I'm not one to shy away from violence in my video games. I've enjoyed my Carmageddons, my Soldier of Fortunes, my Mortal Kombats over the years. I don't consider myself desensitized to violence; violence and trauma in the real world still makes my stomach churn. My wife, a medical professional, told me things she saw during clinicals in college that still stick in my mind eight years later. And I never even saw them myself.
I do, however, have a healthy grasp on the difference between fantasy and reality, which allows me to enjoy decapitating orcs in Shadow of Mordor, and going bananas in Saint's Row without skipping a beat. So it's out of the ordinary when a video game's violence makes me uncomfortable. But the trailer for Hatred did just that.
I'm going to link it here, if you really want to see it, but bear in mind this is most definitely NSFW. (I updated the link. Apparently they had to edit the trailer once both Unreal Engine and the NYPD told them to stop using their trademarks.)
It's really no more violent than a dozen other games I can name off the top of my head. So why is this different? Why does Hatred not sit well with me, to the point that it's a topic of conversation?
I can go on a very similar killing spree in Grand Theft Auto. But most of the discussions I've seen regarding Hatred suggest that GTA is okay because it's all tongue-in-cheek. That the violence in that game functions as a parody of itself.
It feels fairly hypocritical, to suggest that violence in one game is acceptable, and the same violence in another is deplorable. But there are some potentially valid points in that argument. For as much violence as GTA has (and the media has regularly focused on), that's really not all the game is. It's not a murder-spree simulator (even though it's an option, it's always optional). In GTA, Rockstar regularly aims for the sky in terms of delivering engaging story, characters and gameplay. They craft a triple-A game.
That triple-A game does include a sandbox in which you can run around the streets killing civilians. However when you place that sandbox side-by-side with the crafted content (the story missions), most of which are so completely over-the-top ridiculous, satirical and self-referential, whatever crazy stuff you do in the open-world by association also feels silly and over-the-top.
Hatred, on the other hand, appears to be geared solely around the idea of mass murder. There does not appear to be any other element to this game. "I just fucking hate this world," the protagonist growls in the trailer. "My whole life is just cold, bitter hatred, and I always wanted to die violently."
I suppose you could argue that this is also over-the-top enough that you shouldn't take it seriously, but I feel like it rides too parallel to actual events that happen in our society far too regularly. You can easily imagine any of the school shooters of the past decade muttering this shit to themselves as they prepared for their day. It's not a mentality I personally care to get behind, in real life or a video game.
So that's the primary argument here; GTA is a game/story crafted with enough style that its violence can be enjoyed in its fantasy world, whereas Hatred attempts to carry its entire game on that same violence, and will likely, throughout the entire experience, be reminding us of the horrible stuff we keep seeing on the news.
In just about every instance, we play video games to escape to another world for a bit, the same as reading a book. And even when those games mimic the world we live in, we still need them to be fantasy. We need to be able to do things in them that we couldn't do in real life.
People have done what the protagonist in Hatred does. And for the same reasons. I don't even believe those people should get as much attention in the news as they do, I'm not going to play one of them in a video game.
So I think it boils down to, not the violence itself, which is as I said is comparable to a number of other games (and even tame compared to some), but rather the motivation for the violence. In GTA, that motivation is often "Let's see what will happen." In Hatred it appears to come from the type of dark anger that you often associate with white supremacists and cult members.
I'm also going to posit a second reason for my dislike of Hatred: It just looks like a crappy game.
The graphics are basic and clunky, there's clipping, the animation seems half-assed. The protagonist is likely the biggest offense of all. Seriously? Raging white death-metal douchebag in a trenchcoat with growly voice? That's the best they could come up with?
At least Trevor from GTA was a unique, likeable psychopath.
The developers suggest that video games have been shacked by political correctness and a need to be viewed as art, and this is their rebellion against those ideas.
Hey, I'm with you there. I think it's okay if a video game is just a video game sometimes. But Hatred doesn't come off as a bold statement in support of that ideal. It comes off like a late 90's teenager that just discovered Korn or Marilyn Manson for the first time and loves that all of the adults in his life disapprove. "Look at me, look at how different I'm being."
It seems fairly obvious that the developers are not attempting to create a top-notch title here, so I'm going to call it as I see it. A grab for attention. They're hoping that the shock value will sell their game because it's very likely their gameplay can't sell their game.
The game will move some copies, I'm sure.
But holy shit guys, your game doesn't come out until mid-2015. You just blew your biggest wad, all this free controversy/publicity, on a game no one can give you money for yet and most people probably won't rememeber/care about eight months from now when it quietly limps onto Steam (or whatever distribution service/publisher will have you).