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Video games are fantastic at drawing controversy in one manner or another. Whether it’s EA discussing microtransactions or sexuality within the gameplay, causing a storm of drama with a video game isn’t incredibly difficult. With that being kept in mind, there is one particular topic that has been discussed in depth in regards to video games for years: violence. Though it’s not easy to pinpoint exactly where the discussion started, there have been key moments that I’ve seen throughout my life where it has become a major commotion.
However, over the years we’ve seen studies come out that show that video games can’t be linked to violence in people, and any associations that have been made were flimsy at best. In fact, this discussion came all the way to the Supreme Court with Brown vs Entertainment Merchants Association. The result was Video Games being declared as protected by the first amendment. It wasn’t even a close debate amongst the Justices. The vote was 7-2, with Anton Scalia penning the majority opinion on the case. You can read the opinion here, but I wanted to highlight these particular bits:
“California’s argument would fare better if there were a longstanding tradition in this country of specially restricting children’s access to depictions of violence, but there is none. Certainly the books we give children to read – or read to them when they are younger – contain no shortage of gore. Grimm’s Fairy Tales, for example, are grim indeed. As her just deserts for trying to poison Snow White, the wicked queen is made to dance in red hot slippers “till she fell dead on the floor, a sad example of envy and jealousy.”
“High school reading lists are full of similar fare. Homer’s Odysseus blinds Polyphemus the Cyclops by grinding out his eye with a heated stake. In the Inferno, Dante and Virgil watch corrupt politicians struggle to stay submerged beneath a lake of boiling pitch, lest they be skewered by the devils above the surface.”
Scalia’s opinion is a long read, but ultimately his point is that fiction is often violent, and society has dealt with such things by treating fiction as fiction. Though this obviously doesn’t do anything to affect other parts of the world, the decision was seen as a major victory for video games.
With all of that said, we’ve found ourselves in an environment where people are once again pushing the argument of video games being inherently this or that in their message. One game that has gained that target upon its back is Hatred, a game being developed by Destructive Creations. The intial trailer gained quite a bit of controversy, considering its rather nihilistic opening dialog, followed by an assault on both civilians and police officers by a man with a striking resemblance to Jackie Escatado from The Darkness.
I’ve observed mixed feelings about the game, but one thing caught me a bit off guard. You see, a petition was put on Change.org to “pull the plug on the Hatred game project and apologize.” Though I’ve linked the petition itself, allow me to quote parts of the petition’s opening that caught my attention.
“Not only is this game horrifyingly violent, but it’s extremely offensive depicting the player character brutally executing people of colour and women in an aggravated manner. I am a developer working on a project that focuses on inclusion of every human, of any ethnicity, and gender if any. My career is dedicated to change and I absolutely refuse to share the industry with this disgusting studio.”
“I’m not asking, I’m telling you to take this game down and any press kit content now. “
“ Hatred is not welcome here. I am a member of many, many groups on Linkedin including those of AAA studios. On top of that, I’m an editor for two large gaming blogs and you better believe you’ll get negative publicity and look like absolute monsters.”
What we’re seeing here is a public bullying threat from an upstart developer who also posts on blog sites, according to the creator. This is a disgusting tactic. The market is a free one, and if Destructive Creations can get the ability to distribute the game, people should be able to buy it. I don’t know if the motivation truly is disgust or just the idea that Hatred may sell well, but this behavior is inexcusable. Beyond that, is he implying that it’s perfectly fine to kill white men? Most people’s reactions to the trailer were that the protagonist (or antagonist, depending on point of view) was blowing away other human beings who had done nothing to him. They didn’t see skin color.
As it stands, Hatred has a right to exist. It may not be easy to swallow, but if they are going to sell the game in the United States, it is protected by our First Amendment. Beyond that, uncomfortable fiction is out there. Just last night, I watched Rick Grimes rip out a man’s throat with his teeth on The Walking Dead as I was catching up on the series. Last week, I watched the film Se7en, which features grisly murders and a very tough story to swallow sometimes. Then there’s Chuck Palahniuk’s novels, Bret Easton Ellis’ novels, and so forth. There is quite a bit of uncomfortable art out there, but wanting to pull it due to an offensive nature is foolish.
At the end of the day, video games can be whatever they choose to be, and can be released however they choose to be. That is the beauty of the free market. You, as the consumer, can choose what you want and how you want it. Though I don’t oppose trade laws, fiction like Hatred can be sold here in the United States, and quite frankly I think it should be able to be sold anywhere. I have to disclose that my initial reaction to Hatred was not positive, but to quote Evelyn Beatrice Hall, “I disapprove of what you say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.”
I’ll close by saying this: this petition started by Zack Keosaian is a desperate attempt by an authoritarian to censor the speech of Destructive Creations. We have no idea how Hatred will end up. Stephen here on Techraptor compared controversy to A Serbian Film. Personally, I’m getting more of a vibe that one might get from a David Fincher (Se7en, Zodiac, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) film. Subjectively speaking, I hope that this petition falls flat on its proverbial face. Trying to censor someone just because you are offended is absolutely silly. You have the right to not buy the product. If it’s not illegal, you are not in a position to try and stop it from existing because you disagree.