It kind of sucked being into video games in the late 1990s. This was the era of school shootings and Zero Tolerance policies at school, when cable news had a lot of serious people thinking that video games were turning innocent children into sociopaths. For a while there, at least as an elementary and middle schooler, it looked like a pack of opportunistic daytime talk show hosts and ambulance chasers were going to kill video games as we knew them. Until they didn’t.
Today, video games are bigger than they’ve ever been. When we were kids, we felt like the world had declared war on video games, but if that war ever really existed they lost a long time ago, because now everybody plays video games. But there’s a number of people in the gaming community who still think they’ve got to defend video games from the outside world, and now they’re doing it by threatening to commit hate crimes and acts of terrorism.
In the midst of the controversy, a small Polish game developer threw gasoline on the flames by releasing a widely condemned and deeply disturbing trailer for an upcoming video game in which you play a heavily armed, trenchcoated man on a shooting spree, where the only objective is to brutally massacre as many screaming innocents as possible.
Maybe all that post-Columbine hand-wringing and fearmongering in the media wasn’t as far off base as the gaming community said it was – maybe video games really do make people violent. The only thing they got wrong was the target of all those hyperaggressive tendencies – gamers aren’t attacking schools or daycare centers; they’re attacking themselves.
Video games used to be a niche hobby with significant barriers to entry – they could only be played on expensive computers and consoles, and the games themselves were designed by young white men for young white men. In the past few years, mobile and social media gaming tore down a lot of those barriers to entry, opening gaming up to anybody with a phone or a Facebook profile. Meanwhile, online retailers like Steam and GOG allow people to make and sell their own games directly, which has led to an explosion of indie video games that, like indie films, feature more diverse characters and experiences, and even challenge the cultural perceptions of what constitutes a video game in the first place.
The gaming landscape is still dominated by blockbuster games where you play a man who shoots hundreds of people – some of which I write the trailers for – but now there’s also critically lauded games where you play a person with severe depression, or a girl wandering around her family’s empty house, or Iranian prime minister Mohammad Mossadegh’s cat.
Gaming, formerly the domain of young white men, is now open to everybody, regardless of race, sexual orientation, or gender. In the past month or so, several articles have appeared in the gaming media celebrating the end of the “Gamer” as an identity as gaming becomes something that everybody does in one way or another. (I actually wrote an update about it over a year ago, for which I’m sure I’ll be remembered in the history books.)
This infuriated a loud minority of young white men whose entire sense of self worth is attached to their Gamer street cred. They were here first – they liked gaming before it was cool, and they’re uncomfortable sharing. After growing up with the impression that their hobby was going to be destroyed by outside forces, now they think it’s being destroyed from the inside by the forces of political correctness as the industry caters to wider demographics.
To them, this is a war, which is why they’ve started to harass and intimidate female game developers and commentators who they claim are waging a radical feminist conspiracy against video games and masculinity itself.
Zoe Quinn, developer of indie game Depression Quest, was driven from her home by anonymous death threats after rumors of an affair between her and a journalist who reviewed her game went public. (They later turned out to be false; she still hasn’t been able to return home.) Another developer, Brianna Wu, came to Quinn’s defense on Twitter and soon had to flee her home as well when her address was posted online.
Then feminist blogger Anita Sarkeesian, already Public Enemy No. 1 among Gamers for her video series about sexist tropes in video games, was forced to cancel a speech at Utah State University after an anonymous email threat:
“If you do not cancel [Anita Sarkeesian’s] talk, a Montreal Massacre-style attack will be carried out against the attendees, as well as students and staff at the nearby Women’s Center.”
“I have at my disposal a semi-automatic rifle, multiple pistols, and a collection of pipe bombs.”
“…there are plenty of feminists on campus who won’t be able to defend themselves. One way or another, I’m going to make sure they die.”
“…women like Sarkeesian want to punish us for even fantasizing about being men. …She is going to die screaming like the craven little whore that she is… I will write my manifesto in her spilled blood.”
Again, the only thing this woman did was voice her opinions about video games. Video games.
That Polish game, the one where you’re a mass-murderer, is calledHatred. It’s by no means the first game where you can go on a shooting spree, but in games like Grand Theft Auto that sort of thing is more of a passing distraction that doesn’t result in any in-game progress. It’s not even the first game where the objective is to go on a shooting spree – the Postal series has been grabbing headlines for that for years, but those games are cartoonish social satire at their heart.
Hatred is none of that; it’s a massacre simulator played straight. The game is in black and white and has all the subtlety of a 14 year old goth’s LiveJournal page. If you don't believe me, this is a transcript of what the narrator says in the trailer:
"My name is not important. What is important is what I’m going to do. I just fuckin’ hate this world. And the human worms feasting on its carcass. My whole life is just cold, bitter hatred. And I always wanted to die violently. This is the time of vengeance and no life is worth saving. And I will put in the grave as many as I can. It’s time for me to kill. And it’s time for me to die. My genocide crusade begins here."
And here’s what the game’s developers (all men) had to say for themselves:
"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. Something different, something that could give the player a pure, gaming pleasure. Herecomes 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."
This is the game that Gamers deserve: A game so confrontational that it alienates everyone but alienated people who love confrontation. A game that rejects even the pretense of art in favor of shock value. A game named in honor of their favorite emotion.
If this is the future of gaming, then I’m fine with it. If the Gamers of the world want to wall themselves off from the rest of the community and create misogynistic shock porn for themselves to play, then they’re welcome to do it. I’ll gladly help them build and reinforce that wall. Because that wall will protect the much larger, more vibrant, and more diverse community of people on the other side who just want to play some fucking video games.