Wednesday, December 17, 2014


Before I even get started here, let me make it very clear that I don't have an answer to the questions I'm going to raise. What I'm offering here are observations on things that seem curiously inconsistent.

There's a game on Greenlight called "Hatred". I'm not linking to it, and I'm not linking to the trailer, which, in my eyes, is reprehensible. It's not unfair, based on the trailer, to call this game an experience in virtual genocide. There are no fantasy trappings or "saving the world" plots here.

This game is made by Polish developers who may or may not be linked to far right-wing groups, depending on who you believe.

Hatred was taken down from Greenlight yesterday, without explanation, then put back up today following a statement by Gabe Newell saying (in part) "It turns out that it wasn’t a good decision".

Here's what bothers me about censorship discussions. We already have censorship. This cannot possibly be a "Should censorship exist in games?" discussion. There are already obvious limits on what can happen to children in games (I'm trying to word this in such a way that work filter sirens don't go off). There are obvious limits on how sex is portrayed.

So we already have an environment where children are "forbidden content", as well as realistic portrayals of sex. Why are these kinds of censorship allowed, but when anyone talks about restricting a realistic depiction of violence, everyone loses their minds?

I'm not saying I know where the limits should be, or if there should be limits at all--like I said, I'm not offering solutions here. I just find it baffling that any kind of censorship on ultra-violent games (and ultra-violent cinema as well) provokes howls of outrage, when censorship of sexual content garners barely a peep.

Another observation: we seem to be pretty comfortable with any kind of violence in games as long as it has a thin veneer of morality. Any kind of justification, no matter how flimsy, for the violence that will inevitably take place.

This is true at a larger, societal level as well. Want to exterminate an entire group of people? Propagandize them into something less than human. That's essential to overcoming the basic disgust any decent human being would feel. This has happened so many times throughout history that it's almost commonplace.

What's interesting about Hatred is that there's no pretension of morality. None. That thin line of humanity is obliterated. I don't credit the developers with this larger, philosophical intention--these guys have a strong whiff of dirtbag about them--but they did accidentally stumble onto a big question.

Also, what does it say about us that there are some people who are absolutely reveling in the fact that a game of this kind is being made?

Valve was in an impossible situation here. Just the fact that this game exists and was put onto Greenlight created a practical dilemma of enormous proportions. If you are willing to censor that kind of content on Steam, how do you police that? How do you draw up those guidelines? Where do you stop? That's a trap, and Gabe Newell was wise to sidestep it.

The sidestep, however, comes with its own trap.

Torture pron (again, trying to sidestep those work filters) is a bafflingly popular movie genre. I guarantee there are developers today sitting down and planning a PC game with that as the genre, because if Valve is unwilling to censor this game, it's not unreasonable to assume that they won't censor a game in this genre, either. That's going to put Valve in a very uncomfortable position.

Some might even say "agonizing."

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