Earlier today, Polish developer Destructive Creations released the first trailer for its upcoming game, Hatred. The game features an unnamed protagonist who looks like the stereotypical version of a mass shooter that you'd find on television shows like Law & Order: a white male with long dark hair and a trenchcoat. Hatred is a top-down or twin-stick shooter, where the focus is perpetrating a mass shooting. That's right, you take control of the protagonist and kill innocent bystanders.
A spokesperson from the developer told USgamer that Hatred is meant to be horror, not satire. If that seems provocative to you, that's because the developer wanted it to be that way.
"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," says the developer on the game's official website. "Something different, something that could give the player a pure, gaming pleasure. Here comes 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."
The controversial nature of the game seems to be its big selling point, much like the old PC game, Postal. The subject matter means the game has controversy, and controversy nets the game word-of-mouth. It's not a sure-fire way to success, but for an indie, it's one way to be noticed. I'm a bit surprised at the idea that this is against current gaming trends instead of being their extreme endpoint, but I digress.
There's been a great deal said about the game directly, but I don't really find that to be the most interesting part of the discussion. It's an indie game made by a small studio that may not even make it to Steam due to the subject matter. Destructive Creations is certainly well within their rights to create Hatred, even if it's not my personal jam.
What is interesting about Hatred is how many people dislike the title and the ideas behind it. In places like Reddit, NeoGAF, or Twitter, the reception seems negative. Destructive Creations seems to have stumbled upon the line where game violence goes from fun and cathartic to something some consumers don't want to play. For me, the question is "why?"
Is it the timing? The game's trailer was released a short time after Anita Sarkeesian cancelled her planned Utah State University talk after threats of a mass shooting. There's also the actions of Elliot Rodger back in May; the words of Hatred's protagonist recall some of Rodger's angry manifesto. For many, the game is just a reminder of reality, not an escapist jaunt.
Perhaps it's who you're killing in the game: masses of innocent people. In the trailer, an innocent woman begs, "Please" before she's brutally killed; that can certainly put a bad taste in the mouths of some players. In contrast, most games give you ample reasons to mow down the legions in front of you. In Grand Theft Auto, Sleeping Dogs or Uncharted, your opponents will kill you if you don't kill them first. Manhunt was also a grimdark murderfest, but you were up against criminals like yourself. In many games, like the recent Evil Within, you're up against zombies or demons, people who have been turned away from the natural order of things.
What about the lack of humor, satire, our seeming point outside of wanton destruction? Hatred seems to be played completely straight, with none of the more outlandish elements of a game like Postal. Spec Ops: The Line had the protagonist commit horrible acts, but the game was entirely about the horrible actions that can happen during war. So far, I'm unsure what Hatred is attempting to say to or teach players.
It could even be Hatred's singular focus on mass murder. Many players are perfectly fine with mowing down endless civilians in games like Grand Theft Auto V or Saints Row, because in those games murder of innocent non-player characters is completely optional. In fact, GTA V turned off many players due to an unskippable interactive torture scene in the middle of the game. The inability to skip the torture scene made some feel deeply unsatisfied; it's the moment where GTA removes the idea of player agency, on a subject that some find distasteful.
If you look at those theories, they all stem from the same core idea: rationalization. These games are completely digital, but there's a certain degree of rationalization at work in personally committing violent acts. We feel empathy for those fictional characters, so we need reasons to ignore those feelings. We're able to rationalize our violent actions in a variety of ways, which makes everything fine. That violence becomes catharsis.
Hatred (the game!) strips that rationalization away, leaving just the violence. It doesn't say, "You did this horrible thing for X reason," it merely lets the act stand alone. And for some people, that's a bridge too far. Hatred unequivocally makes you the bad guy, in a way few games prior do. So it's understandable that many players may dislike what Destructive Creations has on display. At the very least, it might make us ponder how we perceive what we do in many digital worlds.