’s purpose, really?
In one interview, Zielinski claims that the intent behind Hatred was to “create something contrary to prevailing standards of forcing games to be more polite or nice than they really are or even should be” while targeting “a gamer that is coming home after a long, tiring and overall a sh**ty working day.”
Zielinski goes on to criticize conventional shooters, painting them as being “colorful” titles with laser guns and an ever-revolving theme to save the world. It seems as if he’s conveying some sort of commentary, implying that the depiction of violence in video games at large has shied away from a primal “id” that wishes to bathe itself in guts and glory. His statements challenge us by asking, “Well, what if you just want to shoot stuff and be done with the ‘savior of the universe’ nonsense?” However, I have trouble blowing off steam when my targets look like the mom upstairs as she’s screaming “Please! Please! Please!”
As despicable and distasteful as Hatred may seem, should it be made? Absolutely. We read, listen, and even talk a lot about artistic freedom within the context of video games, whether it’s in defense against raging politicians and other institutional figures, or pushing back the GamerGaters of the world. And though I’m positively disgusted by Hatred’s trailer, it is not my place (or yours) to wish it out of existence.