The video game Hatred is probably one of the most controversial games of our current era. Much like Mortal Kombat in the 90’s and Grand Theft Auto III in the 2000’s, Hatred is a game that purposely challenges cultural sensitivities with something gruesome, violent and over-the-top. It was to be expected that the vitriol toward the game would lead to some sort of executive action on the course of vendors. Epic Games already demanded their engine logos to be removed from trailers. With Hatred’s Steam Greenlight debut, gamers were anxious to hear whether Steam would allow such a controversial game on their storefront, even if greenlit. The answer was made rather quickly: Hatred would not be greenlit on Steam, as given in an announcement by Valve. But is this the right thing to do?
The notion of creative freedom has become a hot topic in today’s gaming world. It’s a tough call to determine how far a game’s content can go. Hatred’s existence is a textbook example of controversy fueling a game. While its isometric shooter gameplay looks like nothing special, it’s the violent murders of civilians that made the game the spectacle it was destined to be. It’s appalling and almost nauseating to watch a bystander with a pistol in their mouth, muffled screams and all. I can’t say I’m on board with what Hatred is trying to be (I’m actually quite off-put by it), but I also believe that topics, regardless of their controversy, do have a place in the gaming sphere. That makes any artistic medium what it is: creative freedom.
But Valve has every right to refuse publishing of Hatred. Steam is their storefront, so they have the authority to determine what represents the library they distribute, especially with Greenlight games. With Greenlight, Valve is essentially publishing the games themselves, so these games are representing them. Their name, figurative or otherwise, would be all over it. And to be fair, Hatred looks tasteless. It’s one of those bizarre titles that exist to create controversy, with the rest of its mechanics sticking close to the books. It’s the same shock value that made games like Manhunt and Postal so prominent. They did nothing new or innovative, but earned fans through pure, unhindered shock value…
…which makes it all the odder that Hatred will not be published, but games like Postal and Manhunt remain untouched. Yes, Destructive Creations have even noted this in their response to Valve’s decision. It’s difficult to see any real differences between Hatred and the older hats of gaming controversy. The barometer that measures controversy is never established. This case-by-case basis doesn’t give anyone a good idea of what can be considered “acceptable” by Steam’s standards and the ambiguous reasoning behind Valve’s decision makes things even worse. What makes Hatred worth prohibiting that other games don’t have? This is never formally explained.
Valve has the right to refuse greenlighting Hatred. This is their storefront and their publishing format, but there are numerous problems with the supposed reasoning behind this decision. Aside from the idea of using controversial topics creatively and free from regulation (already murky waters), Hatred is likely to be a cornerstone of the modern day Streisand Effect, where trying to hide and remove the game from the public eye will only get more gamers’ attention. The controversy of Grand Theft Auto III proved this in spades, as gamers were able to discover a captivating open-world design, but not before being perversely hypnotized by the virtual vehicular and pedestrian violence. Hatred is likely to follow suit. The more people try to say how terrible it is and how it shouldn’t be allowed to exist, the more people will become curious. That is Hatred’s defining feature, the one that got it this far. Valve wanted to remove this game from Steam and let it become a distant memory, but as any gamer knows, controversy like this does not die easily. While its immediate future is stunted, I don’t think Hatred will be out of the conversation for a good, long while, for better or for worse.
What do you think? Did Valve make the right choice?