(Warning: the trailer above contains very graphic scenes of violence)
Last week, Polish indie studio Destructive Creations released the first trailer for its newest production, Hatred. To their apparently-planned delight, Hatred received an enormous response online, with nearly every major gaming news outlet reposting the video. The clip, embedded above, shows a brutal protagonist massacring innocents, cops, bystanders, you name it. No particular race seems to be focused, though the anti-hero is white. Perhaps the devs themselves described the product’s ideology most aptly: “Hatred is an isometric shooter with disturbing atmosphere of mass killing, where player takes the role of a cold blood antagonist …just don’t try this at home and don’t take it too seriously, it’s just a game. :).” [Bolded for emphasis.]
That attitude of “not taking it seriously” seems to pervade the philosophy of the team, Destructive Creations. Responding to the powerful wave of criticism from the net, their new blog post sheds some light, and admits that they certainly wanted to generate buzz. Well played as a publicity stunt, sure, but even more revealing are statements from the team. The CEO, Jaroslaw Zielinski, aligns with the game description: “The hateful title I’m working on (where virtual character hates virtual characters), doesn’t have any connection to what I truly believe and think, there is a real-life outside, you know? Maybe you should try it? I will never ever again respond to any of those accusations, this is my ultimate statement.”
Conversation closed, I guess.
Not exactly, because a conversation between a creator and his or her audience is never limited just to what they say in some internet writing. Just like book authors have symbols and interpretations that come out regardless of their intentions, saying that there is no connection to the work is naïve, at best. Even if one makes a game opposite to his or her beliefs, that doesn’t disconnect an audience from making connections or interpreting the work. And it certainly doesn’t mean an audience will be able to distance themselves from the content.
“…just don’t try this at home and don’t take it too seriously, it’s just a game. :)”
It’s true that not every game offers, or even can have, a political message. Early classics like Tetris, and stripped-down mobile games, have little to go on in relaying themes that can easily be applied to real-world messages and, at most, operate in abstracts. We know people yearn for escapism, either for the simple enjoyment of gaming, for infinite lives, or sometimes for separation from the real world.
But when you make a game with realistic-looking people and voices, with high-quality graphics using Unreal Engine 4, don’t be surprised when people make parallels with reality, with violence and hatred happening around the globe so often driven by sexism, racism, intolerance, or revenge.
The developers counter by saying that there’s equal representation in their game – that characters of every race and sex are randomly generated, ready to be killed in a consequence-free digital world. (But what’s to stop them from including settings or mods that do target particular civilians?) Again, the realistic murder depictions make it far from something inconsequential, even if they’re just in a video game. It’s fetishizing of hatred and violence, depicting it in a manner designed to derive pleasure from it. The devs say as much when they describe the game as, “something different, something that could give the player a pure, gaming pleasure. Herecomes our game, which takes no prisoners and makes no excuses.” [sic] [Bolded for emphasis.] So the developers want those that play Hatred to distance themselves emotionally from indiscriminate killing, and yet also derive pleasure from it?
Whether or not they claim to design in some sort of vacuum, with today’s culture and society bent closer and closer to fostering diversity and welcoming people of all backgrounds, the reality is that companies today, small and big, make political statements through their works, regardless of intent. Nintendo, by not including same-sex marriages in their games, suffered a big backlash, even if their company values don’t stand by it. Ubisoft didn’t garner any support by saying women are more costly or difficult to animate (more accurately, that creating a full second set of animations costs more resources), even if by some technicalities that can be true. Indie devs currently hold smaller accountability because they have lesser impact and outreach, therefore they feel more artistic freedom. But Destructive Creations wanted a lot of attention, and now they have it. Speaking more to their motivations, the devs state that, “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.”
“[The] Player has to ask himself what can push any human being to mass-murder”
It’s even more sad to see the developers bringing up their historical roots on their company page. You don’t need to be a history buff to know how much Poland suffered from Nazis during World War II, among others, as millions of Jews, Poles, and other “undesirables” were routinely killed in concentration camps. I won’t even to attempt to say that there is an actual connection there, or that in some way they want to reflect that. But when it came to light what kind of pages and ideologies the CEO subscribes to, it’s hard not to make connections between being a fan of “Polish Defense League” and Hatred. As much as the creator says that this a news source and he doesn’t watch TV, it’s pretty telling when his news source is an ultra-conservative, Muslim-phobic fan page whose goal is to gather groups of male Poles to “defend unsuspecting women” from “falling prey” to “dark skinned predators.”
“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. Player has to ask himself what can push any human being to mass-murder,” [sic] the website says about the game’s description. But do we get much background revealing what he hates? Why? In the beginning of the trailer, the “villain” is awfully unspecific in his hatred, as he is in his own name. It’s adamantly clear that the game is about killing for the sake of killing, and if players are to remain unattached to the violence onscreen, it stands to reason we wouldn’t be given a chance to understand or relate to the character.
Somehow I doubt the creators will want to delve much into his past. And as for the question of the player “asking himself what can push any human being to mass-murder,” how will the gameplay reflect that? Do we have any choice to not kill the innocents? From the trailer and information provided so far, it’s pretty clear that Hatred’s exclusive aim is to bloodily eviscerate the lives and faces of anyone at hand, without venturing too much into the “hateful mind” of the main character.
Final judgments on Hatred remain on hold, but the developers’ political beliefs, as neutral as they want to make themselves out to be, present themselves clearer than ever before. At best, their development does beg questions any game developer should consider before putting mouse pointer to code line: What are my values? How will they be represented in my creation? Games aren’t absolved from political views, history, and personal reaction, no matter how much escapism some provide. The issue is not one of “if you don’t like it, don’t play it.” Rather, the point is that a game like this can’t simply hide behind asking players to become emotionally detached to justify its content.