The video games industry obtained a secret weapon with the rise of the Internet, that vast untamed wilderness that I often call the Wild West of the Modern Era. You can find anything, literally anything, on the Internet. Copyright laws are broken, moral standards don’t matter, and laws seem impossible to enforce in this grand international anarchy of information dispersal. Bad and good apples alike support and harass each other daily, and the cycle continues perpetually as people get to know other people from different cultural contexts and new places. Truly it’s a great thing. And the Internet itself, unlike movies, saved video games from the vicissitudes of a corporate rating board.
I am quite sure, for example, that Steam doesn’t require an ESRB rating of any kind. Plenty of games arrive via Greenlight or fan demand without any regard as to their content. Of course, the occasional sexually explicit game shows up on the store, and there’s a warning on those, but there’s literally no restrictions that I could see. Well, I mean restrictions other than a credit card willing to transfer your money to Valve so they can give you whatever game you desire. Game makers obviously desire a free platform to release their games, and a developer/publisher merely gives up 30% of their total revenue to obtain a giant platform. Well, the only really viable platform, but that’s a different issue.
In sum: Steam is a relatively free platform for people to get games, especially ones which a major retailer or publisher wouldn’t bother to bring out. The Greenlight program emphasizes this even further, allowing anyone with an attractive enough game (and a small submission fee) to get into Valve’s system merely by a popularity contest. Of course, there’s problems with actually finding Greenlight since the newest Steam update (the one that “recommends” games to you without allowing you to browse very much, if at all), but the fact that Valve lets people decide what to buy bodes great things. Heck, the flood of Steam games in recent months, good or bad, shows that Valve wants to appeal to every possible customer, style, and taste. I call that a success (if a money-based decision).
And then Hatred came along. This was the game that looked like it would cause a giant shift in Valve’s policies. Suddenly a moral panic arrived; Hatred popped up on Greenlight, was removed due to “not fitting” Valve’s moral standards (still not clear what that means), and then re-appeared a day later. Hatred, the game which is clearly about murdering people because you hate them, ended up with a massive tide of both moral panic and publicity from many different parties. Websites covered it, and most of them condemned it immediately based on what amounts to a one minute trailer. That sort of journalism sets people off, and apparently enough complaints emerged to take it down according to Valve’s vague content policy (“must not contain offensive material or violate copyright or intellectual property rights”).
Of course, Greenlight already became host to games with sexuality already, and those were put down. Violence remains endemic to video games, so we must assume Valve had internal ethical concerns about the game on some level. On the other hand, that letter floating around from Gabe to Hatred’s developers says otherwise. Hatred came right back onto Steam a day later with nary a sign in sight of what happened internally. We can only assume that this letter is real:
Yesterday I heard that we were taking Hatred down from Greenlight. Since I wasn’t up to speed, I asked around internally to find out why we had done that. It turns out that it wasn’t a good decision, and we’ll be putting Hatred back up. My apologies to you and your team. Steam is about creating tools for content creators and customers.
Good luck with your game.
Steam recently published Sakura Spirit, a game in the genre more commonly known as “eroge”, or erotic novel (Sakura Spirit, if you were wondering). At this point, Valve has no concern with the content of such games, given that the average age of a gamer (and a PC gamer at that) is well over thirty at this point. We’re all mature adults, right? Mature gamers, even? And yet culture wars somehow made it onto the Internet, and then onto Steam! People judge these games before they even exist because it personally offends them. We come full circle to the cycle of offense: personal offense cannot determine law, sale, or anything else. Nor can “the children”, as there’s plenty of barriers to entry even on PC gaming’s most prolific platform.
Let’s get back to Hatred, though. First of all, nobody knows much about the game except for this trailer. How it plays, if it’s good, if it’s actual some kind of ironic social commentary, or otherwise is very much up in the air. I certainly can’t make a conclusion just by watching this trailer. Make your own conclusion about it, but don’t base it on rampant speculation. To me, it clearly fits in the vein of “shock culture” games like Postal and (back in the day) Mortal Kombat. Heck, maybe we can even include General Custer’s Revenge (or not. Please don’t Google that. PLEASE), if anybody even knew that existed. That is the first reason why I am not willing to hand it the pink slip just yet.
There are, of course, additional reasons that I fail to worry about Hatred’s long-term affects on gaming culture or video gaming as a whole…