Twitch Bans “Hatred” — I’m Ambivalent
I don’t know how to feel about Hatred. The mass-murder simulator has been a subject of scorn and revulsion since it first announced itself this past October. Prior to its official release this past Monday, the powers that be over at Twitch made the decision, without naming “Hatred” specifically, that adult-only rated games would not be allowed on their streaming service. That this is exactly the kind of attention the developers were looking for when they created the game didn’t change anything; they don’t want this game anywhere near their site.
I understand why. Twitch is smack dab in the middle of a meteoric rise, selling to Amazon for a massive $970 million and reporting unprecedented growth across almost all metrics, across international borders and generational divides. With the kind of viewership they’re boasting, they don’t need to open up the flood-gates and let everything in just to turn a profit. Rather, it’s entirely possible that allowing for more controversial content could frighten away the audience they already have, either because adults wouldn’t feel as comfortable letting their children use the site, knowing what’s potentially available, or for any other number of reasons.
That being said, it’s interesting that Twitch had to make this call at all. It’s not as if this is the first form of content to be excluded from the service. There’s already been a prohibition on explicit sexual content or nudity in place for some time. Functionally, this really already served as a ban on most every adult-only rated game. The reason? Typically, sexual content is the only way a game can be saddled with such a rating. Violence has rarely gotten you that far.
But Hatred managed to reach that rarified air without the sexual content. Instead, the subject matter proved so controversial, the context of the violence so “over the line,” at least to those calling the shots, that the game deserved an adult-only rating because of the violence alone.
Now, I get it. The game is tasteless; intentionally designed to drum of controversy and negative attention to create a reputation. But, when you get down to it, what makes the game so different from something like, say, Gears of War? You can literally chainsaw enemies in half, but that game didn’t get saddled with an A/O rating. I’ve wriggled right out of my seat as needles were jammed into my character’s exposed eye in Dead Space, and you can call up dozens of other examples. Violence, even at its most extreme, never seems to be enough to get you past the M rating. But Hatred was an exception. Why?
Is it really just context that makes us comfortable with violence? Blow an enemies head off, remove limbs, do whatever you want, so long as we understand why you’re doing it. The player-character of Hatred isn’t a soldier fighting a war, or a superhero killing villains. He’s simply a psychopath, a poorly written one, sure, but that’s all there is to it. You’re a misanthrope who wants to kill innocent people. So you do. This, apparently, is enough to make all that killing “vulgar” in a way it typically isn’t.
It almost feels like there’s a point to be made, there, if only a more capable game-developer had decided this was where they would make their stand. An argument could be made that this sort of “pointless” killing in a game is as effective a way to engage with our own reactions to violence as there’s ever been. Why is it that we’re made so uncomfortable by a game that’s, functionally, similar to so many that yield little to no response at all? It can’t just be the idea of “killing for fun,” because how many games exist solely to scratch that very itch? Tons of games are about killing for fun, they’re just not as explicit, they wrap it up in a storyline, to immerse, to contextualize. But, really, as the player, what are you doing? Killing for fun.
Hatred could have made us uncomfortable in a way that really made us look at ourselves. It could have made a real, substantive point about the nature of violence in video games, and what it means about us as a culture and a species. If it had, I might be one of those few waving the “anti-censorship” flag, inaccurate though the term may be.
You want to be challenged, to be made uncomfortable. That’s what great art does. Shame, then, thatHatred doesn’t endeavor to be great art. It’s simply a one-trick pony, a one-note song. The result is that, banned from Twitch, it has almost no defenders. The world of streaming simply will move on as if nothing ever happened. As a gamer, I’m pleased. I don’t want lazily constructed controversy-bait to be stealing attention from games that matter. But, someday, someone is going to create a game that challenges us, that makes us look at ourselves and really think about the things we enjoy, and why. When that day comes, I hope a site like Twitch can find a way to engage the discussion, be a part of that artistic expression, without endangering the health of their platform.
Originally published at blog.gamewisp.com Jun 4, 2015.