Warning! This post contains discussions of sexual assault. Last wee..."/> Warning! This post contains discussions of sexual assault. Last wee..."/>

Hatred: The Genocidal Game That Might Give Game Design New Life


Warning! This post contains discussions of sexual assault.

Last week, the internet was shocked and alarmed to discover that an independent studio calling itself (appropriately, some might say) Destructive Creations was designing a game known only as “Hatred.” The object of this game? To enact a genocidal crusade. And no, that’s not an exaggeration. The game’s trailer opens with the following monologue from the game’s protagonist:

"My name is not important. What is important is what I’m going to do. I just f—ing 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."

Just as this monologue concludes, you witness the game’s protagonist — a figure best described as sounding like Nathan Explosion and looking like Tom Waits by way of Professor Snape — exiting his rundown home and proceeding to gun down the nearest bystanders without a second thought in isometric platform view. As described on the game’s website, “Hatred” is pretty much exactly what you’d expect from a game that starts out this way. Your goal is literally to unleash Armageddon on the innocent, law-abiding citizens of New York city, as well as any members of the NYPD unfortunate enough to try to stop you, sometimes with brutal, up-close kill shots thrown in for your particularly gasp-inducing acts of sadism, such as forcing a screaming woman to swallow the barrel of your shotgun.

As you may imagine, the alarm over this game’s mere prospective existence (it’s not due out til late next year) has inspired a raft of hysterical responses condemning it as everything from an internet misogynist’s wet dream to an exercise in cheap shock value to a sick attempt to corrupt popular culture on the part of Polish neo-Nazis (the game’s developers are themselves Polish). And whatever you think of the game’s merits, anyone would have to admit that this last rumor is at least as distasteful as the game itself arguably is, given that some of the game’s developers are apparently relatives of Holocaust survivors. Those developers rightly called out the people spreading the slander in question on their site. What’s more, they debunked the entire idea that the game is a racist or sexist fantasy rather cleverly via a design choice to randomize the race and gender of all other people who the player can choose to interact with, meaning that every NPC who gets mowed down has an equal chance of being white, black, male, female, or anything else. In other words, in terms of mechanics, the game is basically equal opportunity evil meets Diablo.

Nevertheless, there is one question which looms over the whole affair, and it’s one that the game’s developers anticipated with their initial announcement. I’ll let them take it from here:

"The question you may ask is: why do they do this? 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. Something different, something that could give the player a pure, gaming pleasure. Herecomes our game, which takes no prisoners and makes no excuses. 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. We provoke this question using new Unreal Engine 4, pushing its physics (or rather PhysX) systems to the limits and trying to make the visuals as good as possible. It’s not a simple task, because of the game’s non-linear structure and a lot of characters on the screen. But here at Destructive Creations, we are an experienced team and we know how to handle the challenge!"

Now, despite the professed desire to avoid being “some kind of higher art,” in this author’s opinion, “Hatred” is quite possibly the most significant artistic work to come out of the gaming world since the “Bioshock” and “Grand Theft Auto” series. What’s more, despite the less than eloquent explanation of their motives, the developers of “Hatred” are setting out to do something that the gaming world has been excessively frightened of doing since the advent of Triple-A gaming and of heightened artistic scrutiny of video games as an art form. That is to say, “Hatred” is pushing established cultural and social boundaries about what art can depict, and in what light, even when it pushes in a direction that offends practically everyone. And if the game turns out to be well made (something we won’t be able to tell until more information comes out), this is a welcome return to form for the industry.

A couple of caveats before we proceed:

Firstly, let’s acknowledge that what “Hatred” is depicting is not all that new. One could easily make the case that it’s a spiritual successor to the “Postal” series, so-named because the protagonist literally “goes postal” in the series and begins attacking everyone around him without regard for innocence. The original “Postal,” like “Hatred,” was done in isometric platform style and lacked much of a coherent plot aside from dark hints about its protagonist’s past. “Hatred’s” plot, from what we’ve seen, seems to be similarly sparse, though it’s not clear whether it’ll make the same choice to have its protagonist end up institutionalized at the end (as “Postal” did), or if he will emerge victorious in a grimmer fashion. Judging by what we’ve seen so far, my money’s on the latter.

Secondly, let’s acknowledge that the game isn’t trying to depict something that it wants its players to imitate. Its makers’ stated intent is clearly to provide enjoyment and possibly to provoke thought about what makes someone commit the crimes shown in the game, but not to inspire new Columbine kids. And what’s more, if they were trying to inspire imitators, using a video game to do so is probably the least productive way to pursue this goal, seeing as violent video games have no impact on peoples’ violent tendencies, as the most comprehensive surveys have shown. Furthermore, given that the Japanese game Rapelay is designed to allow the player to experience being a serial rapist of hypersexualized women depicted in Hentai style, and yet no one’s seen any evidence that Rapelay has increased rapes in Japan, the idea of playing a serial murderer probably won’t have any more of an impact.

That being said, let’s also assume the game’s creators aren’t idiots and could have predicted that their game would inspire controversy, and probably made it at least partially to do just that.

Good on them. The fact is that while no one except perhaps the most infantile reactionaries in the gaming community want to see video games consigned to the artistic ghetto where they were treated as little more than glorified toys, the deliberate decision by mainstream culture to turn up its nose at video games for so long did have some incidentally positive effects. Had games been treated with the same level of cultural scrutiny that they get now in the much more sexually and socially conservative era when, say, the early Ultima games came out, those games would have been vilified relentlessly as little more than debauchery simulators because they depicted same-sex attraction (in Ultima VII) and allowed players to create transgendered characters (in Ultima III). Mass Effect even suffered backlash on similar grounds decades later simply because it allowed for same sex relationships, something it arguably couldn’t have done without earlier games (like Ultima) flying under the radar and seeing if these options would turn off their core audience before the medium went mainstream.

Moreover, expecting art to conform to cultural norms almost always produces worse art. As anyone with even a basic knowledge of the film industry knows, the Hays Code strangled storytelling for far longer than it should have, and when government regulators tried to impose particular moral standards on television programming, the quality of TV plummeted. To this day, popular films remain more safe in their storytelling choices than independent films, which isn’t itself necessarily a problem, but surely no one would argue that independent filmmaking itself should vanish just because of a few infamously bad independent films like “A Serbian Film” or “Vasa de Noces,” both of which include sequences, like an actual depiction of sex between a man and a pig, that would shock even the most tolerant mainstream audience. What’s more, even some of the films with the most hideous subject matter ever depicted on film — think “Salo: 120 Days of Sodom” — can provide useful lessons on filmmaking in their expert usage of visual language, even if that language is only used to show horrifying things.

The point I am trying to make is that “Hatred” is important and worthy of celebration not because it repudiates the idea of games as art, but because in a world where it’s not safe to make games like “Hatred,” video games by definition cannot be art, because art’s capacity to push boundaries and force us to look at ourselves in a critical, even uncomfortable light, is one of its most powerful and vital roles. Mozart had to fight to be allowed to stage his opera Le Nozze di Figaro in Austria because its subtext of class warfare offended the ruling aristocracy, but Figaro remains a masterwork today precisely because its message about the human capacity for love — and for abuse of power — is so timeless. Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus, which depicts a woman being raped after having her hands cut off and tongue cut out, would surely not survive a close reading by authors at Jezebel or Feministing if it were written today, yet it remains a brilliantly dark meditation on the nature of revenge. Art need not push boundaries unnecessarily, but if it cannot push them, then it becomes a mere distraction, not a subject capable of invoking the sort of troubling intellectual questions that make artistic criticism possible.

Photo Credit: Independent

Gaming is in a troubled adolescence at the moment. Many large studios are struggling to cope with the increasingly diversifying audience that their games reach, as well as the heightened artistic scrutiny to which their games are subjected (and unfortunately, mostly from people interested in shutting certain narratives down more than in creating better ones). In some quarters, that has led to a move toward making the safest, least inoffensive possible games, rather than the best possible games. But just like all art, a world where games cannot make us feel passionate antipathy is also a world in which they cannot make us feel passionate empathy. Gaming right now has more chiding critics than it has daring artists, hence the onslaught of nothing but Call of Duty sequels, expansions to this or that established property, and oppressive focus on graphical proficiency rather than story or characters.

Perhaps “Hatred” will be gaming’s “Vasa de Noces,” and go down in history with “Custer’s Revenge” as a colossal misfire. Perhaps it will be gaming’s “Salo,” and will be imitated by developers even as it is viewed with leery eyes by mainstream gaming fans. And perhaps it will be gaming’s “Titus Andronicus” and force us all to contemplate the murderer in ourselves even as we exercise his will on defenseless pixels. But one thing is certain: In order for us to have games we can love, we must also find games we can hate.

And that is as good an argument as any for the existence of “Hatred.”

The views expressed in this article explicitly belong to the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of, nor should be attributed to, GameSided as an organization.