It’s well known at this point by Aussie gamers that our censorship rules suck. One of the first things that come to mind when thinking about this issue, for me, was the initial release of Left 4 Dead 2. Sure, Australia got the game. What we didn’t get was what made the series fun; the blood and guts. Excuse the pun, but our censorship board literally gutted the game of its gore.
At the time of it’s release in 2009, it was considered too violent for an MA15+ classification, so it was either ban the game entirely or censor the ever loving hell out of it. As you can imagine, people weren’t too happy. Where’s the fun in a zombie apocalypse shooter without a bit of brain splatter, I ask you? None. None at all.
Left 4 Dead 2 was later reclassified after Australia finally added an R18+ rating to our game classification system in 2013, and Steam released a free DLC that restored all those luscious entrails to the game.
One game, however, brought this hotly debated topic back to the front of my mind. Hatred. If you haven’t heard of it, I wouldn’t be surprised. Released in June this year, it caused a lot of controversy with its initial trailers. A mysterious, misanthropic John Doe goes on a “genocidal crusade” in this dark, isometric “mass murder simulator”, drawing comparisons from similar games such as Manhunt and Postal.
“My name is not important… What is important is what I’m going to do. I just fucking hate this world and the human worms feasting on its carcass. My whole life is just cold, bitter hatred… and I always wanted to die violently. This is the time of vengeance and no life is worth saving. And I will put in the grave as many as I can. It’s time for me to kill… and it’s time for me to die. My genocide crusade begins here.” – Hatred’s announcement trailer, October 2014.
Yeah. Not exactly a cheery premise for a game, is it? As you can imagine, this game got absolutely panned by various video game journalists. “Controversial” was probably the nicest criticism it got, up there with “pushing the moral boundaries”. Considering its mostly negative reviews post-release, it wasn’t a great start for the newly-formed Polish game developer company, Destructive Creations. They were well aware of the game they were making, though. CEO Jaroslaw Zielinski stated that the game was intentionally made as grim and depressing as possible through colour scheme and music ambience, saying “I don’t want to justify anything. I want the player to ask: why?”
In their own words, it was a response to “political correctness”, in games, and sought to go back to the roots of video games when they were considered a rebellious medium. Initially, Steam refused to distribute and promote the game during it’s brief Greenlighting. This was eventually revoked and Gabe Newell apologised to the developers, though as you can imagine, the game still isn’t available for Australian Steam users. And admittedly, we’re not missing out anyway.
Time to be honest – following all this hype and controversy surrounding Hatred, you’d think you were playing something revolutionary in terms of violence and political upheaval in video games. In reality – Hatred wasn’t a good game. The “mass murder” and executions were nothing we haven’t seen before. I’d venture to say that The Last of Us had more controversial content, even. It was provocative and macabre, sure. But most – if not all – of the attention it received came from extreme overhyping. It wasn’t even a step back towards the days when video games were considered rebellious. A bold, admirable goal – but not one the developers achieved.
Are we too sensitive when it comes to video games, I wonder? The content that was considered revolting and over the top in Hatred ended up being underwhelming, especially in light of games like Mortal Kombat that can, at times, be considered a bit gross and over the top. If it’s not the violence in games that’s getting the Australian Board of Censorship’s knickers in a bunch, it’s “explicit sexual content” – looking at you in the back-seat with that virtual prostitute, Grand Theft Auto.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – people love getting offended. The more you think about that statement, the truer it becomes. You only need a brief visit to any video game forum on the internet to see somebody getting upset about some form of content in the game.
It’s fictional. We all know it’s fictional – the pixel man with the pixel gun isn’t actually killing an innocent bystander – just more pixels. You could argue that it’s what it represents, but in my humble opinion of this age old topic, video games don’t make you more violent, or encourage violence. They’re a fantasy medium, escapism. Your son isn’t going to be inspired to become an assassin from playing Assassin’s Creed. Playing a shooter isn’t going to encourage him to go out and buy a gun. Thinking this is the case says more about you than him or the game developers who made the game he plays.
Having said all that, Hatred, and games like Hatred, are good to have around. Due to the panty bunching I referred to earlier, not many game developers are willing to push the envelope and raise awareness of real human issues in our society. Sure, we can see boobs in our games now – thank you kindly, The Witcher. But seriously, there needs to be more games that touch on issues like mental illness and the consequences of ignoring it.
To me, the sad thing about Hatred isn’t the victims of the unnamed protagonist’s murder spree. They’re not real people, there isn’t any reason to feel anything about it. It wasn’t that it happened, but that it was allowed. It’s easy to paint mentally ill people as the villains because they’re misunderstood, and it can be chalked up to “there’s something wrong with them”. And there is, but nothing gets done about it. That’s why I feel, that while Hatred was hardly revolutionary, it and games like it are a step in the right direction in terms of raising awareness about the evils of our society and how ultimately, they cannot be ignored or swept under the rug forever. That shit always finds a way of coming back to the surface.