The controversial computer game Hatred was put up on Steam for Greenlight, gathered some thirteen thousand positive votes, into the top ten projects up there, then was unceremoniously pulled as ‘something we wouldn’t sell’. Then, to everyone’s surprise – given the fervid atmosphere around media of all sorts at the moment and the viciousness with which it is being fought – it was put back up. This was apparently due to the intervention of Gabe Newell himself.
So, what’s going on?
Panic, mostly it seems, followed by calmer heads and a rare showing of actual principles.
Steam is in a powerful position, dominating digital sales. Newell has talked about not wishing to become a bottleneck – though that ship has sailed in regard to adult games. That is, however, exactly the position Steam is in and creators are hostage to Steam’s good will. As has been said previously when a project was pulled from steam – albeit for different reasons – if you’re not on there your capability to make money is crippled.
This, then, is a rare and encouraging victory for free expression, going against the grain of recent developments and this weirdly conservative culture that seems to have sprung up amongst millennials.
What is Hatred then, exactly? It appears to be – and we don’t know all that much really at this point – a game where you step into the boots of a misanthropic spree killer and set out to kill as many people as possible. Distasteful to many, I should think, offensive to others, but why would that be sufficient reason to censor something by itself?
I don’t think that it is.
I think that in order to justify controlling or eliminating something you have to prove that it does harm. Not that it offends people, not that it blasphemes or violates the precepts of some ideology, not that it upsets or triggers someone, but actual, real harm. After all, consumption of media is optional and contrary to what some people believe, the overwhelming majority of people are perfectly capable of telling the difference between reality and fantasy.
Hatred is the apotheosis of the shooter, stripped of the paper thin justifications and plots, devoid of zombies, robots or aliens. As such, I think it’s something that needs to exist. What is it? What will people’s experience of it be? Why would anyone enjoy such a thing?
Catharsis, I think, will be a large part of it. Who hasn’t been stuck in traffic at some point in their lives and thumbed imaginary buttons to unleash a hail of machine-gun fire to clear the way? How popular are survival fantasies, zombie movies, transgressive comics like Crossed? Why? Hatred flips the ‘othering’ and makes the protagonist the ‘other’, the madman, the alien – at least in his mentality.
Fun, sounds terrible, how could one have fun slaughtering hundreds of people? ‘Fun’ is a variable term though. We ride rollercoasters for fun, by experiencing fright and exhilaration. We watch horror films for fun, by experiencing disgust, fright, terror. Through games, books, films, comics and any other media you can think of we experience emotions, ideas and points of view – but at arm’s length, a safe distance.
Games have become one of the most dominant art forms over the last forty years, truly leaping to the fore in the nineties, but despite being interactive and immersive there is no sign that they have had any causal effect on violent behaviour. In fact, violent crime of all kinds has dropped steeply over that period. Correlation is not causation, but after many, many studies failing to establish any causal link – despite great pressure to get that very result. If there were any link this is not what we would expect to see.
Might some people be affected by media? Yes, but these are people who already have issues. There’s been some evidence to suggest that a release can also be healthy, even for these people, a valve through which they can safely bleed off the pressure from their inner demons.
What’s an acceptable level of risk though?
In the UK, around 9,000 people die of alcohol related illness or misadventure each year.
Videogames, or media of any sort, have been directly linked to… barely any deaths over any number of years you care to mention – with the exception of explicit ideological or religious texts. Things we wouldn’t countenance banning.
That sort of puts the whole thing into perspective, doesn’t it?
“In time we hate that which we often fear.”
― William Shakespeare, Antony and Cleopatra