This week saw the release of the gritty, ultra-violent, balls-to-the-wall awesome twin stick shooter Hatred, a game best described as being to gaming what Reefer Madness would be to drugs, if it had been an intentional satire made by the drug lobby.
Like many of its predecessors from the golden age of gaming controversy, Hatred is a giant gob of stupid fun nicely seasoned with enough ironic sociopathy to give conniption fits to moral guardians of all varieties.
It helps that the game is self-aware. One achievement, earned for playing the game for fifty hours, is called “You Should See a Shrink,” which is possibly the most open instance of self-deprecation in gaming I have yet seen.
Too bad that in my view, it’s dead wrong. The people who should see a shrink aren’t the folks who have enjoyed Hatred for 50 hours, but the ones who can barely play it for five minutes without wincing like they’ve been stung. I’m looking at you, Mike Fahey from Kotaku.
Why do I say this? Well, as I’ve noted elsewhere, Hatred is so bleak it’s funny. Seriously, here are some actual lines from the main character:
“Can you hear your guardian angel crying? I can.”
“Prey’s destiny fulfilled.”
“One nation under death.”
“Time for an iron doom with a high caliber machine gun. They’re going to bleed for me… profusely.”
Let’s leave aside the fact that “One Nation Under Death” sounds like a tremendous B action flick and ask a basic question. Does anyone feel any sort of kinship with this dialogue? Does it speak to you? Does it resonate in the dark night of your soul? Were you lost in a dark wood of error until you got your hands on your IRON DOOM WITH A HIGH CALIBER MACHINE GUN? Or failing that, a Linkin Park CD?
If you answered “yes” to any of those questions, then congratulations, you are either a fifteen-year-old boy, or you need psychiatric help.
Here’s another question to consider: what sort of person is going to look at a game that is this ironic about its own cruelty and be so horrified that they completely miss said irony?
Answer: probably the sort of person who actually empathizes with the killer. I’m dead serious. Anyone who can’t identify with the game on some level will probably think it’s either funny or stupid, depending on their perspective. But the people who freak out and still want it banned? Those people you should be worried about.
And I’m not just blowing smoke here, because we’ve seen this phenomenon before. Leland Yee, a virulently anti-video game former California state Senator, was literally an illegal arms dealer in his spare time. That seems like a fairly interesting case study.
I don’t mean to trivialize anguish, because it’s honestly probably horrifying to experience. (You can just picture the internal monologue: “Oh God, I can identify with this. But if I, a decent human being, can identify with this, then imagine how the children will react?! I must go forth and denounce it! To the Polygon back end!”)
Okay, maybe I trivialized it. But let’s be a little more fair and admit that if someone dislikes the game, it might not necessarily be because it speaks to something dark in them. The aforementioned pearl-clutching Kotaku reviewer, Mike Fahey, doesn’t seem like a mass shooter in the making.
Yet he still reacts to the game with horror, to the point of audibly reassuring fleeing non-playable characters (NPCs) that he won’t hurt them. Seriously, watch the video. That actually happens.
Mocking aside, we should ask what’s going on here. Clearly, Fahey feels some level of kinship with the fleeing NPCs. Which means there’s probably some degree of fear on his part that he could end up a victim of a mass shooting. We should ask why.
Whom do mass shooters usually target? I don’t think it would surprise anyone that such acts usually have revenge as a motive, and usually revenge on those who have rejected them. Furthermore, while the data is ambiguous on how widespread this actually is, pop culture has very clearly created the perception that mass shooters target people who bully them.
Put the examples of Leland Yee and Mike Fahey together, then, and you get a good picture of the sort of person who freaks out about Hatred, and, really, over all violent video games — that is, either the sort who can identify with the violence being committed, or the sort who fear being its target.
In the case of Hatred, that means they’re probably either psychopaths or bullies. Personally, I recommend they play 50 hours of Hatred, see a shrink… and call me in the morning.