Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Thoughts on "Hatred"

With finals complete and a bit of downtime before the spring semester, I thought I'd weigh in on the recent controversy surrounding the game "Hatred" and Steam.

Now, for those that don't know, the game appears to be the sort of game that Jack Thompson always warned us about - it is, in fact, a mass murder simulator. You can view the trailer below (NSFW...or anyone at anytime for that matter):

To put this into perspective, (if you didn't watch the trailer, I can't blame you) the game looks banal, the concept is insulting, and it looks like little more than a digital version of the sort of bilge water one finds in The Turner Diaries.

The developers have ostensibly said that this is a response to "politically correct" gaming, via 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," offers the statement. "We say ‘yes, it is a game about killing people' and the only reason of the antagonist doing that sick stuff is his deep-rooted hatred."

So, it is deliberately trying to be artifice and blatantly commercial. That's fine. There are tons of games out there that do just that, and that is part of the problem. In order to leave some sort of lasting statement in any sort of endeavor, you need to say something relevant that goes beyond "we're just making entertainment."

Think of Michael Bay films.

I know, easy target, but bear with me.

Michael Bay films are just entertainment. They are vapid and loud, filled with sound and fury and signifying nothing. Even though Transformers 4 set records for global ticket sales, it will never find its way into the consideration of great entertainment, even among movies, because none of his films have anything to say save, maybe, The Island, but that was merely cribbed from far more nuanced sources like Brave New World.

Looking at the AFI Top 100, there are movies on the list that - in their time - were considered fluff pieces like Casablanca, and Star Wars. Some were made specifically as epic films, like Lawrence of Arabia, and others to explore far more lofty goals like 2001: A Space Odyssey or Doctor Strangelove. These movies tried to say something or they utilized the craft in exceptionally compelling ways that defies time or they moved the art of move making forward and set new standards.

So what is Hatred trying to say? They are hardly being iconoclastic with their choice to embrace senseless violence.

The problem is that they are reacting to something that, ultimately, they don't appear to really understand. There are plenty of games out there that are pure entertainment that don't say anything at all. There has also been an explosion of games as art because the overall culture has become more accepting of the medium as a mode of expression beyond entertainment. Movies went through similar growth over the past century, and there is plenty of room in the market for both art films and pure entertainment films.

It can be debated that all games are art (I would debate that games like Deer Hunter are not, while games like Super Mario Bros. is art because it advanced the medium forward and established certain bars for interactivity and design instruction) but there are certainly games that push the boundaries of the game aesthetic by creating unique dynamics.

What is the aesthetic that the developers of Hatred are trying to create in the player?

Keep in mind that developers formulate mechanics which the players experience by creating interesting dynamics. It is the emotional response to these dynamics that creates the desired aesthetic. So, they dynamic is the mass murder of innocent people. What sort of emotional response are the developers trying to create? The protagonist is a faceless cutout that is, as described by the trailer, only filled with hatred of his fellow man. Truly a one-dimensional character with a singular motivation.

If you're going to take the time to give the game context, at least try to do it well. And, in this regard, the context is missing.

Hatred looks like a terrible game, and not just because of its chosen path, but because the developers are wasting a chance to make a relevant statement but they lack the nuance to do so. Developing a critique of political correctness, or media responses to such shootings, or even said something about mental illness, takes nuance which, in judging by their trailer, the developers lack.

The game is explicitly vapid entertainment, and in a time when games are trying to grow beyond that niche, it is not a step forward but another voice hidden in the marketing blitz of millions of similar titles.

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