Re-wind a few months to the the announcement of Hatred, and indie game focused exclusively on violence, death and murder. “Ban This Sick Filth” were the inevitable cries from some quarters but, as much as the game doesn’t sit right with us, Sam Drower argues that any attempts to ban it goes against our rights to freedom of speech. Read on…
As gaming becomes more complex in design and more respected as a creative outlet, certain avenues of discussion are routinely explored by fans and critics. Are video games art? Do they have a moral responsibility to their audience? And, perhaps most importantly – Should they benefit from the same protection of free expression that other forms of media are privy to?
These are questions we have all heard before, and they have been raised again by gamers and the gaming press alike over the course of the last few weeks. However, this latest ignition of the debate hasn’t been sparked by powerful stories such as those seen in The Last of Us, or survival simulators like DayZ that indirectly confront us with the darker side of our humanity; but instead from a small indie title that was virtually unknown before October last year.
The name of that title? Hatred.
For those who have managed to avoid the fanfare, the name tells you all you need to know. Hatred is an upcoming isometric shooter that puts players in the role of a bitter, hate filled psychopath, sending them on a “genocide crusade” to destroy, maim and kill as many innocent civilians as possible before being gunned down. There is no point to the game besides wanton destruction and mass murder. Imagine if Postal had all of the humour and self awareness sucked out of it and you’ll have a pretty good idea of where Hatred stands. The Polish studio behind the game, Destructive Creations, claim the game is assault on the idea of games as an artform and as a middle fingered response to “political correctness”.
It all feels quite desperate, a sour and shameless grab for publicity. As crass and vulgar as the game appears, though, it has triggered a lively debate on the nature of free expression in video games. Hatred’s reveal was met in some corners of the gaming community with an understandable amount of revulsion, many of whom were shocked by the gleeful level of violence and just how bluntly it was being presented. Others, such as myself, merely saw this as a cynical attempt to court controversy and reap the rewards, and a definite case of style over substance. Hatred has also garnered a large amount of support, mostly from people who believe that the freedom of expression of Destructive Creations should be protected – A position that I fundamentally agree with. However, something that Hatred’s many supporters fail to recognize is that it is entirely possible to uphold free speech without supporting every idea or belief that falls under that banner. We should defend people’s rights to distribute ideas that we find repugnant, but does that mean we have to support those ideas? Of course not, and I certainly don’t think Hatred has done anything to be deserving of your support.
I think those who are unconditionally supporting Hatred need to ask themselves a few questions about why they are doing so. Is it because it looks fun or entertaining to play? Or is it because you unequivocally support free speech and as such are buying it to make a point? If it’s the former, then I worry about your taste. If it’s the latter, then I think that is incredibly naive. I do not consider Hatred’s impending release a “victory” for free speech any more than I do when the Westboro Baptist Church stage their latest protest. After all, first time developers Destructive Creations not only hoped their game would be condemned, they needed it to be. They published the first trailer for Hatred along with a press blurb that essentially said “Bring it on, haters!”. They were delighted by the reaction to the game because it was exactly the kind of controversy they had hoped to court – As evident in a released statement in which they consider the ESRB’s Adults Only rating slapped on their game (Normally a commercial death sentence) as “an achievement”.
Corporate isolation does not equate to censorship. Nobody asked for a mass murder simulator. Nobody even knew they wanted one until Hatred burst onto the scene. It carved its own market through controversy and controversy alone. From a gameplay perspective it appears to have an extremely limited lifespan, and I predict that even the game’s most die hard supporters will struggle to get more than a couple of hours’ gameplay out of this before growing tired.
Hatred’s sole defining feature is the incredibly bitter level of violence, and that’s not good for gaming. It is a soulless, ugly and mean spirited game that plays its violence completely straight without so much of a hint of irony or self awareness. The best way we can react to that is to give the game the mocking that it deserves, and mockery is the solution rather than asking for it to be banned. It may be difficult to stomach, but even grossly distasteful and publicly unpopular works are deserving of being considered protected speech, and I genuinely believe games should be treated as free expression due to their naturally creative nature. Speech should be protected because it is powerful, but with power also comes responsibility – and Hatred’s developers are currently swinging that responsibility around like a kid with a missile launcher.
– Sam Drower.
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