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One Big Rant: The moral flaw of banning Hatred (the game)

I'd think I have an eclectic view on games because I can play about any game as long as it seems appealing and immersive to me. I played games like Siberia, The longest journey, Gone Home, Dear Esther, Minecraft, Dota, Payday 2, Dead space, Trackmania, Left 4 dead, GTA, Audiorace, Terraria.... do I have to continue ? The genres are all over the place. It's not because I play Adventure and story games that I'm a soft hippie. It's not because I run over people in watch dogs in my car and headshoot police in payday that I'm an anarchist. In my defence I never played games like Bully and Postal because I somehow didn't get the slightest need to be brutal to people, why would I want to be brutal against virtual NPC's ? That seems a waste of time

Whenever I see acts of meaningless violence because some people just get off on punching someone in the face I feel rage inside and ask why they think they have the right of doing this, who do they think they are ? What's their problem ? They should get in therapy and being locked away if they can't behave like everyone else.

A month ago, I got to know the game Hatred because of the controversy it stirred, I posted some answers in various forums on my oppinion on why it shouldn't be banned. I got acquainted by some unknowns (they are sometimes called social justice warriors nowadays), who blamed the entire community that was looking forward to this game as monsters. So as I felt blamed (collectively amongst other people who held the same discussion) as being a pschopath who likes to molest children, this triggered a need to look more closely into this. And I have to get it out in this blog article.

The problem

So, there's a game being released in a few months called Hatred. The premise of this game is to violently kill and get killed because you play a man who hates this world and he wants to put into a grave as many as possble before getting killed himself. Some people think it  morally goes too far. These people feel this game shouldn't be released because if we portray a typical homicidal killer who's only aim is to kill out of hatred, it's disgusting. And you know what they are absolutely right to think that these actions shouldn't be trivialized and minimalized. But the question is, does a videogame automaticly trivialize violence in the mind of people who play it ? Do people turn into hateful killers because they play gory games ? I don't follow anymore, because I thought we were already past that.

Hatred as moral scapegoat

It puzzles me why people whom you could call gamers and journalists alike opt in on a debate that has been raging 10 years ago (GTA controversy), and still try to add weight to the reasons why this one game is bad, and blame the people for wanting to play it as bad. Why are we picking THIS videogame in particular to be concerned about in terms of (interactive) art, and why would this particular game i make people violent after release ? Why does it get picked as token example of "sending a bad moral message", while there are so many other videogames that flirt with morally rejectable themes ? I think there's a few reasons.

So, some people have a gut feeling that "meaningless violence commited by a protagonist who has no other purpose than to kill people is socially inacceptable", and it ofcourse should be in real life. And in videogames, nowadays, modern game engines can show realistic displays of violence, that might set off certain groups of people. But I'd  like to dig in a bit deeper into these specific issues and give my thoughts on to how it's ultimately intellectually dihonest an increases arbitrary morals if people just go and blame others for lack of morals because they play videogames, and in the end to hope for censorship of this game.

Bigger morals than one company

In the heat of this debate, Valve took this game from steam greenlight and it was one of the reasons that made my mind race and rage about moral conflicts and double standards. I was perplexed that they took a stance which causes more moral problems than a company should cause. And it almost seemed as if they adhered to a few scared people who want to to censor a game for the wrong reasons, only to come back to that decision a day later and open the game back up for greenlight voting. The company head stated that they made a mistake by removing it and thus acknowledged the bigger responsibility that is up to us as a gaming crowd, namely to play or watch interactive content for what it's worth and not use it as a weapon of fear, but of understanding.

Valve was absoluitely right to come back to their decision to bring the game back on steam. After all, the distribution platform is about providing tools and content for players to consume. If valve has an issue with morality of ONE of their games, they'll have to review ALL OTHER games that also have morally questionable scenarios and possibly take them down if they are too offensive.

Valve already took down several games for more urgent reasons that seemed right, such as games that turned out to be scam or non functional and don't technically adhere to a certain quality standard. But to give a moral judgement of a game's content is much more complex and sensitive.

Keeping Hatred off steam would mean that the industry suddenly would have to adhere to a different moral rating/labeling. In such a hypothetical situation, when we would have decided that such games are offensive and should be banned would have to be applied to games ACROSS THE BOARD. But back to reality: I'd like to think that since the rennaissance, we've have had an artistic industry which is based on freedom of speech and expression. An industry like this will allow the artist the freedom to paint or sculpt or direct content of all flavors. When it has a graphic and violent nature it's always about social commentary, trying to make people to think, even as memorial or symbolic tribute.

Gone are the times that we execute or condemn people for expressing themself, gone are the times where religion would dictate what people should think or what moral boundaries are. Morals are above religion, people are aware enough to distinguish morals of the real world, that is functional in order to drive a society, and the morals of playing videogames as experiences and entertainment. And so the existence of a piece of art shoulddn't be dictaded by one angry group of people or a company who want to turn it into a taboo. Art should be about the prevention of taboos being looked at from all angles and the crowd remain intellectually and morally in the dark. Ar should liberate taboo issues.

Ultimately that's what it's all about for this particular game! (Hatred) It lets the consumer live trough the hell of a hateful person without actually having to live through it for real, so they can experience the moral conflict for themself and hopefully make some psychological notes.

I have absolutely no problem with people stating their morals on this game but IF we - as a society - would ever come to a point that we would judge a videogame on criteria like "offensiveness", then this will have to be a collective effort where labels and ratings are redefined in order to clearly include our collective stance against offensive content. Taking down one game now feels arbitrary at best!

Meaningless violence

So with that out of the way, I'd like to talk about the different reasons (that I briefely summed up before), as to why I think people are offended by this game. People who want a ban on Hatred have indicated they are horrified by the fact that it's a "meaningless slaughter" simulator. That is their right. But if they focus so much on "this" game, it would immediately raise the question: are other games in this genre OK ? There's a few that come to mind. Manhunt, Postal... If you want to be morally consistent and hate human needless suffering, shouldn't they also banned from steam ?

ONLY picking on Hatred suggests no consideration with moral implications of other games. How is killing a person "for drugs" or "because of story", or because they have funny ragdoll physics when you run them over with a car in any way less disgusting than killing a human because of sheer hatred ? Only bearing down on this game, is like a cold drop on a hot furnace and feels inconsequential. If the reason for wanting Hatred banned and other games not, it goes against the function of the real life moral that ultimately all violence against humans is meaningless, should a society not collapse. But people are being killed for money, because they have other ideas in real life as well .... ring a bell ? Luckily in Hatred, "this is all virtual", and a big smile from Lance Boyle should mark this affirmation as comforting, not ?

The realism factor

Nowadays, games have the potential of being very realistic and therefore very explicit and mind piercing. The assasination moves showed in the first trailer of Hatred are brutally realistic. The new unreal tech is able to showcase believable physics, and especially on the graphics side, these engines are so advanced that we can now show emotions on faces.

Still though, we have to not forget that this is entertainment and entertainment is meant to shock sometimes. If it can shock like this, it can confront like this, make people think, which is actually good. It is meant to put you in the place of such a horrible person without actually being real, and this is inviting you as an audience to think about how horrible it would be if this happens for real. We should know that right ?

The gore aspect

Another aspect of that is gore. But ironicly gore has been subject of much praise the last years. People love gore, and many many reviews of games have praised the way the gory bits on horror games look. It's one of the fundaments of why we also like to watch horror movies. Gore is something that confronts us with our own mortality and to be able to see it but not feel it gives us kicks, but we know it's not real and we view this as "entertainment". We've been there/done that, and still there will be controversy, but why being so fearful of this game in particular ?

The human identification factor

Maybe this is the catalyst that drive some people to not want to see such games. While we have been taught to deal with gore, the "human identification" factor might just push people over the edge. I've heard rants like Give them a mechanical or mutated arm, or make them zombies or nazi's or necromorphs and then it will be politically correct and nobody will care. And this statement is more meaningful than you might think. The more we identify victims in games with ourself (the innocent civilian), and the more realistic games become, we get to see games as an emotional mirror and get disturbed because of having to imagine ourself in this situation. In realistic games we see more of the human face, it gets to mirror our emotions in finer detail so we as a visual species are taught to have impathy with that. So it suddenly becomes very real, more confronting and more shocking.

It's easier for us to pretend wer'e not immoral if the creatures we kill in game are from our stylized nightmares such as the monsters in the upcoming game Evolve. That's why playing games like Diablo, Dead space, Alien isolation and Left 4 dead is not subjected to these moral considerations, because we don't identify with creatures that have an artistic imaginary feel to them. We know there's no such thing as a Xenomorph and more important, we know it wants to kill us so we feel that the objective of the game doesn't really have to answer to a moral context. We play this game to win from evil. That is already easier to swallow and also, they would never attack us in real life because they are highly imaginary. So the identification is non existent and morality doesn't apply to that.

Even if the enemies are human, but part of a faction we can identify as "evil" such as Nazi's and pirates and thieves and gangsters, then it doesn't trigger our morality checks so much because it's generally accepted that it's "good" to fight these evils right ?

So I noticed that "sense of empathic response" and "moral stress" is symmetric as displays of violence in games becomes increasingly realistic and believable. This is the emotional coctail that triggers some people into revolt and they want to see Hatred banned.

But the developer asks of the gamer to indulge, the same way that Tarantino asks the audience to indulge in excessive violence commited by a female. It's like getting food for your thoughts and you should take away cetain nutrients for the mind from it. Whether this is positive or negative is all your own responsibility as a viewer!

Intellectual honesty also counts for gamers

You might think, why am I trying so bad to write an entire essay just to convince you that censoring Hatred is bad ? While I'm not even sure I WILL buy this game but I hate double standards and moral fallacy and people should not defend morality and then say things about others that not nice, telling everyone who wants to play this game they are psychopaths. It's not because people who express interest in this game suddenly suddenly turn out to be monsters.

I noticed that so many people pass judgement on a game as morally offensive based upon visuals only. This is somehow a fluke, because  if the morality of videogames is measured by visuals only that's not really a honest thing to do.

How many times have you heard screams and sounds and psychopathic oneliners or human death in games ? For years, voice actors have been recording all kinds of stuff, making their characters scream, gurgle, splat and shout out in pain. I sometimes get nauseous and i feel sorry for that person that I kill as well and it sometimes hits more home to me than what I graphically see happening to said person.

These actors directly imitate the sound of drama to their characters. VO artists give their heart and soul for it because they are professionals who want to put down a convincing performance that is "immersive". Yet nobody tells these people that they are going to become violent killers themself. Nobody would be so paranoid to call these people potential criminals, and I myself haven't turned into a monster yet. So it's somehow easier for people to not be affected by sound and more by visuals ?

Then you have that number crunching going on, when a team is strategizing for as many death counts as possible in the following multiplayer round. How many times have you heard multiplayer or coop teams doing a cold equation and discuss tactical analysis of what damage their weapon does and how much headshot bonus apply to enemies. Should they choose this or that sniper ? It's a part of the multiplayer culture and it's how gamers immerse themself tactically in their "game".

Nobody in their right mind would think that all these people are potential killers right ?

And lastly, developers spend years on making stories that might offend people, they create offensive props, create the most gory effects in their games just to make their work convincing. And nobody who is intellectually honest would say that these people have an increased chance to became monsters and get affected by what they make in a negative way.

There's also this discourse of continuous "Base Rate Neglect: I can't tell how annoyed I am about the very people who were rallying against Jack Thompson 10 years ago seem to rightnow try to put videogames as a cause of violence and it especially seems to apply to Hatred right ? Isn't that a bit dishonest ?

Name ANY of the last important mass shootouts and tell me that videogames were a motivation. Even with the Auroral cinema shootout where the perpetrator told he was inspired by the Joker figure, if you think that this was his motivation you have it backward.

With almost no exception, all these people have real life issues and real life triggers that made them do what they did, and anything can be used as an excuse or pretence into putting fear into others. It helps them tick, but it's an effect not a cause. In much the same way ISIL uses religion to justify their violence. It doesn't mean that other religious people who are more positive in life will cut your throat because they believe in Allah but want to be more positive in life. The issue isn't videogames, the issue is people, and their various mental state. If I throw an apple in your face will you want a ban on apples ? Think about the recent killings of police officers and colored people, does it have to do with videogames ?

It's ridiculous that I have to bring this up, but it's a reminder that we have gone trough this debate before. Haven't we had it all when Jack Thompson tried to convince mainstream media that videogames were creating violent people ? As a fan of videogames we firmely took a stance against this and we give the unanimous message to the world that playing a videogame has the equal morality of hurting fruit flies, because experiencing entertainment simply do no harm to other people, Hatred is no exception to that.

The moral responsibility

An artist creates art which is designed to provoke thought. He ain't responsible for how you feel, he wants you to feel something but that's up to you. As a beholder of art WE are the ones responsible for what we feel and even more so what we do with it in real life. The responsibility to interpret the books, comics, watch the movies and painings is all on us, and as parents to our children, we are responsible for using good judgment to teach their sense of morality.

For example: it's very hypocrite to let one's children play GTA at the age of 5 and then jump on the Hating Hatred Bandwagon to rally against it. Expressing desire to take down one game as a token case doesn't make a person "morally superior", because as a result they are telling the world that other games can be left alone and thus their morality isn't severe enough to get banned even if it's about killing people most of the time in other games, something we know is wrong in real life. I like moral pairity, simple as that, and it's very hard to blame others for not having morals if the blamer causes also moral disparity, and likes to turn everything in to a taboo.

The ultimate responsibility of what people choose to play and how they interpret it reasts on their own shoulders. Parents shouldn't let their kids play any violent game when they are too young, simply because kids must first learn real wrong from real right. Just as they teach them not to go with strange people, that Superman isn't real, and explain the metafores of the neverending story, its the responsibility to parents to teach their kids how to regard videogames, what the limits are and know their kids well enought to see if they can handle games, and then. They should observe how their kids respond, check if they become emotionally involved enough to know the difference between right from wrong. And that doesn't only depend on the videogames they play.

No rating or age restriction is perfectly safe or will prevent people from killing others in real life, the only thing that can help prevent children and people in general from from commiting crime is real life values given to real life people, who use real sensibilities to overcome real problematic situations.

For the majority of people, if they play this game, they will take away from it that it was one bad nightmare, with all the feelings that go with it. If anything, it can even enrich people, it's exactly the explicit graphics and sounds of dispair that will move a person with common sense to think about how horrible it would be to be such a person, but lucky videogames give people a way to indulge in it wihout causing real harm, which might just end up reaffirming their affection for people and think "lucky this wasn't real", "lucky this wasn't ME".

And THAT is what the developers want you to realise. To blame the developer of having racist affiliations to add weght to the argument that this game is bad is just useless vitriol. Some of the studio's people have been involved in games like Painkiller, and nobody was complaining back then.

Just see this game as it is please, indulge if you want and stay away if you don't want, it's up to you. Either way the game is about a man killing people while placed in the metaphorical hellt, who will ultimately receive his (w)reckoning. And then all is good with the world again... or is it, I think real life will slap people in the face enough from time to time, needless to add videogames to the mix.