Opinion: Why Hatred is Good for You

Hatred released, and the gaming world remains relatively unchanged. But beyond the controversy and its mindless violence, there's an important message that makes it good to hate.

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It seems like a lot of fuss was raised about nothing. Hatred, the grim action shooter where you play as a mass murderer who kills civilians, released yesterday. Then... quiet. Despite Twitch's ban of AO rated games (instituted days before Hatred's release), GOG's refusal to sell the game, and Steam's temporarily delisting its Greenlight page, all the effort was spent to minimize exposure to a generally mediocre game. But Hatred isn't the first murder simulator to shake things up, and serves as a more extreme example of common video game tropes.

The Manhunt Begins

In 2007, Manhunt 2 got its own share of controversy when it got an AO rating, which was essentially equivalent to the kiss of death, since it meant major retailers like Walmart, GameStop and Target wouldn't stock the game. Furthermore, Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo all issued statements that said no AO games would be allowed on their consoles, effectively banning the game in the US before it even released. On top of that, the BBFC (the British ratings board) refused to rate the game, which meant the game wouldn't be sold in the UK either. Under all that pressure, Rockstar (the developer) relented by cutting out parts and blurring executions, which was enough to earn an M rating. However, some hackers developed a crack to remove the blurring effect from some of the console releases, and you can still purchase the uncut AO version online.

Manhunt 2's violence is said to be little different from popular "torture porn" movies of the time, like Hostel and Saw, but that's actually incidental, as is the AO rating in and of itself. It's how companies can suddenly converge to decide what content is allowed to the public. Neither Manhunt 2 nor Hatred are anything to get up in arms about, but imagine this sort of policy applying to other entertainment devices. A DVD/Blu-ray player that won't play Hostel or any other gory horror movie. A tablet that won't stream The Interview. A digital music player that rejects rap music, heavy metal, or anything else the manufacturer deems too explicit. The point isn't whether or not you would watch or listen to any of these things. The point is, you should be allowed to choose for yourself. 

Hate Yourself

In Hatred, an 80s death metal band reject goes on a murder-spree, motivated by an irrational hatred of the world. His primary targets are unarmed civilians, who he kills with brutal executions, but he quickly escalates to police and military. As it turns out, the game is actually like playing the monster from some slasher horror movie. The guy (named "The Antagonist") is powered by hatred, like the Sith from Star Wars. He can absorb a ton of bullets, and executions allow him to regain health. Reaching a kill quota enables respawning. In a sense, The Antagonist is little different from Jason Voorhees or Michael Myers, except he doesn't have the courtesy to keep quiet while killing.

To be clear, the game doesn't target specific people of any gender, race, religion, ethnicity, or class. It spreads its bloodshed equally, but draws a line at children and animals. Fair enough, I suppose.

Putting its gimmick aside, the game's artificial intelligence is a mess. Civilians will actually run toward your gun or stand around waiting for you to shoot them. In some cases, they'll simply drop their weapons and resign themselves to death. Police and military don't follow any tactics. No one fires from cover or moves in formation. Oftentimes, they'll come running straight at you and make for an easy target. That's when it really hits you: it's just a stupid game. Not even a great game, or an especially deep one. Just one where the developers didn't care to add any trappings to justify the violence.

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Hatred is how unremarkable it seems to be. The main character, self-described as "a man of hate of disgust," is a complete caricature who is taken way too seriously. He uses the same moves throughout the game, and largely sticks to the same weapons. The game's civilians don't act like human beings, and neither does its law enforcement characters. It also features a ridiculous plot involving a one-man army with an unending well of burning hatred, who wants to wipe out all of humanity. Clinically speaking, it's a black and white, isometric, twin stick shooter, where enemies are dressed as civilians and law enforcement, and features some nice physics and explosions. It also happens to be what subversive art looks like.

Universal Hatred

My initial impression of Hatred, upon seeing its early trailer, was one of revulsion. See a pale, long-haired, psychopath take to the streets to brutally murder innocent bystanders for no reason simply disgusted me. Clearly, the developers are counting on whatever controversy the game can stir up to gain extra sales. But after seeing it in action, I can appreciate it in context of other games.

Grand Theft Auto 5 has a lengthy torture sequence, and there are numerous opportunities to kill civilians and law enforcement with similar escalation results. Except, the end result of your killing-spree is spending a night in jail and losing some money. The fighters of Mortal Kombat X has a number of creative and gruesome ways to finish off their opponents. Then there are games like Postal and Saints Row, where you can "comically" abuse civilians to your heart's content. Hotline Miami has players killing off members of organized crime... except for those missions where you don't. The list of games where innocent civilians and cops become collateral damage to your actions goes on.

What makes Hatred stand apart is that it doesn't dress its violence up. Some people, like me, prefer characters to have a little more motivation than unending hate. But that's also why mindless games like Hatred are also kind of brilliant. They remind us that there's little difference in running through a fortified police station and gunning down everyone in sight (a mission that's in both Hatred and Hotline Miami 2), and blasting up a room full of Nazis, zombies, demons, or whatever, to reach a door. In fact, if you substitute the Hatred characters with Nazis, the game takes on a whole new context.

Games like Hatred shed light on the mundane mechanics that drive pretty much all shooting games. It doesn't much matter what you're shooting, because you're always shooting the same things: digitally generated virtual characters. It also demonstrates how you can only be shocked by something so many times before it gets old. All things considered, the visceral reaction might be more absurd than the game itself, but it reminds us of how much we rely on story trappings (like an Assassin's Creed) or an omniscent penalty system to guide how we treat bystanders in games. You can slaughter everyone in Fallout 3's town of Megaton before blowing the place up, but you're bound to lose a lot of karma for it.

That's why it's good to have games like Hatred come up every so often. It's nice to have a game shake up the status quo, however insignificantly. Hatred is satire in its most base form, and restricting it from sale or streaming is silly. Treating the AO rating as a censorship label undermines the spirit for which the ratings systems is meant to serve, which is to inform parents about what games are appropriate for different age groups. Not force everyone's purchasing decisions. So, let people see Hatred for what it is: a rather bland action shooter, with exactly one shock gimmick that quickly wears thin. Personally, I'm not a big fan of the game. In fact, I think it's kind of boring, but I wouldn't stand in the way of someone else enjoying it. As the game's marketing has been stating all along, it's just a game.

Managing Editor
From The Chatty
  • reply
    June 2, 2015 9:00 AM

    Steven Wong posted a new article, Opinion: Why Hatred is Good for You

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      June 2, 2015 9:19 AM

      good article!

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      June 2, 2015 9:31 AM

      Nice article. Took me longer to read it than it did to play enough Hatred to know that it sucks, though. Controversy aside, the game is a fucking mess and just not fun. Murdering innocent civilians is the least offensive thing about it.

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      June 2, 2015 9:39 AM

      I'm actually interested in this game, but I wish it was more of a dark comedy (/fantasy?), where you're killing people like the guy who gets the last rare amiibo in the store, etc...This could have been that fantasy stress reliever after a long hard day, but from what I've read it's not that.

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        June 2, 2015 9:56 AM

        Honestly (and really, I think the game sucks so I'm not really trying to defend it) it's not as horrific as it may have come across in earlier trailers. I expected it to feel like Columbine and Sandy Hook the video game. It feels more like the original Postal games... Maybe slightly less humorous, but it's so impossible to take it seriously that it doesn't feel as gross as they were leading us to believe. The No Russian level in CoD was worse. Seriously, look up the ending on YouTube and you'll give it a lol and a shrug and then never think about it again.

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      June 2, 2015 9:42 AM

      Good article! The developers have also stopped it from being sold in Aus and Germany. In Australia at least it wasn't even reviewed by the classification board.

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      June 2, 2015 9:43 AM

      I'm going to jump on this Shack lovepile!

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      June 2, 2015 9:45 AM

      Very well written article. Nice jaerb!

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      June 2, 2015 10:32 AM

      Nicely done

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      June 2, 2015 10:36 AM

      Hatred is so milquetoast in both story and gameplay that it isn't even particularly offensive - you see worse atrocities in many existing, popular games.

      The only reason that it has sold well has been the press coverage of the controversy it doesn't even live up to. It's a press circle jerk that benefits everyone except the people duped into paying money for a mediocre top-down shooter under the guise of getting something in any way groundbreaking.

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        June 2, 2015 10:58 AM

        It would have fallen to obscurity if it didn't get the negative buzz it got from members of the media. I will definitely grant you that. But as long as there's lemons, may as well make lemonade and have a constructive discussion about it.