A powerfully built man in a black overcoat stands in a dark and dilapidated room. From a table in front of him he picks up an assault rifle and tucks in under his arm. He then selects additional ammo clips, a stout knife, and several grenades for good measure, and stows them in his coat’s deep pockets. The man then takes three long strides to his front door, steps outside into the night, and unleashes a bloody rampage on an unsuspecting suburban town.
The carnage just described is the gameplay trailer for a game called Hatred, which was unveiled last October. Hatred is an isometric twin stick shooter game produced by the Polish developer Destructive Creations. Essentially a murder simulator, the game casts the player as an amoral villain set on committing a genocide for the purpose of bringing about his own suicide. To no one’s surprise, Hatred is as graphically violent as they come: flaunting the terror of innocent victims as they plead for mercy on the ground before being stabbed repeatedly or shot in the head.
Hatred achieved notoriety online when it was put on Valve’s Steam Greenlight platform last December, taken down by Valve, and reinstated after public outcry. Valve is a game developer and distributor best known for the games Half-Life, Portal, and Left 4 Dead. They also run Steam, an online distribution platform that allows gamers to purchase, download, and play video games. Steam Greenlight, is a section of the steam platform which allows game developers to upload content from their uncompleted games in hope of garnering public support to be put on Steam proper. Valve can then decide if the game is appropriate for Steam, and facilitate the transition.
Valve apparently decided that Hatred was not appropriate for Steam, because it pulled the game from Greenlight on December 15th. Valve’s Doug Lombari explained the pull by saying: “Based on what we’ve seen on Greenlight we would not publish Hatred on Steam, as such we’ll be taking it down.” No further elaboration was given why Hatred was pulled, or how Valve makes its final evaluations on what games graduate from Greenlight to Steam.
However, word of the pull spread quickly. The gaming community is always quick to charge the battlefield anytime there is even a whisper of video game censorship, regulation, or discrimination. The game’s upvotes swelled and the debate of how violent games should be regulated was rekindled. By the next day, Valve had backpedaled and Hatred was reinstated to Greenlight. Valve’s co-founder Gave Newell reached out to the creators on his facebook:
Yesterday I heard that we were taking Hatred down from Greenlight. Since I wasn’t up to speed, I asked around internally to find out why we had done that. It turns out that it wasn’t a good decision, and we’ll be putting Hatred back up.
As a law student, I couldn’t help chuckling over the internet’s reaction to the pull. Every gaming message board and user forum became filled will self-proclaimed legal experts who were more than happy to decry Valve’s actions as wholly unconstitutional and a violation of American civil liberties to a degree unknown since slavery. Unsurprisingly, the distinction between state and private action seldom came up. The fact that Valve owns Steam, and can admit or bar any game it chooses according its own terms of service came up occasionally. True to form though, the profession of every user’s mother was discussed in great detail.
Is Hatred deserving of the media attention is received and should it have been pulled? I’ll leave that debate to the internet forums. I will say that there is still a double standard in America about how the content of video games is treated in terms of societal worth. It goes without saying that books, music, and film all have the ability to inspire, educate, and transcend culture. Even when one work contains violent or sexual content that offends the masses, there is a presumption that these forms of media as a whole carry substantial societal worth.
Despite the Supreme Court decision in Brown affording video games the status of expressive works, video games have still not been issued their benefit of the doubt. As unfortunate as it is to say, a single controversial game like Hatred can make non gamers question the societal value of the rest. It was Voltaire who said: “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.” Maybe it’s best to give Hatred the benefit of the doubt.
Hatred will be released on Steam later this year. It will be the platform’s first Adult’s Only rated game.