This weekend a trailer released for that of an upcoming PC game titled Hatred, and the splash it has made from its trailer alone has pressured the entirety of the gaming community, from developers down through gamers, to question the whole of the contemporary gaming world, from that of the unending question of what constitutes art in gaming through that of what responsibility developers have in their creative projects. As always, the debate is wide, the splits between arguments both broad and narrow, and any agreed-upon conclusion is far from being reached.
These passionate debates are wonderful and necessary for the increasingly defined sphere of the gaming medium, but already the greater scope of direction these debates have taken (especially when folks begin trying to describe what 'art' is for the umpteenth time) have greatly skewed the discussion away from its initial propulsion; Hatred as a game. And there's much that still needs to be stated about Hatred prior to enlisting debate and bias about the overarching theoretic of artistic products, particularly because the brief demonstration of the title showcases what may very well be the most influential modernist construct in a videogame so far this century. And the reason why is not because Hatred proposes something edgy or topical; in fact, all Hatred has brought to the table is the every plateau of equality that the gaming world has come to both grow and agree upon so far, and what is most important here, and what makes Hatred so significant a title, is this consolidation and reminder of all that the gaming world has struggled to achieve so far.
First Amendment Status
I'm putting this item first because this is something that gamers had for more than a decade struggled incessantly with arguing against, and it's very important we all remember this. It was the PC Game Doom that stirred a series of international debates on the scale of national security after being accused as potentially causing the 1999 Columbine shootings. The families of the victims sued id Software (amongst several other publishers of violent games), and this tragedy became the basis of the "Are Violent Videogames Responsible for Violent Behavior" debate. This debate does still continue today, but ultimately it has concluded with the response by the United States government concerning violent behavior in videogames following the 2011 verdict on the Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association case. While a significantly different scenario than that of the Columbine shootings, what the conclusive verdict of the Brown case states is that videogames are protected under the First Amendment, which effectively grants videogames the same rights as any other artistic medium, and that the consumer of (violent) videogames is responsible for their own activities regardless of claimed influence.
I do want to point out that there is hardly any certainty on the matter of media-influence and human behavior, but this uncertainty applies as much to any other medium as it does to videogames. Regardless, this guarantee of First Amendment status was certainly the most important plateau for gaming this 21st century, and I can think of no game more exemplifying of this success than Hatred.
"Games Are Art" Movement
While there is much debate about whether or not contemporary gaming criticism is actually evaluating videogames and not just their literary/cinematic components is arguable, the point of the matter is that there is constantly being applied stronger critical eye to each and every videogame, and this increased attention and intelligence has permitted more variety and originality for both developers and gamers in concentrating their interests. More so, it has enlisted videogames with the same degree of critical thinking, original interpretation, and available discussion as is available for other mediums, and it is because of this new, permanent application of evaluated discussion that the medium has truly reached equal status with other mediums.
This equality is what is most important here. Instead of evaluating whether or not we find Hatred acceptable, what we really need to do is remember so many other examples of 'obscene' products in literature and film. Did The Catcher in the Rye actually destroy America's youths? Did The Exorcist destroy Christianity? Certainly not, and what is more important is how significant these two once very controversial products are now. The anxiety displayed by Holden Caufield, and the intimate display of fear in The Exorist, have permitted so many of us the very opposite of the foreshadowed destruction of our positivity, and instead reinforce our strength and confidence by offering us a product which with honesty displays those things which often surround us in worry, and that trouble us because we do not understand them. What is best for comprehending negative aspects of humanity is not dismissing them, but instead intelligently, and intimately, exploring them. And in this day and age, is there anything more necessary to be understood and potentially halted than the violent shooter?
If Hatred is Wrong, Then Humanity is a Lie
The real question is: now that Hatred has brought and combined these agreements into a single, coherent title, do you still want gaming to stand on an equal platform of artistic agreement? In truth, the "Ban Hatred" campaigns are blatantly alike book-burning and fanatic protectiveness. Looking back, we comprehend these acts of censorship not only as absurd, if not heartrendingly destructive, but also as so very useless. Whether delightful or terrible, all aspects of human-life can and will be explored, both physically and artistically.
We can't ignore them. In the case of shootings this isn't even an option; the pain caused by each of these events is of the sort which fuels the recording of history, and is something that will not be forgotten. But it can be prevented from happening further, and the very best way of surfacing from a pool of negativity is, and always has been, exploring exactly what the negativity is, understanding why it is, applying compassion to its causes, and then ascending from the warped plateau which has so unfortunately jutted out and halted all of our lives.
Most of the people who want to prevent the release of Hatred do so because they want to prevent mass-shootings. These people all have good intentions, but to them I say; if you truly want these shootings to stop, you must understand how they've begun. And this understanding can come, safely and with certainty, through art. From there, we can heal. Hatred can heal.