PIXEL BURN – Bayonetta 2, death threats and Hatred

In which Matt suspects a Nazi may secretly be laughing at him.
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[TRANSCRIPT]

Hello my name’s Matt and I’m back after a two week post-EGX hiatus that was calm, peaceful and relaxing. Except for moments like this.

[ALIEN ISOLATION LOCKER CLIP]

But enough of that beautiful game. This is Pixel Burn, where I look at some of the more important, interesting or irritating things that happened in the week’s gaming news. Defined as always by my own arbitrary standards of important, interesting or irritating.

One of the biggest news items this week is that Bayonetta 2, Hideki Kamiya and Platinum Games’ Wii U-exclusive sequel to its raucous, gloriously campy predecessor, is out next week and looks to be just as brilliant as the original. The game has racked-up – no pun intended – numerous 9/10s, 10/10’s and equivalent review scores from various outlets across the board, most notably from particularly picky outlets like Gamespot which gave it 10/10 and Famitsu magazine in Japan which gave it 38/40.

One notable exception to this near-universal praise however came from Arthur Gies at Polygon, who gave Bayonetta 2 its lowest score so far in his review, rating it 7.5. Which I shouldn’t have to tell you is still a good score, Unless you’re one of those weirdoes that consider anything below 8.5 to be hot steaming garbage.

Arthur’s reasons for not annointing Bayonetta 2 with a divinely ordained 9 or 10 boil down to highly subjective, personal reasons literally printed in big bold text at the end of the review. And I literally mean literally. In the words of Arthur Gies of Polygon.

“Bayonetta 2’s blatant over-sexualisation puts a big dent in an otherwise great game.”

Now I’d argue the sexualisation in Bayonetta is so comically exaggerated you can’t possibly take it seriously, having much more in common with the classic Carry On Movies of the 1960s than, say, a Brazzers production. I’d also point out that Bayonetta’s character designer, Mari Shimazaki, is a woman, and she created Bayonetta to fit a very loosely-defined design brief: a female lead who wore glasses, was a modern witch and used four guns. I’d also argue that Bayonetta as a character is in full ownership of her sexuality, she is never judged by other characters on the basis of her gender, and that her outfit is actually somewhat modest by most videogame standards.

Or you could just read this short, great piece by Valerie T, which makes a far better case for Bayonetta as a positive representation of women in games than I ever could. I’ve included a link in the description below.

Overall Arthur Gies’s review comes across as a tad too sex-negative for my tastes. Somewhat ironically given he has a Suicide Girls membership. Still if Bayonetta’s cavorting genuinely hampered his enjoyment of the game then he’s entitled to say as much. It’s only his subjective opinion, and while I may sincerely disagree with it I can still respect it. I can also ignore it altogether, given it was his only real major complaint with the game.

I certainly wasn’t overtaken by a blind rage compelling me to tell Nintendo they should blacklist Polygon or anything. I mean, who would do a thing like-

Oh for fucks’ sake.

Yep, the churning toxic bog that is Gaming’s Nervous Breakdown is still very much ongoing, having now escalated to death threats against people on both sides of the drama.

Despite one side continually insisting there ARE no sides and that you’re either with them or with the terrorists. On the other side that doesn’t exist.

I know I’ve used that joke before, but there’s really no other reaction to insane, blinkered statements like that. Except perhaps beating your head against a brick wall screaming “why god, why are people so fucking stupid?”

Indie developer Brianna Wu fled her home after receiving death threats over twitter while gaming’s favourite antichrist Anita Sarkeesian canceled a speaking event at a campus in Utah, after a letter was sent to her and campus authorities threatening a repeat of the 1989 Montreal massacre.

Meanwhile YouTuber Boogie2988, who has been moderately supportive of the GamerGate side, recently had someone post his full address in a comment on one of his videos, with a message saying they would kill his wife and leave him to mourn.

I utterly condemn death threats of course, and it’s pathetic that even I have to clarify that. But when you’ve got bellowing extremist nutjobs ready to pounce on you for so much as using a specific word, or politely refusing to quaff their special brand of kool-aid with a grateful smile, you’ve really got no choice if you don’t want your twitter feed clogged up with insanity.

Thankfully we are at last beginning to hear the voice of the non-extremists in all of this, on what can rightfully be considered the third faction in this whole drama. The faction of people sick and tired of all this shit. Like this open letter from Jeff Gerstmann of Giant Bomb in which he rightly calls out the “us vs them” mentality fuelling this whole sorry, politicised affair.

It was into this climate of death threats, insanity and screaming extremism that the trailer for “Hatred” landed, with all the consideration of a dirty bomb in a crowded shopping mall. A twin-stick shooter from a Polish indie developer called Destructive Creations, in which you play an empty husk of a man filled to the brim with hate who decides one day to go on a shooting spree.

Which you could say about a lot of games really, but Hatred has struck a nerve among many people for just how unapologetically violent and nihilistic it is. And even for a jaded old bastard like me it’s not hard to see why.

The violence is graphic and explicit, with voyeuristic close-ups of brutal executions inflicted on utterly helpless civilians, an unsettling number of which are either women or people who aren’t white. The trailer’s opening monologue also reads like it was ripped straight from the crayon-scribbled “manifesto” of a real-life spree killer. There is no noble cause driving their rampage, no rhyme or reason for them to go out and callously murder scores of people. It’s simply brutal, senseless, inhuman violence seemingly for the sheer sake of it.

And yet it’s also the most fascinating thing I’ve seen in gaming this week.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not nursing a raging erection over this game. I find it fascinating in a repusive way, like videos of horrible industrial accidents. You see I really can’t decide if this ode to misanthropic nihilism is scarily sincere, or one of the best works of videogame satire ever. It’s “dark and edgy” in that silly, over-the-top 1990s Image Comics sort of way that everyone rightly takes the piss out of nowadays. The opening monologue is so cheesy I spent the rest of the trailer waiting for a punchline that never came, and the main character is also clearly not intended to be sympathetic in any way, shape or form whatsoever. The developers even say as much on the game’s official website.

Hatred isn’t the first game to celebrate violence for the sake of violence. Comparisons to the Postal series have already been made, beaten to death and then stitched back together again so they can be beaten some more, but only because the parallels are so bloody obvious.

No pun intended.

The original postal was an isometric shooter in which you gunned people down indiscriminately, much like Hatred is. Yet even Postal provided a flimsy justification for all the carnage and most of the people you were killing would shoot back. The game also stopped short of letting you massacre an entire school right at the very end. Spoilers.

Postal 2 blunted the nihilism with a big chunk of “zany” humour, and revolved around trying to perform mundane tasks like “getting milk” or “going to a book signing.” As well as shooting regular people – all portrayed as irrepressible arseholes – you also fought Al Quaeda, a doomsday cult and an army of evil Gary Coleman clones. You could also complete the game without killing anything.

As I record this there are already plenty of articles condemning Hatred for its gratuitous violence, with some people in gaming so incensed by it that they’re calling for it banned.

What’s that? You want to ban a videogame for being needlessly violent? Well I know just the person who can help.

Hello, is that the office of Jack Thompson?

I know what you’re going to say. “But Jack Thompson was a barmy old crazy man who wanted to ban good, clean wholesome fun like GTA and Mortal Kombat. This whole thing with the Hatred game is completely different.”

But is it really so different?

Nico Bellec in GTA IV can blow up buses full of innocent people with rocket-propelled grenades. But he’s a man trying to escape his dark past and make a new life for himself in America, free to go bowling and look at [GTA IV Quote – “Ripe round American titties!”] with his cousin Roman. Only to be forced back into a life of violence by the iniquities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men. So that’s okay.

In Watch_dogs Aidan Pierce can literally plunge entire sections of Chicago back into the dark ages, cause fatal traffic accidents, financially ruin entire families, sell people’s personal information to criminals for cold hard cash, and trigger gas pipes to explode on a whim. All at the push of a button. But he’s an outlaw hacker with a heart of gold, out to avenge the death of his niece. So that’s okay.

In Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 you can go on a shooting spree in a busy airport with a group of ultranationalist Russian terrorists, mowing down screaming unarmed civilians as they beg for their lives or try to run away. But you’re secretly a CIA agent in deep-cover to infiltrate the terrorists and find out what their overall plan is. So that’s okay.

In Hotline Miami the objective for almost every level is to kill everyone with baseball bats, guns and other weapons in a fluid ballet of death. Ah but the protagonist is mentally unstable, all the people he kills are bad guys and it’s got a great soundtrack. So that’s okay.

Hatred is essentially the exact sort of game most of you have been playing your entire gaming lives. It just doesn’t provide you the luxury of a comforting lie to justify the violence. You’re not killing because you’re on a dark yet noble quest for revenge, or as part of a humorous satire on modern society. You’re doing it for the same reason you can murder civilians between story missions in GTA.

Because you can.

Even the Marine from Doom had a stronger justification for all his killing than most modern videogame protagonists, since everything he kills is either a reanimated corpse or a literal demon from Hell. Compared to Aiden Pearce in Watch_Dogs he’s practically a saint.

The trailer for Hatred also had me asking more questions than Gone Home or Dear Esther ever did. Is killing people for some flimsy, arbitrary moral justification really any better than killing for the sake of killing? Will the German version have green blood? Can we ever truly comprehend the sheer depths of misanthropy that causes people to do these things in real life? Does it run at 60 frames per second? Why was such a clearly disturbed individual allowed to accrue such a huge arsenal of weapons? And how does he fit all those magazines and grenades into one inside pocket?

Now if I put on my wanky academic cap for a moment I could say Hatred holds a dark mirror up to gamers, forcing them to confront the kind of violence they often casually inflict in videogames without a second thought. Unlike other violent games however there are no filters, moral safety blankets, tasteful cutaways or comedy wackiness to sweeten the horror.

Hatred’s execution closeups in particular literally rub your face in the cold brutality of the violence you’re inflicting. So if you are disturbed and repulsed by scenes like this then that’s a good thing! It shows you’re still a human being, and not some clockwork murderbot with a fully-coiled spring waiting for one tiny annoyance to set you off.

A comparison could also be made to Spec Ops: The Line, which starts out as a typical gung-ho muilitary shooter and then abruptly twists player perceptions at a key point in the story. Forcing them to confront the fact that hey, maybe bombing the fuck out of a nation full of brown people isn’t all fun and laughs after all.

And sometimes a cigar is just a nihilistic revenge-porn fantasy for misanthropes. Because one important difference between GTA and Hatred is that GTA wasn’t made by suspected Neo-Nazis.

There are reports that at least one of the developers is suspected to have links or sympathies with Polish neo-nazi groups, which makes the whole “is it or isn’t it satire?” thing even more confusing. I mean if the developers are devout Neo-Nazis then wouldn’t they try to make the carnage justified from their own twisted perspective? Y’know, dress it up as some Holy race war or other such far-right horseshit. I mean you didn’t see Nazi propaganda posters in World War 2 saying “Join us! We’re mad genocidal bastards!”

Although they did have little skull badges on their caps.

So if the game is promoting some right-wing Nazi agenda then the trailer does a bloody piss-poor job of it. Everything in the trailer is so grossly over-the-top and senselessly violent I just can’t bring myself to take it seriously, let alone take it to heart. No reason whatsoever other than a vague, undefined “Hate” is given for the main character’s actions, and he’s quite blatantly depicted as an utterly reprehensible specimen of a human being. The developers themselves even say he is the villain of the piece. So if one or more of them are Nazis then watching this trailer is like waking up one night to find the ghost of Adolf Hitler at the end of your bed, giving you a lecture on why genocide is bad.

But what if that’s all part of the joke? How deep does this crazy rabbit hole go? I don’t know. All I know for sure is someone, somewhere is laughing their arse off at all the controversy over this and that they…might be a Nazi?

Personally speaking I likely won’t buy or play the game myself, mostly because I’m not a fan of twin-stick shooters. That said I won’t at all judge anyone who does want to play it and who gleans some genuine enjoyment out of it. Killing civilians in Hatred won’t make you an amoral monster anymore than planting radishes in Farmville makes you an expert on modern agriculture.

Howevermuch I might find Hatred disturbing, senseless, opportunistic, and morally reprehensible I will not deny it’s right to exist, and will in fact defend that right. Because if, like me, you sincerely want there to exist games that challenge people’s beliefs, you must also accept games that challenge yours.

That’s all for this episode of Pixel Burn. If you liked it then please do let me know, and let your friends, family and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms know as well. At the very least I hope you found it tolerable. And if you didn’t like it then

[CLIP FROM HATRED MONOLOGUE]

I’m kidding! I’m kidding! You can go now.

Matt

About Matt

Matt is the irresponsible degenerate behind bitscreed.com and the sarcastic writer, editor, director, presenter and tea boy of Pixel Burn.