Every so often, the video game industry decides that senior citizens aren’t scared enough of teenagers and allows something like Hatred to be released. Hatred is, not to put too fine a point on it, a genocide simulator designed for and by white supremacists. Games like these, at best, set back the discussion on whether or not video games are art, and at worst, inspire harassment and violence. Hatred prides itself on its complete lack of morality, boasting that depravity is the way to go when creating a video game. But this is the lazy approach to moral nihilism in gaming. It is entirely possible to create a game where a lack of morality has meaning—where being dead-set on a selfish goal demands introspection along the way, rather than requiring complete ignorance. LISA, for example, is an indie RPG set in a postapocalyptic world where all cisgender women have vanished, leaving a vast landscape of nothing but hostile, dangerous cis men and a few reclusive pockets of queer folks. The differences between LISA and Hatred just in mechanics alone are astronomical, but both feature selfishness as a core story device.
In the spirit of full disclosure, I have only played LISA, and have never gotten into the jackboots of Hatred‘s protagonist. But Hatred is a game you don’t need to play to review properly—watching 2 minutes of gameplay footage is sufficient. The controllable protagonist looks like a Dollar Tree knock-off of Nathan Explosion, and his purpose and goals in life are about as sensible as any [adult swim] protagonist—but unfortunately, his existence is played straight, and the player doesn’t get the luxury of treating him like an after-hours cartoon character. You spend the whole game rampantly killing whoever you please, with the lackluster story eventually culminating in a hilariously poorly-made cutscene in which you detonate a nuclear power plant, killing yourself and the town full of whatever civilians are left. Aside from the fact that it makes little sense to blow up a town where you’ve already killed most of the population, the entire point of this game can be summarized even without playing it, watching gameplay videos, or really even knowing anything beyond the name of the game. All you have to do is look up the developers to see that they’re all Northern European white supremacists—and I don’t mean this in an exaggerated fashion. I’m not postulating that they’re fascists like I do about Gamergaters. These are developers who were photographed wearing T-shirts of hate groups and have gone on record as supporting nationalist, Islamophobic, and anti-immigration Polish organizations. You’re far better off never buying this game on Steam or any other site, and not allowing your money to go to Neo-Nazis.
LISA, on the other hand, is a game that should be played extensively, in order to fully absorb its charms. You play as Bradley Armstrong, a former martial arts instructor with a debilitating drug addiction that, left unchecked, will take control of how you play the game. The goal of the game is to rescue your “daughter,” the only remaining cis woman in the world. The game reveals through various snippets that “rescue” is perhaps too fair a word—it is obvious that Brad is motivated not by saving the world, or even his daughter, but is only striving for a sense of personal redemption. Brad’s selfishness combined with his drug habit can result in the death of former friends and family members depending on how you choose to play the game, which is another important factor that sets it apart from Hatred—the ability to choose. In Hatred, your path to a white supremacist victory is laid out in front of you with no deviations offered. In LISA, you can choose to reject the amorality that Brad is steeped in from the start.
I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that Hatred is not a good example of queer representation. Though none of your essentially-faceless murder targets are openly queer, it’s not much of a stretch to assume the developers would’ve included it if they weren’t aiming for a Steam release. LISA, on the other hand, has some relatively unique representation in terms of gaming. While video games have a long history of badly misrepresenting LGBT people, especially trans women, LISA does a relatively decent job of depicting us (at least as well as one can expect from a cishet male developer working on his own). A party member named Queen Roger is a gay crossdresser, bullied as a child for his femininity, who leads a coven of trans women and crossdressers who have banded together in the wasteland under his protection. While the women of Roger’s coven are sex workers, they’re treated with a respect that most post apocalyptic games wouldn’t even dream of. I wouldn’t say LISA‘s representation of queer folks is the best, or even great—but it’s definitely a step in the right direction, and was a refreshing change of pace in a gaming landscape that only features gay characters in very occasional big budget titles. We need much more from game companies, however. I shouldn’t be taking solace in the fact that a game finally had a crossdresser as a party member.
Perhaps this isn’t a groundbreaking review or comparison. I’m definitely not the first person to decry the horrors of Hatred, and I certainly won’t be the last. But the sales of these games speak volumes about the problems in the gaming community—LISA sold far fewer copies than Hatred despite being on the market longer and being cheaper, more playable, and better written. The majority of gamers seek morality-free games, hoping to prove to “SJWs” and “the government” that games are apolitical, that games are not art, and that games are a hobby meant just for men and the taking out of their masculine aggression. But playing Hatred is not apolitical—it shows a frightening lack of regard or sympathy for one’s fellow human, a quality that is already dangerously lacking in the vocal portion of today’s gaming culture. But we’re also at a time where more women are playing video games than ever before. Sales of Hatred and other games like it, and the practice of giving airtime to Gamergaters, Neo-Nazi developers, and other hateful yet outspoken groups in the gaming community will only continue the regression of gaming into the late 90s—a time when games that were relatively tame by today’s standards were causing national outcry. We need more queer voices in gaming, we need more women in gaming, and most importantly, we need to tell companies to stop allowing the sale of games like Hatred on their platforms. Games with well-written stories and unique mechanics, made by indie developers, deserve the attention taken up by games like Hatred that reach the top-selling Steam category on their release days.
Art by Vanessa Harcourt.