To Kill A Civilian: The Fundamental Differences Between Killing In Hatred And Grand Theft Auto

Patrick Dane writes for Bleeding Cool:

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Disclaimer: I will be making a lot of assumptions based on Destructive Creations' trailer for Hatred. I have not played the game in any form. However, this is the image that the developer wanted to put forward to the public and I feel that is perfectly fine to critique.

Think about this for a minute. How many lives have you snuffed out in games throughout the course of your life? If you've played even half the amount I have, that number is no doubt in the millions. That doesn't just include the soldiers you've killed or the Locust you've sawn in half with a Lancer. Death is everywhere in gaming. For example, That number could include the amount of Goombas you've jumped on and Space Invaders you've shot. If you take in every literal death you've caused, it isn't hard to believe that that number could quite literally fill a small country.

But how many of those millions of deaths have genuinely affected you on an emotional level? For me, it is probably less than the number of fingers that I have. Death is just a part of video game design. It's a key mechanic for many games and is usually essential to progression. Have a wave of terrorist in front of you? Blow them up! Space fairing aliens ambush you? Lazer them into steaming piles of meat. Gang members guarding a door to a hide out? Sneak up to them and put a knife in their back. Although on reflection, very few have affected me emotionally out of all those millions of digital murders I've committed. With that said, last week showed me a rather affecting death. This wasn't a death the affected me because I cared for the character or because it was a major victory. It was a feeling I don't often experience in gaming and it was one of repugnance…and it was only in a trailer.

It showed a man with long hair and a leather jacket sticking a gun up to a fallen woman's face and pulling the trigger, covering her in blood and gore. It was devoid of any humour or self-awareness, instead coming from a place of pure malice. It was just a depiction of cold blooded murder undertaken by the protagonist. That moment comes from Destructive Creations' trailer for their new game Hatred, which has been met with a range of emotions from the press and community since its début.

You play as a protagonist who hates the world so much, the only way he will rectify his feelings is by killing as many innocent civilians as possible. I'm not going to talk too much about the content because, frankly, many have already weighed in on that discussion. I will briefly state my feelings as, "The game has the social and cultural awareness of a young shut-in who takes Death Metal a little too literally." The game looks juvenile and asinine which would be fine in a vacuum, but that could end up hurting the wider games community. As I said though, the controversial nature and merit of Hatred isn't what I am here to talk about.

Instead, what I have found interesting about this discussion is some of the retorts from people who are supporting the artistic vision of the game. Many have equated the death in Hatred to that of other video games, most prominently, the Grand Theft Auto series. "You've no doubt killed hundreds of people driving around Los Santos, how is this any different?" At first glance, the people posing this question aren't wrong. I absolutely have killed hundreds of innocent bystanders in my time with that series. So is it actually different?

Well, Yes.

The most interesting part of this whole debate so far is about the act of killing in video games. There are two very key reasons why killing civilians of in Hatred and Grand Theft Auto appear fundamentally different. The first and most obvious is from a mechanical point of view. Except for very rare instances, you're not really tasked with killing innocents in GTA. Hatred seems to have the killing of innocence at its very heart. This is the game Grand Theft Auto is often accused to being by political detractors. In Hatred, it seems you're explicitly rewarded for murdering civilians. In Grand Theft Auto, civilians are just a part of the world. You can run them over and start shooting them all because that is the nature of the sandbox that Rockstar made. If anything, actually going on a rampage and killing civilians is counter productive to your progress, with more and more police arriving as you kill more and more. This will usually end up with you dead, out of pocket and out of weapons.

The second point that separates the two titles it their attitudes towards killing. This is possibly even more important contextually. Grand Theft Auto is a satire, where as what we've seen of Hatred, it is a straight faced concept. The central thesis of Grand Theft Auto is highlighting how vapid and empty western civilization is. It literally spends the duration of the game highlighting how absurd everything you are doing is. Police chases, killing innocents, drunk driving, drug dealing, none of it is taken seriously. You aren't supposed to even register what you are doing half the time, because in this world, everything else is just as ludicrous. It is all about distancing you from your actions.

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In the trailers of Hatred, we can see the perspective zooming in and showing the protagonist put guns up to peoples faces and seeing the gory after effects. There is no satire or comedy to distance you, just the helpless screams of an innocent as you brutally murder them. One is about brutality for the sake of brutality. The other is barely supposed to register on your radar.

That is a key difference! Some might say Hatred at least makes you consider the death you are causing and therefore it is more mature, where as Grand Theft Auto has a major disregard for human life. I don't buy that one bit. If you look at traditional parental guidance ratings, there are key differences in how violence is represented in a PG-13 and an R Movie. For instance, in this year's Guardians of the Galaxy, Groot pierced several aliens and then continued to brutalise them, no doubt killing every last one in a horrific, bone-snapping way. But it is played for laughs and it's one of the most charming parts of the movie. If you look at Cannibal Holocaust, another movie where people are impaled on an extremity of wood, the focus is obviously much different. That movie is showing you the brutality, focusing on it in order to shock you. On some level, they both show the same thing, on another, they are worlds apart.

This is comparative to the difference of killing civilians civilians in Grand Theft Auto and what it seems like in Hatred. You can, and people have countered, "But you've killed millions and billions of people in other games", but really that is just a statement with little to no context and thusly, is basically useless.

Now, to finish here, I need to be clear. I'm not calling for Hatred to be censored. Destructive Creations are going to release Hatred with or without criticism and that is totally fine. The internet is an open market and free speech is an important component of western civilisation. Censoring the game or banishing it from existence wouldn't do anything except exacerbate the situation. As many people point out when they feel their point of view is being attacked, "It's a free country, man!"

That is absolutely true and I'll fight for that to remain true. Although, free speech and artistic expression only protect a work insofar that it is allowed to exist. It doesn't give it the right to be heard or supported. It especially doesn't mean that it can't be criticised.  Art isn't inherently good. In fact, a lot of art is really bad. Hatred might well just fall into that latter category once it finally comes out. Or not. That is impossible to say, but it doesn't deserve a place at the dinner table for merely existing, even if we already have a few psychopathic killers already seated.

At least those ones make jokes.

Patrick Dane, once a would be filmmaker, has somewhat accidentally found himself as an entertainment journalist over the past two years. You may recognize him from around these parts, or you may not. Who's counting? From E3 to SDCC to the Top Gear track, Patrick has explored the world of entertainment wherever it has taken him. He is always happy to talk words at you. Hopefully the ones above will suffice your needs.

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About Hannah Means Shannon

Editor-in-Chief at Bleeding Cool. Independent comics scholar and former English Professor. Writing books on magic in the works of Alan Moore and the early works of Neil Gaiman.
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